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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Beef Stock

I'm sure you've heard me extol the wondrous, multitudinous, uses of stock... perhaps several times.

It's great stuff to have on hand.

So, it goes without saying that I was super excited about canning a large amount of beef stock from a rib roast I just made.

In fact, I had barely finished eating the roast beef, before I turned the stove on and got to reducing the remnants.

Reducing the remnants... that has a cool sound to it.  ;)

Now... making meat stock can be pretty gross.  There's a lot of flesh, cartilage, and carcass-y kind of leftovers which need to be broken up and boiled.

It can be gross... but, like I mentioned, I was really excited about this stock.  Beef stock is awesome stuff.  So I was positively gleeful while toiling away on this.

I got it started on the stove, and brought it up to boiling for about ten minutes, before transferring the entire pot to my slow-cooker, and letting that simmer for a long time.

The longer you reduce this liquid, the more concentrated it will become.  That's a good thing!

So, even though I gave mine a good 36 hour stint in the slow-cooker, I nevertheless felt like it could have stayed for much, much longer.

Enough time to still get all the greasy, meaty, fats and oils to seep into the stock, and to make sure that most of the flavour and nutrients (yes - believe it or not - there are actually plenty of great things your body needs in this concentrate) have all become liquefied.

Here's a pic of the rib bone of this, rather large rib roast, after it's been stripped clean.

Not much left on there... it's practically gleaming.

Anyway, now began the hard part of saving this stock.

Now... preserving, and canning, has had me wary in the past.  

Sure, I understand the general principle: ensure all your materials and surfaces are free of contaminants (usually by boiling), and then give it a good seal.

Of course I've watched my Grandmother and my Mother can a variety of things, and the way they did it was simply to boil the jars in a large double-boiler, then pour in your preserves, and seal it up.


Recently I delved into reading some literature on the subject.  And it shook my belief that I could do this.  Several (many, really) books and websites had me absolutely convinced that unless I was preserving something which was itself acidic (either naturally-occurring, like tomatoes for example, or by the addition of an acid, like vinegar), then I needed to use a pressure canner.

Now, pressure canners are cool things... honestly it wasn't the fear factor which prevented me from opting for this method... but rather the cost.  Those things are bloody expensive.

So... I figured I'd just put a pin in my preserving for now.

But then I talked to my Mom the other day...

And she told me I was being over cautious, and assured me that as long as your jars are sterile, and your contents are hot, it should be fine.

She did however, also provide a cool extra step which clinched the ordeal for me though: she suggested that, after sealing it all up, just place the jars BACK into the double boiler to heat up again.  

This makes sense to me.

Scientifically speaking... we've killed anything which might have been on the jar; we've killed anything which might have been in the food, and - just in the extreme case that something might have gotten in in the brief time it takes to fill the jars - we bring the sealed jars back up to boiling for about ten minutes, and kill any chance anything had of living in there.

So... I felt confident I could do it.

I sterilized all my jars, and utensils (including a funnel and a strainer I used) in a super large pot of boiling water.  For at least ten or fifteen minutes.

Then I carefully (this shit is freaking hot, after all) strained and poured the stock into four separate jars I had.

After finishing with this process, and sealing all the jars up tightly, I put them back in the boiling water for another 10 minutes or so.

This had be reasonably assured that these puppies were safe to store.  Although I admit I had a brief picture in my over-active imagination of expanding gases needing an exit and finding the glass the easiest escape route in my now tightly-sealed jars.  An image compounded by their sometimes violent rattling about in the boiling water.  However... it all worked out ok.  Maybe there was less gas produced than I feared, or perhaps I left enough room at the top of the jars for the gas to expand a bit... but no exploding jars of hot beef stock.  :)

So, it seems to have all worked out.  However, I'll admit some part of me is a little wary, and I'll probably give each of these jars a strict twice-over with my hypersensitive sniffer before consuming anything.

I've just been hard-wired to be leery of foodbourne illnesses, and the idea of placing room temperature concentrated beef extract in my freaking cupboard for months on end is a little frightful.

I hope it works out though, because I'm really excited to have a few jars of this gorgeous beef stock available over the next year.  This stock was so concentrated, in fact, that there was a good two-centimetre layer of congealed fat on top of each of these jars, after they cooled.  Crazy!  That, in turn, prompted me to do a brief stint researching Aspics... but that's a (gross and disturbing) story for another day...

As for these bad boys... I'm already planning on making some delicious French Onion Soup here.  I expect I'll write something on that once I do.  And I imagine that will be soon.  :)

Roast Beef Rib

It's been getting cold lately.

Gray, and wistful, the beginning of the end of Autumn.  My favourite season.

I've been holding on to a large beef rib which I've been waiting to bring out and roast for a while, and today seemed as good a time as any.

I don't profess to know the best way of roasting meat.  But I do OK.  What I do is a mix of what my old german house frau relatives have done for decades, and what I myself have picked up over the last decade.

There are some absolute musts, I've learned.

The meat must be at room temperature before you begin.

Rubbed rather than marinated.

And it absolutely MUST be seared for a bit before slow cooking.

The trick - which actually makes a lot of scientific sense, if you just think about it for a second - is to brown the meat at high heat, in order to develop all that rich flavour, for a very short time, and then cook it for a very long time at low heat.

Most people understand this concept, to some elementary degree, but I've started to take this to an extreme degree.

If I have the time, I will actually cook the meat for about 5 or ten minutes at extreme heat - like 500°, and then cook for a really long time at a ridiculously low heat - like 250°.

I'm pretty sure my German house frau relatives would NEVER have even heard of cooking meat at such a low temperature.


I took my rib out and rubbed it with a mixture of green peppercorns, rosemary, and a pinch of gray sea salt.

I let it sit out at room temperature long enough to warm up.

Then I heated up my oven to 500°, and set up my roasting pan with a wire frame insert.

This insert actually belongs to my slow-cooker, but it fits just perfectly in my Le Creuset cast iron roasting dish.

The best way to brown a cut of meat, at high heat, is to expose as much surface area as possible, and ensure that the hot air has a good chance of circulating all around it.

I didn't come up with the whole propping it up like this... but it is certainly a great idea.

When roasting a rib, like this one, prop it fat-side up.

Roast for about 10 minutes on super high heat.

In the meantime, prep some veggies (in my case, some white onion, and some whole garlic cloves) for accompanying the roast.

Once the roast is browned, take out the insert, and lightly oil the insides of the roaster with some olive oil.  Then spread out your root veggies on the bottom, and lay the rib sideways right on top.

I also wanted to roast some mini potatoes to go with this, so I threw those in on top.

I made sure to sprinkle more of the rosemary-green peppercorn mixture on the potatoes.  Then put the lid on the whole thing and it's ready.

Turn the oven all the way down to like 250° or 275°, pop the roaster in the centre, and then relax for the rest of the afternoon.

Because the done-ness of your roast can make-or-break the entire dish, I've learned to just take all the guesswork out of it, and use my digital thermometer/alarm thingamajig to go off when it's ready.

For medium-rare (which was what I was going for here) that's only an internal temperature of 140-150.

So you can see it doesn't take much.

Anyway, after a couple hours, the alarm went off, and I removed the rib, and covered it with some foil for a few minutes.

The potatoes got placed in a dish and went back in the oven to stay warm.

But the delicious, greasy, leftover gribblies and onion and garlic?

That gets turned into my rich beef gravy.

A cup of water, and a healthy dose of the immersion blender later...

And we've got an awesome gravy base.  Add a little bit of salt and pepper, and a spoonful of corn starch (pre-mixed), and it's ready to go.

By the time I sliced the beef, it had gone from medium-rare and nice and pink in the centre, to medium, and just lightly pink throughout.   Proof that it still keeps cooking for a bit after you take it out.  But, I actually counted on that a little, and medium is actually just how I like my beef.

This rib roast was exceptionally fatty, and part of the reason I was so excited to roast this bad boy, was because I expected it would make an exceptional stock.

And it did... but that's a story for another posting.