Stocks are the foundational component of Classical French cooking. They are used to build sauces, soups and stews. Prepared properly, they are rich and unctuous, full of many layers of flavors that come from multiple items, gathered together and cooked in a particular way that extracts and showcases all the best aspects of each ingredient. When stock is chilled, it develops a gelatinous quality that is the result of the marrow and connective tissue found in the bones. When reduced, stocks take on a thick, syrupy consistency that is delightful, and impossible to achieve using quick or instant products found on grocery store shelves.
Sometime confused for broth, stocks take time and trouble. Typically, they need to simmer overnight and sometimes for 24 hours, depending on the desired result. When I am cooking at home, I choose chilly days and nights to make stocks because the oven and stove tend to heat up my old Victorian kitchen. Then, I can freeze my stocks for when I need them during the long, hot summer.
Stocks are composed of animal bones, (usually beef, chicken or fish); mirepoix- which is a French term for the combination of carrot, celery and onion-; tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme and rosemary. Although I was trained in the classical manner at a traditional Culinary School, I like to veer off the conventional path and throw in a head of garlic, a little white wine, and whatever herbs are lurking in my garden. I also tend to leave the skins on my vegetables. My Chef Instructors would shudder at this, but I like the extra color and vitamins this deviation gives me.
The first component is animal bones. The stock I am making today is beef. I was lucky enough to stumble on a wonderful, small, local market that carries a wide variety of proteins. Increasingly, in mainstream markets it is tough and sometimes ridiculously expensive to find plain old bones. Not at Desantis Meat Market & Deli in Barneveld, NY! A bag of 3 hefty leg bones cost around $4.00, and was promptly dropped into my basket and carted home with me. (I also found that Desantis was a source for lovely rabbit...but that's a post for another day.)
Roast the ingredients for roughly 30 minutes, or until they are brown and the carmelization of sugars occurs. Remove the pan, and slather the bones with tomato paste. Classically, this step is called "painting the bones". You don't have to use a paintbrush or any brush-like tool. I didn't happen to have one, so I used the back of a wooden mixing spoon. Once this is done, return the pan to the oven. Allow more carmelization to develop, removing the pan and it's contents when the paste and vegetables are brown to dark brown. Don't allow it to shift to the burned category...you'll only have to start over.
Remove the pan's contents into a big stock pot, add water and your desired herbs and set on low to simmer. Place the roasting pan on the stove and set on medium until the remaining oil started to sizzle. Pour water, wine or broth into the pan and scrape the brown bits off the bottom. These bits are called fond, and the process is called deglazing. It is an important step since it removes all of the "stuck-on goodness" and gets it into your stock...you don't want to leave any flavor behind!