Everyday Cooking

One Bag of Bones, Five Dinners

March 11, 2013

Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples every which way. 

Today: Tom has his way with a bag of bones, and gives us a stock recipe that will take us through many more than five dinners. 

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Stock is a ratio recipe. 10 parts water to 5 parts bones to 1 part mirepoix; throw in a bouquet garni and, voila! You're done. Okay, so maybe it isn't quite that simple, but it isn't difficult -- and to make really good stock you just need to follow only a few simple steps. This challenge, though, is about making five meals from a bag of bones. So how do you avoid making beef stock as the root of each meal? I mean I love soup, but I don’t want soup five days straight and I'm going to assume that you don't either.

There is something very rudimentary about cooking with bones. Next to knife skills, making a good stock is one of the first things a culinary student learns to do. In my mind learning to make stock is the epitome of good cooking. It’s like learning to walk: once you know how you don’t have to think about it, you just do it. And besides -- what's not to like about waste not want not?

I want this stock to be rich and gelatinous, which means cooking every last little bit of flavor out of the bones, upping the bone and vegetable percentage by 10 percent, and without question, throwing in a foot. (Be it pigs' feet, cow, or chicken, I always add one or some.) The gelatin produced by adding feet is the penicillin in chicken noodle soup, it is the mouthfeel in consommé, and it's the natural thickener for sauces. Gelatin is as important to stock as salt is to bread. To reserve some beef for the French onion soup, be sure to pull the meat from the shanks while it is still flavorful but tender and then put the bones back into the stock.

Beef and French Onion Soup
Slowly brown 8 cups of onions in a small roasting pan. (I like to use a roasting pan -- the onions will hold their shape better, and they'll brown at a faster rate.) Toward the end of cooking, once the onions are soft and brown, add a tablespoon of garlic, a teaspoon of dried thyme and a bay leaf. Deglaze the pan with a cup of red wine, reduce the wine by half, then add 4 cups of beef stock.

Let the soup simmer for half an hour to meld the flavors and then add 1 1/2 cups of shredded beef from the beef shanks you cooked till tender when you made the stock. Fill your bowls to the rim, add a toast round, and top each cup with a cup of grated Fontina or Gouda (Comte or Gruyere if you're a classicist) -- yes a cup each -- and toast the cheese under the broiler of your oven till bubbly and brown.

English Rib Roast Au Jus
Rub a 3-pound beef strip loin on all sides with an Old English Beef Roast Spice Rub. In a large pan over medium high heat, sear the roast on all sides, then remove it to a small roasting pan to which you have added 2 julienned onions. Bake in a 275 degree oven to an internal temperature of 120. Remove roast to a platter and let it rest, covered in foil, at the back of the stove.

For the jus, place roasting pan with the onions over medium heat and let the onions and beef juices start to brown. Add three cups of beef broth, fresh ground pepper, and a bay leaf to the pan. Turn the heat to high and bring the jus to a boil. Let it simmer for 20 minutes. Season as needed, strain into a bowl, and serve it with the thinly sliced roast. 

Savory Toasted Steel Cut Oats with Beef Jus
Warm some reduced beef stock or leftover jus in a small pot, and place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add 1 cup of steel cut oats and stir them gently in the pan until they smell toasty and start to brown. Being careful of any splattering, add 2 cups of water or vegetable broth and season with a pinch of salt. Stir. Once the water reduces and just begins to make bubble holes in the surface of the oats, add another cup of water or broth.

Keep doing this until the oats are tender but still retain their shape. (In terms of method, think risotto.) Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, along with salt and pepper, to the oats. Stir, and stir again. Top with your jus and grated parmesan. Roasted vegetables work nicely here too, if you like. 

Winter Vegetables Braised in Beef Broth
Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and slice a small cabbage, one unpeeled but washed celery root and one head of cauliflower all in half. Prep 8 fingerling potatoes, 8 carrots, and -- you guessed it -- 8 boiler onions. Brown the veg in a large roasting pan, then add 2 1/2 cups of beef broth, 8 juniper berries, a handful of thyme sprigs and a few of rosemary. 

Place a sheet of parchment over the top of the veggies and put the pan into the oven to roast until tender. (This will take about an hour, but be sure to baste with broth every 20 minutes or so.) Slice the celery root, cabbage and cauliflower, and serve topped with the beef broth. 

Marrow Toasts 
Let your marrow bones warm up a bit, or you'll have a hard time getting the marrow out. Using a clean kitchen towel -- you want to use a towel because the inside edge of the bone is seriously sharp, like chef’s-knife-sharp, and will cut you -- place it on the side of the bone with the smaller hole. Using your thumb, and gently push the marrow out the large end. Soak three or four nice-sized pieces overnight in lightly salted water. (Soaking them in water will remove the blood which will make the marrow an unappetizing brown color once cooked.)

Combine 1 tablespoon minced parsley, 1 teaspoon of minced caper, half a teaspoon of finely minced garlic with three tablespoons of softened marrow. Add a teaspoon of red wine vinegar and a pinch salt and fresh ground pepper. Mix to a coarse paste. Make 10 bread rounds, and carefully cut one or more of the marrow pieces into 10 slices each (about 1/8 inch thick).

Turn on your broiler and let it get hot, then toast the bread on one side. Smear the untoasted side with the marrow caper spread. Toast again.  Remove the toasts and place one marrow slice each onto the top of each toast, then broil again until the marrow is just warmed trough. (Don’t cook them too long or the marrow will dissappear!) Serve alongside something green. 

Rich Roasted Beef Stock

Makes 1 gallon

6 to 7 pounds beef bones, meaty shanks, knuckles, femurs and a foot
1 pound yellow onions, root trimmed and quartered
1/2 pound celery, trimmed and chunked
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and chunked
1 or 2 leek tops, trimmed and rinsed well (optional)
1/4 cup tomato paste
8 quarts water
2 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, halved
6 thyme sprigs
6 parsley sprigs
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 or 5 Szechuan peppercorns (optional but recommended)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Tom Hirschfeld

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Father, husband, writer, photojournalist and not always in that order.


walkie74 March 11, 2013
Now I know what else I can do with the bones I find at my local Asian store. How do I chop them open? Do I even need to?
thirschfeld March 12, 2013
You don't need to chop them open like they are in that first photo. I had a very nice butcher split them length wise for me but I wouldn't attempt it at home.
Kristen M. March 11, 2013
I would like to go mad dog on a plateful of bones now.