I rarely use beef stock, although I occasionally stumble across recipes that require it. During winter, I dedicate a large amount of freezer real estate to tubs of chicken stock; something I make often and use frequently. However homemade stock can take up a lot of room, and I just don’t have the space to also store large quantities of the lesser-used beef stock. To overcome this problem, yet still have supplies of homemade beef stock on hand, I make my own beef stock cubes.
Homemade beef stock cubes have all the convenience of a commercial stock cube, without the additives. They also contain a lot more beef. Read the ingredient list on almost any commercial stock cube. Beef is often listed as 2 – 3% of the total ingredients. The remainder of a commercial cube contains salt, sugar(s), modified starches, oils, yeast extracts and flavour enhancers, many present in larger amounts than the beef extract after which the cube is named.
I’m not going to lie. Making your own beef stock cubes does require a significant time investment. However, as I use a slow cooker to make the stock, the actual hands-on time is minimal. Beef bones are thicker and denser than chicken bones, so it takes longer to draw vitamins, minerals and gelatin out of the bones and into the stock. The longer the bones are simmered, the better the stock will be. I simmer beef bones for up to two days in my largest slow cooker, topping up the liquid level with boiling water as required. After a few days of largely ignoring the slow cooker, I am rewarded with a deeply flavourful stock.
After trial and error (mainly error) I have discovered it is better to let the stock cool before reducing it. Cooling the stock allows the fat to solidify on top, and it becomes easy to scoop off. Reserve any fat removed from the stock for other uses. I like to keep it beside the stove for frying. If the fat is not removed before the stock is concentrated, it will become emulsified in the stock itself resulting in a greasy stock cube. Not that I would know anything about that.
Stock cubes will keep in the fridge for at least a month due to the reduced water content. As I don’t use them that often, I prefer to store them in the freezer, where they will last at least twelve months. This process can also be used to make chicken stock cubes. And if you can’t be bothered making stock cubes, and have valuable freezer space to spare, just make the beef stock. At least you will know exactly what is in your food.
Kitchen Basics: How to Make Beef Stock Cubes
I use a large 6L slow cooker to make the stock, and the quantities given below are for this. If you are using a smaller slow cooker, adjust your quantities accordingly.
Each stock cube will make 1 cup of beef stock.
- 2.5 kg beef bones
- 2 onions cut into 8ths
- 6 - 8 medium mushrooms halved
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large carrots roughly chopped
- 3 large stalks celery roughly chopped
- Small bunch parsley
- 2 leaves bay
- 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 cup red wine
To make the beef stock
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan forced).
- Spread the beef bones in a single layer over a large baking tray.
- Tuck the onions and mushrooms into the gaps between the bones.
- Roast the bones for 30-40 minutes, or until the bones have browned and the onions softened.
- Whilst the bones are roasting, place the carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns in the bottom of a large slow cooker
- Remove the tray from the oven, and transfer the roasted bones and vegetables to the slow cooker.
- Pour the red wine over the bones, and then fill the slow cooker with water.
- Turn the slow cooker onto low.
- Allow to simmer for as long as possible, and for up to 2 days (48 hours). Keep an eye on the liquid level in the slow cooker, and top up with hot water as required.
To concentrate the stock
- Strain the stock, taking care to remove all of the vegetables and bones.
- Place the strained stock into the fridge, allowing it to cool completely. This will allow the fat that has rendered out of the bones to set into a solid layer on the top of the stock.
- Remove the fat layer from the top of the stock. This fat can be saved and used for cooking.
- Heat the stock in a large saucepan, bringing it to a gentle simmer.
- Continue to simmer the stock for 40 - 60 minutes, during which time it will reduce considerably.
- The stock has concentrated enough when it appears thicker, and has taken on a shiny, syrupy appearance.
To make the stock cubes
- Line a 14cm x 19cm x 5cm container with silicone-lined baking paper.
- Gently pour the reduced stock into the lined container, and place in the fridge for 6 -8 hours to set.
- Once set, remove from the container, and chop the beef stock into 4cm x 5cm cubes.
- These cubes will last in the fridge for a few weeks, however I prefer to freeze them until required.
To use the stock cubes
- Place the stock cube in a jug or container that has volume markings on it.
- Fill the jug to the 1 cup measure with boiling water.
- Allow to sit for 2 minutes.
- Stir to thoroughly dissolve the stock cube.
- Use as required.