Why can't I make good beef stock?

Beef (well, and chicken as well, but beef is on my mind).

I’ve tried the whole roasting the bones first, roasting the veggies (onion / carrot / celery), simmering for hours, etc., and have NEVER gotten anything that turned any kind of rich brown color or had any significant real flavor that would stand on its own in other recipes.

Now, the main thing I use it for is homemade veggie beef soup (instructions below for those interested) so its lack of flavor hasn’t been a huge issue, but still… it SHOULD be possible to make tasty stock from scratch.

What I do: Add bones - the kind with a bit of meat clinging to it (preferably roasted in the oven first to get nice and brown), 3-4 onions, 3-4 carrots, a few stalks of celery, a handful of peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves - to a large soup pot, fill 2/3 full with water, bring to a simmer, and let that go as many hours as possible. Strain, cool, and defat.

When making soup (i.e. always), after the straining step I add cut up stewing beef with most of the visible fat removed (sometimes I’ll simmer that separately, then pour the resulting liquid into the pot while discarding the solid fatty chunks). Then I’ll put that into the fridge overnight to cool so I can remove virtually all the fat.

But even with that, the liquid has no great taste.

What am I doing wrong? Do I need to dump a lot of salt into it or something? (not that I like doing THAT for a number of reasons)…

As far as the veggie beef soup itself goes:

Couple of soup bones
Onions / carrots / celery
1 teaspoon (roughly, i don’t measure carefully) whole peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2-3 pounds not-too-fatty stew beef (or other beef if the store is out which they seem to be most of the time), cut into soup-able chunks.
1/4 to 1/2 head of cabbage, chopped into soup-able chunks or shredded.
2 1-pound bags of frozen veggies of whatever sort please you (I usually get one bag “ranchero fiesta” and one bag generic peas/carrots/corn/lima/green beans). For something like this it’s silly to go through the trouble of chopping a lot of fresh veggies.
A cup or so of uncooked barley depending on how thick you like your soup (I like mine thick enough that even a sinner could walk on it).
2-3 29-ounce cans of tomatoes: whole or diced.

Make stock as described above, with beef, then chill overnight and defat it.
Put into your biggest soup pot, add cabbage and simmer for a couple hours until cabbage is soft.
Add tomatoes and simmer for an hour or so.
Add frozen veggies and simmer for an hour or so.
Add barley (I don’t measure, just usually throw in a handful or so til it looks right) and simmer until barley is soft.
Taste, and add salt as needed (usually a teaspoon or so).

This is basically my mother’s recipe, though she wasn’t as diligent about the defatting and she sometimes threw in a couple of bouillon cubes for extra flavor.

I wouldn’t dump a lot of salt in, but you should definitely add some. Soy sauce can also be an excellent option.

You also didn’t mention how many pounds of bones you’re using.

Try using beef bones with as much marrow as possible. It will add flavor and mouth feel

I would add actual beef. It seems wasteful but throwing in a few lbs. of oxtails or neckbones you’ve roasted really nicely (be sure to deglaze) or even a lb. or 2 of well browned cheap ground beef will punch it up.
And I agree with Labrador Deceiver, a couple soup bones doesn’t cut it, if you want to just use bones you’ll need a good amount and they should be split or at least sawed into chunks.

One more thought…
How much water are you using? 1 lb of bones only makes about 2 cups of stock.

Agreed, you need a lot of bones, and cut them open to expose the marrow. Whole bones will not produce a very good stock. If you still find it weak, after straining, cooling, and defatting, put it back on the heat and let it simmer down until you get the flavor you’re looking for.

And don’t throw out the “used” bones, make a remouillage: put them back in the pot, with new roasted veggies, and simmer that for 3-4 hours. Strain, cool, defat, and save that, and the next time you make stock, instead of plain water, use this instead.

What is the weight of the bones you are turning into stock?

I do a classid fond, for brown stock -

14 pounds of shin bones, the scraps of meat still on and I get the butcher to saw them into 2 or 3 inch chunks
14 pounds veal bones, also cut into chunks
1 raw unsmoked pigs foot
1.5 pounds pork belly cut into chunks
1.5 pounds carrots
1.5 pounds onion
big bunch of parsley
smaller bunch of thyme [about one of those little plastic jewel boxes]
9 bay leaves
a whole bulbs worth of garlic, peeled but not chopped
enough water to cover everything plus a pot of simmering water ultimately this wil make about half a gallon of stock.

Roast the bones.
Dice the meat and saute it in a pan with the pigs foot.
Dice the veggies and saute in a pan after the meat and pigs foot.
[you want to cook these separately because they will brown at different rates.]
Now you can toss everything into the pot with the herbs and garlic [wrap those in gauze to make it easier to pull them out.]
Add water to the top of the ingredients and bring up to a simmer.
Skim off any foam. Do try not to do a boil because that will cloud the stock.
As it simmers, add water from the simmering pot to keep the level of liquid up.
Simmer gently for about 12-15 hours.
When done, strain out all the solids.

Do note that classically you can use stock to do this instead of water. Ultimately what you want to do with this is simmer it gently after removing the chunkies to condense it further to use to make soups, sauces or render it to a goop. I am lazy and will make this in my 100 quart stock pot once or twice a year.

Please note - NO SALT OR PEPPER. You season when you use it for the final product, not when it is made.

What zoid and Labrador Deceiver said. How many bones are you using? You should have a roughly 2:3 ratio (meaning, if you have 2 pounds of bones/meat, use 3 pounds - that is, 6 cups - of water) between bones and water for decent stock, and you really need some meat as well. I either look for meaty bones; neck bones tend to come with a lot of meat. If you can’t find meaty bones, buy some cheap meat and throw in there.

The sole thing that gives most brown foods their color and taste is what are called “Maillard reactions”, which are a big series of chemical reactions that take place in foods with protein and sugars in relatively dry conditions. The end products are both brown in color and have a distinctive roasted taste.

Maillard reactions are why coffee is brown and tastes like it does, and why roasted malt for use in beers look, smell and taste rather similar. It’s why French onion soup tastes the way it does, and to answer your question, it’s why your stock DOESN’T taste like you expect it to.

To get good dark stock, you need to foster these reactions- the typical ways to do this for stock making are to roast the bones/meat in the oven until it’s well browned, or to sear the meaty parts in the pot and deglaze it to get the stuck-on Maillard reaction products into solution.

Here’s a link that describes a fairly standard brown beef stock recipe, including roasting the ingredients beforehand.

Stock isn’t going to taste like you expect, being mostly saltless. Try taking a small amount and salting it until it tastes appropriately salty, and see if that makes it taste right.

Hi Mamma Z… Roasting the bones helps, but if you want the dark, dark brown color in your stock that the pro’s get, you need to learn the twofold secret of onions.

1. Don’t peel them. The skins produce a natural dark brown dye.

2. Cut them in half and char the exposed surface. In a pan, on a grill, in the oven broiler, just go till you have a nice black surface. Now they’re ready to plunk in your stock. This not only darkens your stock, but satiates the fire gods for the rest of your day in the kitchen. ( In theory… they’re known to be fickle at times and claim additional sacrifices from the unwary :wink: )

It’s okay to salt at the very end, depending on the stock’s final use.

Cook’s Illustrated concluded that the only way to get a good beef stock is to use beef… that is, meat, and quite a bit of it, not just bones.

Thanks, all! I’ll have to double-check the bone package(s), they’re in the fridge and I’m upstairs at the moment.

It sounds like I’ve been doing several things “wrong”: wasn’t until the past couple of years that I learned about roasting the bones and mire-poix (Mom never did), and I’ve apparently been using way too much water. Which is fine for when I’m making veggie-beef soup as there are a lot of other flavors involved… And “too much water” is fixable by cooking the strained broth down a bit, I guess.

I also never worried too much about skimming as it simmered, as clarity wasn’t a huge issue for veg-beef soup, but if I want to use the stock in something else it’s worth doing. And, I probably also had the heat on too high (more of a boil vs. a simmer).

Cringing as I read the about.com article’s French “pronunciation” guides, the accents they give are truly awful :smack: (and d’épices would be “day-PEES” with an S, not “DAY-peez” with a Z) but the mention of adding a tomato product was interesting - that’s the second time I saw that today (an Emeril article being the other). I wonder how that would work if the recipe it’s intended for doesn’t contain tomatoes.

Ooh - and it looks like I was on the right track, sort-of, with separately simmering the fatty trimmings from the meat, though I should do the trimming up front and throw those bits in with the bones while they’re roasting.

Have any of you tried adding a bit of vinegar to the boiling bones? Supposedly that helps extract more collagen, and maybe also some calcium.

Wait–what? You’re getting two quarts of stock out of about 35 pounds of ingredients?

The place I buy beef bones charges something like $2.50 a pound. There’s no way I could spend this much money to get two quarts.

Yeah, 5 lbs of meaty bones will make 3 qts of pretty rich stock.

I always go to our local slaughterhouse to get the bones I use for beef stock. They’re dirt cheap, at less than $1/lb. They make a fantastic stock.

Yup, probably a gallon to a gallon and a half of water to cover, and then I simmer it down to about half - sometimes way down to a pint if I want glace des viandes.

You said you want a good rich stock, and not skimping on ingredients is where it starts - and keep in mind, bone and connective tissue is heavy.

Yeah, that’s about the going rate at ethnic groceries around here. Anywhere from $0.79-$1.29/lb. But, yeah, too much water is the usual culprit for any stock deficiencies. My stocks have gotten richer with less water. I generally just add enough to cover the ingredients, and maybe a tiny bit more, but not too much more. Also, salt does help a lot to bring out the beefiness. (Then again, there are stocks that I make that call for much lighter stock. Eastern European stocks, for example, tend to be a good deal less heavy, no roasted bones, more meaty–so more of a broth, really–vegetables of celeraic, carrots, and parsnip. They’re a treat when you want something much lighter, which is most of the time for my style of cooking. They still end up gelling in the fridge, so there is a decent amount of collagen extraction. If your stock is not gelling, than you’re certainly not cooking it down enough or not using enough bones.)

Also, if it still tastes thin to you, you can always cook it down and concentrate it. You can even cook it down to a syrup (the aforementioned glace de viande) and use that as you would a product like “Better Than Bouillon.” Just add water until it’s the concentration you like. I like to cook down a quart of stock to about 1/2-1 cup. There’s no real rule, just when it starts getting syruppy. The other advantage is you can save a hell of a lot of storage space this way, and if you need to fortify your soups, you can use this glace. The disadvantage is that it takes a good amount of time (around 4-8 hours, at least for me.) Oh, and I should note that you do this with the stock itself, after you’ve strained it of its ingredients. It’s just a concentrating step.

And if you really, really want to cheat, you can always throw in (please don’t kill me) a beef bouillon cube or some MSG. I know you’re most likely not going to do this, but I’ve been known to do it in a pinch. It’s totally cheating and kind of defeats the point of making stock from scratch, but sometimes you just gotta make something work. I also find that stock generally needs a good bit of salt before it starts tasting “right” to me. Not as much salt as most canned stocks, but, still, a good bit. But I only add a little for cooking and mostly do the salt additions/corrections when I make my final soup out of the stock.

I haven’t made beef broth, but I’ve made very rich turkey stock (from the carcass of a turkey breast roast) and chicken stock (from the carcass of a grocery store rotisseire chicken). In addition to the meat/bones, I add carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms, and a couple of tomatoes, and maybe asparagus if I have any, and whatever spices I feel like throwing in, and just a small amount of salt. I use my largest crock pot and cook it on low for 24 hours. I have several containers of this in my freezer, and I’ve been thinking of learning to pressure-can, just to can my stock, since I’m running out of freezer room.

A few random thoughts that might be helpful:

I roast the bones until they are nearly burned. They’ve got to be seriously dark-coffee brown at the tips.

I notice you don’t mention roasting up some garlic with the rest; it really helps. You say you are roasting the onions, but are they a good rich brown straight through? Caramelizing the onions will go a long way to enrich the flavor if you don’t have enough bones to get there. Likewise the roasted carrots should have lots of brown on the skins; I use a stick blender to mix them into the final product and thicken it.

Tomato juice and port wine are good choices for adding flavor. If all else fails, a dollop of dark sesame oil is really great.

I prefer celery seed to fresh celery in beef stock. The stalks have a bright flavor that makes it feel less rich. Bonus points for toasting the seeds before you drop them in.

hth