|The Stock Answer to What to Do With a Tough Beef Neck
||[Oct. 29th, 2011|10:26 am]
(Written on Friday, but not posted then due to internet problems...so "today" is Friday throughout.)
Those uncertain of their ability to handle the blood and guts, as it were, of basic cooking, should turn aside and go eat something that never looked you in the eye. Those who, for reasons of economy or a determination to be involved in their own food-gathering, meat included, and who have not yet encountered the neck of bull might find this useful.
So while digging in the freezer, I came across a portion of neck from the bull we killed and cut up. He was a large fellow and subsequently filled freezers at several households. I, being a stock-and-soup maker, asked for the less attractive chunks (the loins, for instance) and scored a lot of good soup material, but the neck had managed to slither down under things (especially when lamb went in on top) and thus...something had torn its plastic wrap and it was somewhat freezer-burned.
In my initial enthusiasm for dismembering a 2000 pound bull (and that didn't last long into the process, I can tell you. The 600 and 900 pounders were nothing to this monster...the assembled crew began to feel like Cro-Magnons dismembering a mammoth) I had wanted the neck because I wanted to make a traditional mince pie or several. I have recipes from my great-grandmother's time, in which mincemeat was made from the neck meat of adult cattle--boiled in aromatics and spices, just as I do for stock, and then the meat picked off, minced, and mixed with fruits and spices and so on and packed into stone jars to keep until needed for a mincemeat pie.
But the freezer-burned neck was not that prepossessing. Still....there's always the stock pot. So a hefty (guessing at 7-10 pounds) of neck went into the 12 quart pot, along with onion, garlic, peppercorns, carrot, celery, bay leaves, and some dried herbs (all we have, thanks to the drought.) And after it finally simmered to the point where the meat was falling off the bones, I looked at the meat and thought...well, no, not tonight. My husband fell upon the neck with glee, and ate quite a bit of the meat, even though I'd told him it was freezer-burned. That was last night. With all the other stuff out (first pass of clearing the pot down to stock) I had about 5-6 quarts left. It needed chilling (to make the fat layer so I could easily remove it) and simmering down, and it needed a pass through the colander to get out the last bits that I can never quite capture.
That was today, assisted by the cold front and not turning the heat on in the house because it's too early. Chill, remove fat layer, then pour contents of 12 quart pot through colander into 8 quart pot. Take congealed fat layer pieces out to the place under the pear tree where we leave treats for critters. It won't be there in the morning. Bring 8 quart pot to boil, then down to simmer to reduce to 3-4 quarts. (Because I store stock in one-quart plastic sherbet containers--broad-based ones that stack nicely in the freezer. ) Wash and dry 12 quart pot and lid, and the steel bowl used to hold the pieces of congealed fat. Wash and dry everything that needs it, whatever it might be.
Yield was three quarts of stock, plus a cup and a smidgen. I reduced it a tad more than I meant to (but--all the richer.)
The cup and a smidgen made all the difference to supper's sausage and potatoes. Good gravy, in other words.
This is my annual "yes, anyone can make stock" post. The basic recipe is the same for beef, lamb, turkey, chicken stock (add more vegetables for vegetable stock, and I dunno about fish stock--we're not in fish territory, until someone gene-engineers land-dwelling, drought-tolerant fish who can live on grass and forbs.) For 5-7 pounds of bones & meat (if a meat-based stock), one large onion, one head of garlic (yup, all those cloves), about half a bunch of celery (the leafy end), one carrot, a bunch of parsley, a rounded tablespoon of peppercorns, 2-3 bay leaves, some rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, basil (dry if, like us, you've been in a historic, worst in 3 centuries, drought). Double that for a giant, 20-quart-pot batch of 10-15 pounds of bones & meat. Just cover with water, bring to boil, down to simmer, simmer until the bones (if using meat) look "dry" and white and the meat is coming off by itself. Most of the time you can be doing anything else you want while it simmers. (Those are my proportions for the stock--you can wiggle them around to suit you, but if you get it too carroty and you don't like carroty--you have to rebalance in anything you put it into. Carrot-flavor can really stick out. You need the carrot in there, but you only need so much.) Notice that you do not add salt to the stock. (Great for people on low-sodium diets.) Salt, if needed, can be added to the final food of which stock is only one ingredient.
And what you get out of it is this magical stuff that makes week-night cooking much, much easier (and tasting better.) Store-bought stock does not (whatever the ads say) have the flavors and intensity of homemade stock. Better than no stock, but not as good as your stock. If you have been wise (or sneaky) and put up 2-cup packets of cooked cubed meat (turkey, chicken, beef, ham) in the freezer as well, the appropriate stock allows you to make delicious homemade soups in an amazingly short time. Plop a frozen lump of chicken stock in a pot, for instance...then a quart of water, dump in a can of diced tomatoes & green chilis (or no chilis if you hate spicy food), a can of drained, rinsed black beans, and when the lump of stock is melted and the mix is bubbling, a cup of barley or rice. When that's cooked, add in the 2 cups of cubed chicken or turkey. If you want (and I often do) you can add sliced or diced carrot, celery, and green onion in the last minute--right after adding the cubed meat--for fresh crunchiness. I like a squirt of fresh lime juice in my chicken soup but that's a personal thing. Now you have a hearty homemade soup better than anything in a can--with almost no prep time and cooking time related to the starch you choose to use, if you want a starch in there. If you use pasta instead of rice or barley, you have it faster. I've added corn, or red or white beans, or green beans, or whatever was handy--fresh, frozen, canned--to the mix.