I was surprised to learn from my hunter friends that some hunters don’t pack out the leg bones from a moose or caribou, they just cut the meat off and leave the bones for the wolves and bears and company. What? What about those amazing stocks you can cook up with leg bones, a few vegetables, a couple of aromatics and a long, slow simmer, and then use as the basis for beautiful sauces, soups or gravies? Classic French Onion Soup, for example, or a cranberry/madeira/moose stock reduction for a moose sirloin cooked rare on a hot grill. And what about cooked marrow spread on a piece of toast and sprinkled with smoked sea salt? Never mind the extra weight, huntspeople, just haul those bones out next time, they are pure gold.
For the non-hunters among us, hearken and be glad: most butchers sell pork or beef bones; they’re often called “soup bones”. If your local butcher doesn’t usually carry them, ask her or him to save them for you next time. At our three butcher shops in Whitehorse (I know, we’re really lucky for a town of 25K) we can sometimes get bison bones as well. Soapbox moment: humanely raised, humanely slaughtered meat is always the best way to go, for the animal and for you. If you ever do a farm-gate purchase of a domestic animal, the farmer will ask if you want the bones and the offal. Say yes.
I’ve been working on my stock for years, and each time I think I’ve nailed it I learn something new. James Peterson taught me to include leeks and fennel bulb among the vegetables, and to always add cold water to the roasted bones so the fat doesn’t emulsify and turn the stock cloudy. Kathleen Flinn taught me to soak the bones in cold water for fifteen minutes before roasting to remove blood, freezer burn, or in some cases, hacksaw grease. (That was just once. My charming butcher’s apprentice Hector greased the saw without thinking before hacking through some moose bones.)
I had just published my stock recipe in The Boreal Feast when Chris Irving taught me that he boils the bones and meat rapidly for 10 minutes or so, skimming off the scum constantly, before turning the heat down and adding the roasted vegetables and aromatics. This solved a problem that had puzzled me for many years—how to skim off the frothy scum without removing spoonsful of flavorful vegetables and seasoning at the same time.
Finally, my brother Paul has taught me two cool things: 1) save the carcass every time you eat a bird, and when several carcasses have accumulated in the freezer, make one big pot of stock and freeze the reduced stock in small containers. 2) Save the drippings every time you roast a beast, and freeze those too. Paul calls this the combination of jellied jus topped by clean, solid or semi-solid fat, depending on the animal, “magic sludge” and adds a spoonful to gravies or sauces that need a shot of flavour.
Here comes a memory--they're never far away when you’re talking about primal foods like bones and fat. When we were young, my dad used to snack on one of two things when he came home from work: chilled Aylmer’s stewed tomatoes with a sprinkling of salt on top, eaten right out of the can while still wearing his overcoat, or a spoonful of jellied pork or beef jus and fat, spread on a cracker. Clever man!
Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Soak bones in cold, salted water (about 1 tbsp. (15 mL) per litre of water) for 15 minutes to draw out some of the blood and remove impurities. Drain, rinse and pat dry. Spread bones on a rimmed baking sheet.
Toss vegetables in oil and spread on a rimmed baking sheet.
Roast vegetables and bones in the oven until browned and aromatic, anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes. The vegetables sometimes take longer; if so, they can finish browning while you boil the bones and skim the scum.
Place bones in a large saucepan and cover with 6 quarts (about 6 L) of cold water. Deglaze the baking sheet with a few tablespoons of red wine and add to the pot. Bring to the boil over high heat, and skim the frothy scum until it stops rising to the surface, about 10 minutes.
Turn down the heat to medium-low, add the browned vegetables, de-glazing the baking sheet as above, and add bay leaves, cloves, juniper berries and peppercorns.
Bring the stock to a slow simmer, uncovered. The bubbles should be large and slow and barely break the surface. More scum will probably rise to the surface; at this point I tend to ignore it—after a while it stays near the edges and can be skimmed off easily at the end. I never stir the stock, because that brings the scum back into the liquid and increases the likelihood of cloudiness.
Simmer uncovered for 4 hours. Strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth. Remove fat—either immediately with a fat separator, or by chilling overnight and skimming off the hardened fat next day.
When the fat is removed, pour stock into a clean saucepan and reduce by half over low heat.
Let cool to room temperature. Decant into storage containers—1-pint (500 mL) is a useful size--and refrigerate or freeze.