fat free opinions on a food centric life

Demi-glace: A Mother of a Sauce

At some point when you've got as much time as I do on your hands, you get around to cooking something that caught your eye years ago when time was quite the precious commodity.  But years have gone by since then and time does a good job of layering all the possibilities life tosses in our path, so the urge was buried until I saw the December issue of Saveur last year showcasing traditional meat sauces such as charcutiere and bordelaise — sauces I've made before, but with purchased demi-glace.

There was no reason not to try the demi-glace recipe since time seemed to be the biggest requirement, and it wasn't even focused time.  Thankfully.  How hard could it be to roast a few pounds of bones and then simmer them for a few hours?

Twenty hours, to be exact, and that's just the simmering time.

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It's not often that I see meat bones in the case at the grocery store, so when I saw a couple of packages, I tossed them in the cart wondering just how many I'd need to make my own demi-glace.  A second glance at the article after I got home informed me I'd need about ten, so I put the bones in the freezer knowing it may be a while before I saw more.

You're thinking I should have gone to the butcher, right?  Yes, I believe I know where one is thanks to a very good friend who purchases lovely cuts of meat there for special occasions.  I still haven't been there myself, however, so the idea of actually picking up the telephone to call and inquire about whether they'd have some bones for me at some point in the foreseeable future appeared far more organized than my serendipitous self seems to be these days.

It's a very sad state of affairs.

But I did happen on a few more packages of beef bones in the next few weeks, so decided that I'd give the recipe a go.

Although there seems to be a bit of variation on how one goes about making demi-glace, essentially, it's made from roasting bones with a small amount of vegetable and tomato, then slowly simmering the bones in a good quantity of water for hours before straining, then reducing.  Some versions require a Sauce Espagnole to be made first, which requires a thickener such as flour, and then that sauce blended with beef stock before reducing.

In consulting Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, there is no simple recipe for demi-glace.  Instead, here is what can be found:

"The classical French brown sauce starts out with a long-simmered brown meat stock that goes into the making of an equally long-simmered, lightly thickened sauce base called an espagnole.  The espagnole is simmered and skimmed for several hours more with additional stock and flavorings until it finally develops into the traditional mother of the brown sauces, demi-glace. But as we are concerned with less formal cooking, we shall discuss it no further." (pg. 66, Vol. I)

Evidently, to some, however,the addition of the thickener is sacriledge and far be it from me to sway from a purist perspective on this.  Besides, making an espagnole first would require additional ingredients and steps — not something I was interested in. No, I'll save that one for another time.

To make the Saveur recipe, I'd need:

  • a very large roasting pan;
  • a very large stock pot;
  • a chinois; and/or
  • a fine meshed strainer.

And I'd need to not mind the scent of roasting beef permeating my house for two days.

About 10 lbs. of beef bones
10 lbs. of beef bones cost me about $15 and they had little or no meat on them at all.  The bones should be in a single layer and roast at 500 degrees F for 1 to1-1/2 hours.

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While the bones are roasting, chop the vegetables and make the bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay leaves wrapped in the green part of a leek.

Spread the veggies around the bones.
After the bones are richly browned, spread the vegetables around the bones evenly and return the mixture to the oven for another 45 minutes until they are "deeply browned," according to the recipe. (Please see my notes about this below.)

Bouquet Garni

Transfer the bones and vegetables to a very large stock pot.  Place the roasting pan over two stove burners and on high heat, deglaze the pan with 3 cups water, stirring to dislodge any dark bits from the pan.  Simmer for 3 minutes, then transfer the liquid to the pot with the bones.  Add the bouquet garni and the tomato paste, then pour in 6-8 quarts of cold water.  Over medium high heat, bring the mixture to a simmer.  Turn the heat down to maintain an extremely slow simmer. 

Quantity of fat skimmed from the simmering bones.

Carefully skim any foam or fat from the surface throughout the cooking time:  at least 6-8 hours, but preferrably 18-24 hours.  The longer the simmering time, the more deeply flavored the broth will be.

Strain the broth.
When the bones are finished simmering, and you've skimmed as much fat as can be skimmed from the surface, carefully remove the bones, pouring the broth through a chinois.  Do not press on the remnants.  Instead, tap lightly to release any liquid from the bones.

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If you're so inclined, the remaining bones can actually be used to make a much lighter broth or remouillage.

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Put the broth back on the stove over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 cups, about 5 hours until it is thick and much like syrup.

Colorful, isn't it?
Pour through a fine-meshed strainer into a lidded container and refrigerate, allowing any fat remaining to solidify on the surface.  Then discard the fat. 

Discard the fat.

4 T. in each container

Divide the demi-glace into containers if you wish for sharing or freezing, up to 6 months.

Two cups demi-glace

Notes:

  • I started this little project on a very rainy Monday morning at about 9:00 and didn't finish with the reduction until Tuesday afternoon.
  • I can't begin to tell you how much fat came out of these bones in the oven.  The entire house was completely smoky!  I roasted the bones for only 1 hour before adding the veggies, then turned the heat down to 450 degrees F, and roasted for only an additional 40 minutes.  The idea of "deeply browned" was fairly black in this case — and my oven is most definitely accurately calibrated.
  • There was nothing to "deglaze" in the roasting pan.  The fat was clear and all particles were quite large, so came out with the bones.  Most vegetables were so darkly colored, I could barely tell what they were.
  • I skimmed routinely throughout the simmering period — except for over night, of course, but by that time, most of the fat had been skimmed off.
  • The beginning of the reduction time goes fairly slowly, and after about 30 minutes or so, I turned the heat down to medium or medium-low.  I did not stir the mixture at all during its reduction.
  • I poured the reduction through a fine-meshed strainer before putting it in the fridge.
  • About the taste:  I was seriously worried because the vegetables were pretty much burned even though I had turned the heat down.  But after the final strain after reduction, I gave it a taste with a tiny bit of salt.  It is definitely strong with a bit of a bite!
  • I've already sampled it in an impromptu mustard cream sauce and it's very, very good, adding a richness that otherwise wouldn't be there.
  • I will be experimenting with many, many sauces for quite some time, but do plan on sharing with a few friends to get their opinion.
  • After surfing around on the web today, I found a variety of sites that have additional information regarding demi-glace if you're interested and would like other versions and others' experiences. 
  • Demi-Glace to Prepare at Home at Gateway Gourmet
  • Demi-Glace – ChefTalk Cooking Forums at ChefTalk
  • Demi-Glace Debacle…A Tale of a Broken Heart at What Geeks Eat
  • Demi-Glace at The Washington Post
  • Veal Demi-Glace: A Recipe with Two Key Ingredients — Patience and Will at Angela's Food Love
  • Sauce Espagnole and Demi-Glace at Whisk: a Food Blog
  • Veal Demi-Glace at Epicurious
  • Demi-Glaze at Heat and Knives

Now I mentioned that the veggies had a high brown, right?  Well, I have to hold myself accountable here and keep the veracity flowing, so here's your reward for reading to the end of this labor of love.  This is what the bones and vegetables looked like after their reduced temp, reduced time in the oven…

Black is Black

I'd say this takes "deeply browned" to a whole new level, wouldn't you?  Um-hmmm.