By Steve Jones ‑ Outdoor Guide Conservation Editor
Once you tag it, slip it into your game vest or clip it to your stringer, you have the key to making something special: stock. At least in home kitchens, stock has disappeared from much the American foodscape. It has staged a resurence in places where it seems like everyone with a man-bun and a food truck is hawking it as "bone broth" for several bucks a cup. But you don't need to pay hipsters for this treat, it's simple to make!
No matter what the name, it's a rich and flavorful essential element worthy of reclaiming a place of honor in the sporting kitchen. Of all the great ways to use game, you almost never hear about stock. It’s a waste—literally—given that the main ingredient is normally discarded - the bones and gristle.
Here is a basic brown meat stock recipe. It works great with just about any bones - beef, pork, venison, poulry, fish, shellfish, whatever. There are also "white stock" recipes that start with blanching instead of roasting. Save those shrimp, crab and lobster shells, fish heads, bones and skins! Countless stock recipes can be found on the web and in many cookbooks -- this is just one example.
Stock is a versatile culinary wonder. It’s the perfect base for sauces and soups, for braising, a flavorful replacement for water when cooking rice or soaking beans. Julia Child referred to stock when she said "Never cook with plain water if you can help it".
Grocery store stock or broth simply can’t compete with what you make in the kitchen. And even home-made stock from domestic meats can't compete with stock made from wild game. Any meat you buy in the grocery store came from an animal that was fed a uniform diet, got little exercise, and was slaughtered young.
That all works against good stock.
Wild game is different. That beast spent every moment of its life on nature's dime, the ultimate free range animal. The bones have soul, and make a stock with depth and richness you won't get from store bought bones. And I promise, "depth" and "richness" are not code words for "gamey".
Stock is simple—nothing more than what results from a long, slow simmer of bones, herbs, & aromatic vegetables. The connective tissues break down into gelatin that provides body. The results can be further processed into fancy stuff like demi-glace, glace de viande (meat glaze), consommé and aspic - impressing the socks off of any culinary snob friends you may have. More on all that later.
Good stock starts with good bones. Marrow spoils quickly (and rather spectacularly) so use bones that have been cared for as well as fresh meat. They should go straight from the cutting room into the stock pot, or into the freezer. It can be challenging to wrap them properly for long-term freezing, but if you have a vacuum sealer you are in business and they will keep a year or so in a deep freezer.
It is good to expose the marrow by sawing the bones into pieces. But if you do not have a band saw, and don't relish doing it by hand, just crack the bones on a hard clean surface using a clean hammer. While wearing eye protection. Works fine.
Stock recipes usually include some meat. Gnarly looking bits you normally discard while butchering because they are too gristly to or fatty to trim down for grind are perfect for the stock pot. Just so long as they are clean and wholesome—if what goes in is bad, what comes out is bad.
If you process your own deer the notion of a "stock meat" category should capture your attention. It saves fussy trimming time and reduces waste.
Shanks are the star of the "stock meat" show. Lots of flavor and connective tissue. The heel (the muscle attached to the top of the achilles tendon) is great too. The achilles tendon itself is super rich in collagen and should be added if kept clean—it can get grimy in various hanging or carrying duties.
Aggressively trim and discard bloodshot meat or anything in any way contaminated or questionable. Stock is for celebrating virtue, not forgiving sins. But the venison that got lost in the back of your freezer for a couple of years? Trim away any freezer burned bits, call it stock meat and toss it in.
It's also fine to supplement with leftover bones from a cooked roast or carcass. Save ’em up in the freezer and have a stock making party some dreary Winter weekend. That stock smell really takes the sting out of cabin fever.
Just keep in mind that whatever spices the cooked bones carry can change the nature of your stock. That may be good or bad depending on how you plan to use it. Also be aware that cooked bones have already given up most of their collagen, so if most of the bones in your stock are pre-cooked your stock may lack body. You can fix that by adding a packet of unflavored gelatin per quart of stock. "Soften" the gelatin in a little cold water first.
Stock is brought to a simmer uncovered, then covered and reduced to a very slow simmer. It is not stirred or mixed - you just let peacefully go about its business, teasing flavor and gelatin out of the goodies. It should not spend time at a rolling boil, because the agitation causes fat to emulsify, which will cloud the stock and can impart undesirable flavor and texture. The very slow simmer (or oven finish, see below) prevents that.
Usually some "stuff" forms on the surface, especially early in the cooking process. Most recipes indicate you should skim it off. It is often described as "scum", supposedly made up of "impurities" you must remove lest it cloud your stock or impart off flavors. But some chefs disagree on all points.
I don't bother skimming. You didn't put anything bad in to start with (right?), and the stock will be filtered and de-fatted later, so I say just let it roll. I've have never had reason to regret it.
I have heard it is more important to skim fish stock than it is for other types.
Place any seasonings that might float (like thyme leaves or bay leaf) and wrap them in a small bit of cheesecloth tied off with some butchers twine. It's called a "sachet". Don't skip this step because you're going to be filtering later. The problem is that things that float spend their time in oil and fat on the surface, giving up their flavors there instead of in the stock. Plus, you will also remove some of these spices if you skim. You're going to de-fat the stock after you filter it, so the sachet helps ensure all the flavor stays where it belongs.
Once your stock is simmering, cover it with a lid and move it to your oven.
Obviously the lidded pot must be short enough to fit in your oven. You may need to use the lowest rack position. Be careful!
There are big advantages to finishing your stock in the oven rather than on the stove. And one big disadvantage.
First the advantages:
The one disadvantage is that ovens are finicky beasts — often running well off of their indicated temps. Each has its own personality. Mine runs about 20 degrees hotter than I tell it.
You can't take instant readings from your oven to get an idea. Setting it to 190 may mean, for example, that it cycles up and down from 175 to 205. Only checking the actual temp of the stock every hour or so will tell the real story.
You want the stock to settle in around 190 degrees. You can stretch that a bit, but lower than 180 and the magic starts to slow down. Over 200 and you could be pushing the stock too hard.
That's what I read anyway, but that conflicts a bit with the great results reported from using pressure cookers to speed up the process. One source says the problem is the agitation of boiling, not the heat, and that pressure cookers give you more heat (250°F at 15 lbs) to convert the collagen to gelatin without the agitation, because water in a pressure cooker doesn't boil.
Many ovens have an automatic 12 hour shutoff. So if you are running it longer than that you should turn it off and back on every few hours -- most importantly just before you go to bed if you want to leave it running overnight.
As previously mentioned, you will need to find out how your oven behaves. Through trial and error I learned that if I set mine to 165, it cycled up and down from 180 to 200. That made my stock settle in around 190. Perfect.
A full stock pot is quite dense and can take a long time to settle in with whatever your oven is doing. You may have to check your stock temp and adjust the oven a few times until you know it has stabilized where you need it. But make a note, and next time you can just set it and forget it. Easy!
Stock is step one for things like consommé and aspic. These—and some soups—require a crystal clear stock. For that you must clarify.
The traditional method uses egg whites. Instructions are available in many cookbooks and on the web. Google "egg raft". This nearly magical process removes the microscopic bits that cloud stock, leaving a crystal clear liquid.
A side benefit is it leaves you with a bunch of yolks you'll need to find a use for. Om nom nom nom!
But clarifying is about appearance, not flavor. It takes time, effort and ingredients. If you don't need crystal clear stock, just skip it.
I first heard of meat glaze when a buddy said "It's what bouillon would be if it could convince the devil to buy its soul."
I was intrigued. After my first batch I was hooked. I’ll always have some of this handy in my freezer.
Demi-glace is any stock reduced by half. Purists insist it's a reduction of a 50/50 mix of stock and "espagnole sauce", but it's common to cheat.
Glace de viande—meat glaze—is stock reduced by a factor of 8-10. It will be syrupy when hot, but cools to a solid consistency.
Start with any quantity of stock, but remember you are reducing it significantly so be sure to use enough to wind up with what you want. Use unsalted stock unless you are ok with a super salty result.
WARNING: This will generate a lot of heat and humidity over several hours — a fine thing if it is taking a load off your furnace. Otherwise, unless it's good weather for leaving your windows open, you may want to find a convenient and safe way to do this outside.
Simmer or boil uncovered in a pot, or a slow cooker set high enough to simmer uncovered. When reducing, wide is good - surface area is your friend. If using a straight-sided pot you can mark a depth gauge (like a disposable chopstick or wooden skewer) to help track your progress accurately.
If using a slope-sided vessel you could mark your gauge using a measured volume of water before you put stock in the pot. So if you were reducing 5 quarts (20 cups) of stock, and looking to make meat glaze, you could put 2 cups of water in the pot and mark where that hits your gauge. Then dump the water, add the stock, and get reducing!
Stir every once in awhile -- taking care to work the stuff that sticks to the side of the pot back down into the liquid. Lots of flavor there.
For demiglace, stop when the liquid is half to three-quarters gone. Store it the same as you would stock but be aware it will be more prone to gel as it cools. Use it as called for in recipes, or heat in water to make "instant" stock.
For glace de viande (meat glaze) just keep going until it coats the spoon well and starts to get an almost syrupy consistency. This means you are starting to run out of water and a large percentage of the remaining liquid is molten gelatin. If it gets too shallow before it’s done, transfer to a narrower pot (don't leave anything behind!) and continue simmering.
It takes awhile but only needs occasional brief attention -- once every half hour or so. But when you first notice it start to develop any texture, or your measurements tell you it is nearing 1/10th of your starting volume, pay close attention and tend it more often until finished. If you let all the water boil off what's left will scorch. You'll have wasted all your time and all that stock!
When done, remove from heat and process for storage before it cools and hardens.
An ice cube tray works well. Wipe the tray with vegetable oil or treat with non-stick spray first. Trust me on this. A couple of tablespoons per cube makes a convenient chunk. They are quite sticky -- so after thoroughly freezing the tray, dump some cornstarch into a bag, empty the chunks into the bag and toss to coat. Do this as soon as you remove them from the freezer, before they start to thaw. Then shake off the excess, package for long term storage, and get it back in the freezer.
A simpler technique is to just put it in a zip top freezer bag, expel the air and seal, then freeze laying flat so you get a flat square. You can just cut or snap off chunks as you need them.
It will last forever in the freezer and a very long time in the fridge. I vacuum seal them, but a freezer bag with most of the air expelled is fine.
Meat glaze or "glace de viande" aren't the sort of thing you commonly find in most recipes. But they fit well in everyday cooking. A chunk or two tossed into gravy, sauce, soup or stew can work magic. I’m always looking for an excuse to toss some into whatever I am cooking. Go easy though, you don't want it to take over - it is intense stuff!
I promise you will never again use bouillon if you have meat glaze handy.
Fresh stock is volatile stuff with a short shelf life -- especially if unsalted. Freeze or use it right away. Bacteria love it, so give it 4 days max in the fridge. Any more than that, take it out and boil it hard a couple of minutes, cool, and return to the fridge.
Like most foods stock will last much longer in a very cold chest freezer than in the freezer compartment of your fridge.
If freezer space is an issue then read the "demiglace or glace de viande" section of this article, or pressure can it.
Your options are freezing or pressure canning (NOT water bath canning—which is not safe for meats, stock, or any other low-acid product).
Pressure canning provides a very long shelf life and saves freezer space.Only folks who understand and follow established safe methods such as those published by the USDA should try pressure canning. You don't want to accidentally reduce the supply of family members available to enjoy your stock.
For most of us freezing is the way to go. Your choices are freezer bags, freezer-safe canning jars or other freezer containers.
Pint sized wide-mouth canning jars are available in a "freezer safe" version. If they don't have them at your local store, they are widely available on the web (shop around - prices vary A LOT). Ball also recently introduced a 1.5 pint jar that is freezer rated. Be sure to leave head room for expansion.You might get away with using a non-freezer rated jar, but why risk it? You don't want the job of cleaning up a mess, including glass shards, in your freezer.
My favorite method is to label quart size zip top freezer bags, put in 2 cups of stock, expel the remaining air, seal and place in the freezer on a flat surface like a plastic cutting board or a cooling rack. Once frozen you take away the board, leaving you with a convenient space-efficient shape for long-term freezer storage.
Beware though, freezers are rough-and-tumble environments and your ziplock bag might take some hits over time. Be prepared for leaks when it's time to thaw.
|© Steve Jones, 2013 - 2020||
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