Every time I visit Chef Paul Myers, I learn a new French word. Today’s word: mirepoix, a mixture of diced carrots, onions and celery. It’s one of those words that I hear and eat everywhere, now that I know it.
We were sipping ice water at the bar in Scotty’s Table, where Myers cooks, discussing the culinary joys of bones and the treasure found within. Mother of blood cells and storehouse of fat and protein and packed full of animal flavor and essence, marrow is the most tender of all flesh. While my own marrow is feeling a bit thin during these chilly dog days of winter, it was comforting to speak of roasted bone marrow with parsley salad on toast, bone marrow medallions on braised oxtail, pickled bone marrow.
I asked Myers how to make soup stock from bones.
He explained that veal bones are best for brown stock, as he calls it. Young bones have more collagen, which thickens the stock, and younger marrow produces more red and white blood cells and other proteins, which add a rich complexity to the flavor. When I asked him about veal’s reputation for being a cruel meat, he shrugged. “I source my proteins carefully,” he said. “I know the farmers, how they treat their workers, their animals.” How it lived, he says, and I agree, is more important than the age of the animal when it died.
Roast the bones (preferably femur, in roughly 2-inch rounds—and cow bones will work in place of veal) at about 300 degrees for two to three hours, until they are golden brown but not approaching burnt. Remove from the oven, strip any meat or fat from the bones and rub them with tomato paste. Roast for another 20 minutes, being careful not to burn the tomato paste.
Remove the roasting pan, pour off the fat, and deglaze the pan on a burner with red wine to get the “fond” out. Fond is another new word for me, one that I’m quite, well, fond of. It refers to the bits of goodness stuck to the bottom of the pan. “That’s some gold right there,” explained Myers.
Scrape that fond into the boiling red wine, and pour it all, with the bones, into a pot with enough water to cover the bones, a bay leaf and a few peppercorns. Cook very slowly for 12–24 hours, maintaining the water level above the bones. “A rolling boil will make a cloudy stock,” said Myers. “The stock should be clear, so you want what’s called the ‘lazy bubble,’ one that lets go every three to four seconds.”
The part I couldn’t understand was Myers’ insistence that all fat be skimmed from the stock. Fat is flavor, right?
Usually not one to shy away from fat, Myers held his ground. “Stock is the exception to the rule,” he said. “For a stock to taste rich: no fat. We’re looking for clarity, and fat gets in the way.”
About three hours before the stock is done, dry roast (using no oil—because fat gets in the way!) a mirepoix of equal parts celery, carrot, and onion, stirring often for even cooking at 325 degrees. When golden, add the roasted mirepoix to the stock and cook the final three hours. Strain the stock into jars and store in the fridge.
Driving around town looking for veal bones, my dog Way rode shotgun, his nose smeared with dirt from burying a cow bone I had given him when I pickled some bone marrow the other day. Although veal bones are harder to find, I finally found some, frozen with shank meat attached, at Patty Creek Market.
After I roasted the bones, Way got to eat the shank meat. But he never got to bury those bones, because he died that night.
I’m hurting more that I could have imagined. I miss him in my bones. I’m glad Way lived well and ate well until the end. I can’t say any more.
I love you, Way.
A few days later, I used some of the brown stock to rehydrate the morels that I served at the “Waymorial.”
The next day I cooked a recipe for venison with green peppercorn Madeira sauce that I found on Epicurious.com. It called for demi-glace, a sauce that’s made by combining brown stock with another sauce called Espagnole, or Spanish sauce. I got the Espagnole recipe, too long to print here, from the Gold Cookbook. The recipe called for mirepoix.
At Diamond Jim’s Casino, where I bought Madeira, another customer was buying Port for a pomegranate mint sauce he planned on serving with Egyptian lentils. My mind was adrift as he described his lentil recipe, but I came to when he mentioned the mirepoix.
The venison Madeira was spectacular, brought to life by the thick sauce given body by the long slow cooking of the bones that Way helped me buy. Thanks buddy. I wish you could have licked that pan.