We never made beef stock in culinary school. Not once. Instead, we made veal stock. A lot of it, almost everyday.
Prior to that, veal wasn’t on my culinary radar. As a born and bred west coaster, I simply saw too many animal cruelty videos in my pasty-faced-I’m-a-vegetarian-anti-Gordon-Gecko teenage years. (In the 80’s — very short lived.)
When I asked Chef P, my culinary skills instructor, if one could use beef stock in place of veal, I got a very French Chef answer: “Non.” No elaboration, no nothing. Not for a couple of minutes, anyway. Chef P never said anything before its time.
“Why can’t you use veal? Are you scared for the little baby cows?”
That’s Chef P. Let’s just say animal cruelty concerns are not on his culinary radar.
When Chef P did eventually get around to explaining why there is simply no substitute for veal stock, all was explained:
You see, young bones contain a higher percentage of cartilage and other connective tissue than older ones. And the collagen in the connective tissues is converted to gelatin and water during the cooking process. When it’s all finished, the higher the gelatin content of the stock, the richer and more full bodied the stock. The younger the animal, the better the stock.
Free-range veal is definitely an option — less controversial than their formula-fed, white-fleshed cousins whose praises Chef P continually sang. And although the flesh of the free-range is much darker and (I’m told) has a much more substantial flavour than that of the formula-fed, I doubt very much that there is a significant difference in their bones.
Or, you can use beef bones, and fortify the stock by using a remouillage instead of plain water.
Most often what I do is to simply reduce the beef stock a little more than I would have reduced a veal stock. This is an easy way to create a flavourful and full bodied stock when you don’t have access to veal bones. Like me — floating veal-boneless here on our little rock in the sea.