What was I thinking? The day before we left for Thanksgiving with the rellies, my farmer friend dropped off some lamb bones she didn't have time to deal with. When she called to ask whether I wanted them, she didn't mention that they were huge, nor that she was talking about 15 pounds or so of bones with plenty of meaty bits on them. But how could I say no? These were lamb bones from her own pastured animals fed an organic diet. I rarely turn down free offers, and this certainly wasn't going to be one of those occasions.
Silly me, I thought it would be a good idea to warm the house up by roasting the bones and making stock out of them the day before we left home. Honestly, there wasn't much choice, since the apple cider had taken up all the free space in the freezer. The bones wouldn't have fit in there to be dealt with later. It was a very cold day, and the soup I incorporated it into for dinner that night did hit the spot. There were so many bones I couldn't easily fit them all in my largest skillet, a massive 15-incher. They were fatty enough that they needed no extra oil. A few peeled carrots formed a bed of sorts for the bones at the bottom of the skillet. I rummaged around in the freezer until I came up with my bag of saved parsley stems. Leek greens salvaged from a few homegrown leeks adorned the bones as well.
The bones produced an intensely meaty smell as they roasted. Unfortunately, only the top ones were getting brown, so after the first hour and a half, I removed the top ones to let the lower ones darken too. When they were cool, I realized that neither were they going to fit into my two largest stock pots. I had to ask my husband to get out the (rarely used) cleaver and the protective eye wear. He swung the cleaver, marrow and bone bits flew everywhere, and some evidence was left on our now properly christened butcher block.
Into the pots went the bones, the deglazed roasted carrots, and deeply charred leek greens. There were so many bones that I only simmered them for about an hour and a half. By that time the flavor was almost too intense. Normally, I would have been a glutton and let it simmer for 3-4 hours, but time was short that day.
Some of the stock went into a harvest meal soup, which I'll post about soon. I had to dilute the stock by about 50% for the flavor not to overwhelm all the other ingredients. The rest of the highly concentrated stock filled up eight (!) quart containers. The diluted lamb stock was all the meat we needed in an otherwise vegetarian soup.
It's nice to feel that we helped thoroughly use up this animal, so that less of it went to waste. I feel it's more respectful of the animal's life to value and use every bit of it. It also pleased my frugal side to wind up with two gallons of double strength lamb stock for a material outlay of about 15 cents. (The organic carrots were store bought in bulk.) This rich ingredient will form the basis of many, many meals for us.
I've also gotten an invitation from my farming friend to make haggis the next time she slaughters some lambs. That will use up the lungs, heart, liver, tongue and stomach of the animal, parts that in the past have been feed to her dogs or gone to waste entirely.
If you're interested in making stock here's a list of tips:
- always peel your carrots (the skins will otherwise contribute a greenish hue)
- just about any part of an onion is fair game: trimmings, leek green bits, etc
- celery leaves and trimmings, and stems from herbs boost flavor (and can be frozen)
- it's fine, in fact preferable, to use bones with a little meat on them
- poultry, beef, and lamb bones make great stock, pork bones not so much
- unless there's a good bit of fat on the bones, you may want to oil them lightly before roasting
- use a wide pan for roasting, with sides at least a few inches high, a large skillet works
- spread the bones in single layer as well as possible
- if you've salvage bones from some roasted meat, there's no need to roast them a second time, but bones roasted on their own produce better flavor in the stock
- roasted organs/giblets add wonderful flavor to stocks, except for the liver, which imparts a slightly muddy flavor
- the skin and the legs of animals (shanks, feet) add gelatin to the stock. If you want a gelatinous stock, include them. If you want a thin stock, don't.
- roast at high temperature (~400 F, 200 C) for at least 1 hour, depending on size and quantity of bones
- bones should be well browned by the roasting
- always deglaze the roasting pan with liquid (loosen the stuck on brown bits) and add the liquid to the stock pot
- never boil the stock vigorously as you prepare it; it should barely simmer
- skim and remove the scum that rises to the top for the first 10 minutes as the stock begins to simmer
- when finished, strain the stock through a cheese cloth or fine strainer
- chill and remove the fat if desired
- if you're in a hurry, ice cubes added to the top of a somewhat cooled pot of stock will congeal the fat for easy removal