Bones – Trash or Treasure?

Beef Vegetable Soup

I’m really a weak person.  I mean this in the sense of not having the strength of my own convictions.  It’s like I have one part of me that intellectually knows what’s right and wrong, but then when faced with the naked reality of daily life, I tend to push those beliefs behind me.  I do this regularly.

I’ll give you a good example – over the past several months, I’ve been watching some really good documentaries -I’m addicted to documentaries- such as ‘King Corn‘, ‘Food, Inc.’, ‘The Future of Food‘, etc.  These are all enlightening pieces, and I don’t question anything in any of them as being over-stated.  We have much to fear from corporate food.

I get sensitized by watching these docs – and then I go shopping.

Our big grocery chain in this area is Safeway, a huge California based grocery – like many of their competitors, they run weekly ‘Come-ons’ that most often are not met by other groceries.  I’ve reached the point where I am willing to play these silly grocery games – I’ve got the time, and I most often wait until one of them has a super sale on some staple, and then I go stock the freezer.

Sounds good, but what if this week’s special is one of the foods I just learned to avoid?  Just such a thing happened last week, when huge hunks of 7 Bone Beef went on sale at Safeway for $1.99 a lb.  Now, I know that a lot of shoppers avoid 7 Bone cuts because of the large bone, and if it’s not trimmed (and the $1.99 stuff is not), there can be significant waste.  But I’m not sure that all shoppers know that 7 Bone has an insider reputation as having some of the best tasting meat on the steer – I personally love it.  I make all my ground beef with 7 Bone, and the large internal center muscle has little fat or gristle, and makes superb pot roast or braised beef – and I use it for grilled steak as well; it’s not all that tough when quick grilled.  Yes, 7 Bone is part of the chuck section, not a premier part of the steer, but in my opinion, the best part of the chuck.

But as I looked at those gigantic packs of 7 Bone Beef, I couldn’t help but remember the plight of the steers who spent their short lives crowded into a manure covered feed lot instead of out on a rolling pasture eating grass, as nature intended.  Instead, the feed lot steer is fed primarily corn, which is so unnatural to the steer, that in a year’s time, this diet will kill the steer – but not to worry – the corn is so good at adding weight to the steer, that it’ll be killed in six months for processing.  That is, unless the ulcers and/or other diseases caused by the corn diet don’t bring an untimely death to the steer instead.  Ahaa!  We can just add some good anti-biotics to the corn, and voila, a new lease on life!  Or at least a few more months until the steer adds enough weight for slaughter.

Yes, my friends, all this I knew and remembered as I gazed on those huge hunks of beef -for $1.99 a lb.- and I picked up two anyway!  Weak – very weak.  Please do me a favor and deliver a swift kick to my backside as I bend over right now.

Thank you.

Frankly, I don’t even know where to go to buy non-feedlot beef in my area – and as to the question of why eat beef at all, my answer is for variety.  As a food lover, I find it imperative to my eating pleasure to be subjected to many different tastes – if one is only faced day in and day out with the self-same tastes, one never sees the beautiful pastels and vibrant neons of the food world – only a constant olive drab of sameness.  And this I hate – and do all I can to avoid.

And so, although we don’t eat a lot of beef, it does make up part of our diet’s variety.  I love braised beef, especially in a red wine – or a good pot roast – I like meat loaf – and an occasional steak is nice.  And here’s what I did with the big hunks of 7 Bone that I brought home.

I cut the large middle section, which is mostly muscle, to use for a braising purpose – it’ll do well for a nice pot roast, but just remember the long, slow cooking necessary for it will also reduce it in size – maybe even by half – so choose your dish accordingly.  Or it can be cut into smaller cubes, as can much of the other pieces of the 7 Bone cut.  Often, but not this time, I’d use the outside pieces for ground beef – but this time I simply cubed them for a future braise or use in chili.  Most of this got wrapped and frozen for future use.

The more beef muscle I cut away, the closer I got to the bone – in the 7 Bone cut, you will not find 7 bones, but one large bone which, more or less, looks like the number 7 (somewhat), and there may also be a few more smaller bones, depending on which end of the shoulder your cut was made – in any case, there will be a good amount of bone.  And this time, I was OK with that, ’cause I was going to make some luscious soup with those bones and the scraps of meat surrounding the bones – really good soup.

Bones Ready for the Oven

Beef Scraps Saved for Adding to Soup Later

Rendered Fat and Cracklins Are Useful Later As Well

Knowing how easy it is for the normal family to occasionally make soup with the excess of the refrigerator, and/or the use of bones -normally thrown away- to make a stock for said soup, it blows my mind that soup has become so expensive to buy in a can.  I’ve not done a study on this, but my impression is that many years ago, the relative cost of a can of soup was much less than it is today.  Why?  Well, again, I may be wrong about my premise, but I don’t think so – and it’s just amazing to me that more families don’t make more soup, because not only are regular soup meals budget stretchers, but they assist in using up leftovers that normally would just deteriorate in the fridge.

Bones Halfway Through the Roasting Process

Let's Add Some Whole Canned Tomatoes

I don’t have a soup recipe for you today, because the whole gist of my post today is to suggest a process that will depend on whatever you have around at the time.  And in my case, I’m going to start by making a stock with my bones from my 7 Bone Beef.  Admittedly, I’m not using a lot of bones in this stock, maybe a third of what would be considered a normal amount for making stock, but hey, there’s only two of us, so we don’t need a ton of soup – and if I need to, I’ll augment the stock with some broth concentrate later.

You could just throw the bones into the stock pot and boil away – but they will have far more flavor if you first roast the bones – Yup, this will bring out the maximum flavor in those bones, and if you roast a few choice veggies along with the bones, these will also give you some added flavor.  So, grab a roasting pan and put your bones, a big peeled onion cut into quarters, and a couple of peeled carrots cut in large chunks (peel the veggies because you’ll want make them part of the eventual soup itself) and salt and pepper all.  Turn the oven to 500 degrees F and when it reaches temp, slip the roasting pan in.  Roast for 25 minutes, and add a big tomato, cut in half or a small can of whole tomatoes – continue roasting for another 20 minutes.

Add Some Water to Roasting Pan and Scrape Up Flavor

Now Make Your Stock

Remove the roasting pan from the oven, and move the bones and veggies to a small pot (the idea here is that when you begin making the stock, you’ll only want enough water to cover the bones/veggies – so use a pot only large enough for all your bones and veggies to snugly fit in the bottom.) and just cover with water.  Set aside, and move the roasting pan to your stove-top – turn on the burner to low and add a pint or so of water to the pan – using a spatula or metal spoon, begin scrapping up the brown bits on the bottom of the roasting pan – as the water simmers, keep scrapping until you’ve got most of the brown stuff off the bottom of the pan.  Pour this liquid into your stock pot.

Now you’re ready to begin making the stock – turn the heat up and bring the stock to a boil – then turn down to a simmer, and this will be the preferred cooking heat for the next 8 – 10 hours (or more, if you’ve got the time).  Cover the pot and occasionally check to see if the simmer is low enough (you don’t want a wild boil), and occasionally skim off any foam that builds on the sides of the pot.  If the level of the liquid drops below the top of the bones and veggies, add a little more water to bring it back up over the bones.

Yes, it takes a long time to make stock, but you don’t have to stand over it!  Just check every hour or two, stir, and keep it at a low simmer and  the water up above the bones – and magic will happen.  Once it’s cooked as long as you’d like, remove the bones and let them cool – if you’ve peeled all the veggies you’ve used in making the stock, you can leave them in as part of your eventual soup, but in truth, they won’t have a great deal of flavor left in them – so, your choice.

And Now, Use Your Stock to Make Soup

When the bones cool, you can strip off the remaining meat and add it back to the soup you’re making, but again, it won’t have a great deal of flavor left – what I do at this point is to add all the scraps I accumulated in cutting up the beef – cut them into small pieces and cook them along with whatever else you’re building your soup with.  You may use any number of leftovers from the fridge, or use new raw veggies instead.  I personally think a beef based soup goes well with chopped onion, cabbage, garlic, tomato, and celery.  Choose any herbs carefully, so as not to overpower the eventual flavor – but a subtle use of thyme, oregano, parsley or marjoram would work well.

And once you’ve chosen all your ingredients, give your soup a final taste test – for in truth, it is only now that you can determine if your soup has enough flavor to be worthy of serving.  You’ll especially want to know if you’ve gotten enough ‘flavor’ out of your bones and stock – and it is very possible that the answer is No, if the amount of the bones used was small, as in my own case.  And mine was a bit weak at this point, so I augmented by using a broth concentrate.  I’m currently using ‘Better Than Bouillon’, which is very nice stuff – it’s available in low sodium – important if you are augmenting stock or making a sauce, otherwise you’d be raising the sodium level of your final dish.  I get this stuff at Wal-Mart in large 8 oz jars for about $6.  And it will make far more than you’ll get out of $6 worth of canned stock – and taste better as well.

I almost always add some kind of noodle to my homemade soups, but I don’t often add the noodles to a soup that will be stored in the fridge or freezer – noodles deteriorate when left in a liquid or frozen.  Instead, I cook up some noodles separately and add them to the soup as I’m heating it for serving.

And Now It's Time to Enjoy Some Damn Good Soup!

So, there’s my leftover of the month, gang – and a suggestion not to throw away any of those meat bones, or carcasses of roasted birds either – even after a chicken is roasted, the carcass is still useful in making a nice stock – so either use it right away, or freeze them until you have several to make stock with.  Not only is this kind to your food budget, but the quality of your soups will skyrocket too.

Bring out the real cook in you – make some soup from scratch this week.

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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11 Responses to Bones – Trash or Treasure?

  1. Tupper says:

    Dem bones, dem bones! Nice looking soup Doc-it’s about 6 above here right now, and that would fit the bill.

    I made some killer minestrone the other night, I love soup.

    As for the moral implications of buying meat, I hear about it all the time from the stepdaughter whose been living with us since she moved back from Denver. She doesn’t preach, but occasionally I get info I didn’t solicit. I get their arguments, they’re legit, but as for me I’m an old dog and I choose the new tricks I want to learn. That said, I have been going meatless at least once a week and I’m enjoying some of her veggie offerings.

    Ha! I just threw a 4 1/2 lb. pork butt into the slow cooker for pulled pork sammies later on tonight. That and some homemade fries will do the trick!

    • drfugawe says:

      You know, everyday now I am either learning stuff I never knew, or that I’ve forgotten -think the latter is more correct- but the latest piece of “new” info is that really well done pork shoulder should be over 200 F by a probe thermometer! I swear I’ve never seen that before – I love to do pork shoulder like the Cubans do in Miami, where they marinate it in garlic and sour orange, and roast it until it’s about 170F internal temp. I thought that was high!

      200+F! You shouldn’t have to use a fork to shred it – it should be shredded when you open the pot.

      Do you use a thermometer when you cook pork? How do you judge it’s done?

  2. Tupper says:

    Yes, I have a digital probe, but I use that to more or less guide me to doneness. The key when making pulled pork or beef for that matter, is shredability. To that end I just pulled the beast out of the crockpot and subdivided it into 5 smaller pieces. It’s cooked right now, but it’s not shredable, nor did I expect it to be. The little chunk I tasted was good, but not great Another hour or two and adding BBQ sauce should make it perfect. I’ll update! 200 seems way high, but what do I know?

  3. Tupper says:

    Oh- I figured 160-170 was about right for doneness, not shredableness. It’ll be hotter when it’s done I’m sure, but I haven’t put the thermometer in yet, no need to since it’s still cooking, and when I cut it up it was nice and done inside.

  4. Frances Quinn says:

    What is 7 Bone Beef? I have never seen anything like that here on the east coast? Still have not found beef cheeks. Oh well!

    • drfugawe says:

      Frances, 7 Bone is also known as Blade Roast, or maybe just Shoulder Roast – it’s just the name game!

      Have you checked Wal-Mart for the beef cheeks? There, or a small butcher would probably be the only sources.

  5. Tupper says:

    Follow up to pulled pork. Hey Doc-when I did put the probe in about 1/2 hour before shredding it was 190 degrees, which surprised me. I’ve got a Rival crockpot that’s about 10 years old, and while it knew it always ran hot, I couldn’t believe it was that hot (on medium). At any rate it turned out swell, so I’m not too concerned about the high temp or overcooking.

  6. We don’t eat as much beef as you guys over there, but I enjoyed reading this. We use mainly chickens for stock, my freezer has many tubs of chicken jelly that we use for all sorts of dishes, enriching soups, risotto bases and so on. I confess I prefer the stock you get from poaching fresh bones to that of the stripped roasted remains, it’s far richer and more delicate in flavour.

  7. Raymond Blanc, french chef who works in England, much loved national treasure etc etc yesterday cooked a shoulder of lamb on a bed of lamb bones. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/slow_roasted_shoulder_of_04540 and I thought of you and the bones…

    I hope you can see this recipe. I suspect you can’t watch the show as it is on the BBC and they restrict access, though I read this might change….

    • drfugawe says:

      We get lots of BBC stuff – even have a cable BBC channel – but I’ve never seen any Raymond Blanc shows. But I looked at the recipe – what does he mean by ‘hang for 10 days’ for the lamb? Hang where?

      You may be surprised to learn that in my neck of the woods, I’d have a hard time finding lamb shoulder. Only lamb that’s easy is leg, loin or chops, and shanks – I’d have to get shoulder in the big city. We truly are deprived here.

      • Ah, he made some fabulous TV shows many years ago when he taught some non cooks to make his special dishes and has recently returned to do a couple of series. He has a restaurant and hotel called La Manoir aux Quatres Saisons.

        Lamb shoulder? he uses because it is considered the more economic cut, we have lots of sheep and lots of imported sheep from New Zealand. Those old trade links! I am sure you could make this with a leg of lamb or any other cut. Leg is the most expensive cut. This recipe comes from a prog about lamb, and he makes three dishes from different cuts. Cheap lamb liver, medium price shoulder and expensive rack of lamb.

        What does he mean by hung? I think that refers to the programme, where he uses lamb produced by a specialist. The meat is hung for 10 days following slaughter by the supplier/producer, it’s not something he expects us to do at home.

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