To be completely honest I had no idea that bone stock was a trendy thing. I just thought it was a great way to use bones! I mean, what else are you going to do with them? You could whittle a bunch of knife handles, I guess. But really in the long run stock is probably easier.
Bone stock is tasty and has a whole lot of special nutritional attributes. People drink it to support the immune system, improve joint health, and strengthen the body. The long, slow cook time extracts valuable minerals, amino acids, and collagen. Humans have been preparing and consuming bones in this way for thousands of years all around the world.
In my experience there are two ways that make this process really efficient. One is to brew small batches in a slow cooker on a weekly basis; the other is to do a a couple big batches a year and store it in containers in the freezer. At the farm we freeze stock in quart containers. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays, and then store the cubes in ziplock bags in the freezer.
Stock can be used as a base for soups and stews; added as the liquid component in cooked grains like rice; or added as the liquid component in almost any baked good or sautee. I use it frequently in pizza dough and also love drinking hot stock with fresh herbs and sea salt.
The following is the recipe I use here at Round the Bend Farm. It’s adapted from Harold Magee’s breakdown of the science of stock in “On Food and Cooking.” We use Paradox Acres 100% grass-fed beef bones.
Beef Bone Stock
8 lbs grass-fed beef bones
4 or more quarts water
½ cup vinegar
Salt to taste
Makes about 3-4 quarts
1) Wash the bones well in clean water. Place them in a large, shallow roasting pan. Roast in the oven at 450 F for about 45 minutes, turning the bones once halfway through cooking, until nicely browned. Do not char.
Roasting the bones caramelizes them and creates a better flavor; it also coagulates the surface proteins which prevents the stock from clouding.
2) Put the roasted bones in a stock pot and cover with cold water. Cover to about two inches above the surface of the bones. Add the drippings from the roasting pan. Add the vinegar and bring to a low simmer (180 to 200 F). Leave uncovered and skim any residues from the top as frequently as you can. Don’t stir. Simmer for 12 to 24 hours.
The cold water to start allows protein solids to aggregate and rise to the top: these solids form the foam that you skim off and discard. This action contributes to the clarity of the stock.
It is crucial to cook the stock on a low simmer so it never boils. Boiling would emulsify the fats and create a cloudy appearance. Leave the pot uncovered to prevent the liquid from boiling; this also helps the aggregated surface proteins stick together for easier skimming.
The long, slow cooking period is necessary to release the maximum amount of gelatin from the bones. Vinegar contributes to mineral extraction.
3) Remove the bones from the stock and strain the liquid through a fine sieve (a fine stainless steel flour sifter works great for this). Retain any pieces of meat or marrow that you want to keep. Cool the liquid in refrigeration. As the stock cools, the fat will rise to the top and the liquid will congeal into gelatin.
4) If you want to freeze the stock, first remove the layer of fat from the top. (This is tallow, and can be used later in cooking.) Refrigerate the tallow and freeze the remaining stock in a freezer-safe container.
5) If you are refrigerating the stock, leave the layer of fat on the top—this is a protective coating that keeps the stock from being inhabited by bacteria.
Stock is highly perishable and lasts only 3-4 days in the fridge. In the freezer it keeps up to six months.
To serve, reheat and season with salt to taste.
When residues stop rising at the top of the stock, this is a good time to add vegetables like onions, carrots, and celery.
About 10 minutes before the stock is done, this is a good time to add fresh herbs like parsley and oregano.
On Food and Cooking, By Harold Magee