When people talk about the healthfulness of bone stock, they are typically considering absorbable minerals, collagen, bone marrow, gut-healing properties, relief of joint pain, amino acids that complement the consumption of muscle meat…the list goes on.
I would like to pay tribute to the fat that can be derived from beef or lamb stock, or what I am calling Bone Tallow.
Tallow is the rendered fat of lamb or cow. It is usually assumed to be derived from suet, the hard deposits of fat around the kidneys and loins. It is primarily saturated fat with both a high smoke point and resistance to oxidative damage, making it an excellent fat for frying. A quick wiki-search reveals not only our long history with tallow, but a range of applications beyond the culinary, from candles to biodiesel to flux for soldering.
Bone Tallow is easily gathered when making stock. If you are making stock from grass-fed ruminants, it’s almost a shame not secure some of the fat. After all, that’s one of the reasons to invest in grass-fed animals in the first place: healthy fats free of the toxins that abound in grain-fed conventional meat. Plus, when you notice the sheer quantity of fat that rises to the surface of the stock, it feels wasteful not to collect some.
Once rendered, Bone Tallow has a decently high smoke-point like regular tallow. Unlike regular tallow, I suspect it may confer some of the health benefits of the stock itself. It’s also delicious (although I haven’t done a blind taste test with regular tallow to determine which is more delicious). In any case, I’ll have some suggestions for using both tallow varieties at the end of the post.
Begin by finding a recipe for beef stock that you think will taste good. Most people include vegetables at some point, the holy trinity most important among them. Many include herbs, as well, rosemary being a favorite of mine. Most people exclude salt, however, finding it easier and more controllable to season stock-based dishes later. It bears mentioning that salt changes the name of our gelatinous, culinary substance from stock to broth. My most recent batch of stock was bare-bones, as it were, made using only grass-fed beef bones (about 12 pounds), filtered water (enough to cover the bones), and apple cider vinegar (about a cup). From a culinary perspective, I wanted unadulterated flavor which I could ammend later as needed. From a home-health sleuth’s perspective, limiting ingredients is helpful when trying to isolate dietary agents that may have unwanted consequences (an ongoing project of ours).
Once the stock begins its low, slow simmer, people will typically skim impurities from the surface an hour or two in, and periodically thereafter. It’s the first or second skim when I begin plotting my Bone Tallow extraction strategy. I want the greatest quantity of fat possible with the least possible exposure to heat. I think of it as the animal version of the first, cold press of olive oil. I could theoretically wait for 48 or even 72 hours for sheer quantity; but, despite the relatively gentle nature of a low simmer, what few fragile polyunsaturated fatty acids are in the fat may well have oxidized after that many hours. That doesn’t matter so much if you are making biodiesel, but we are eating it. For all my vices, I could do without extra, unnecessary free-radical damage from oxidized fats. Plus, we can eat or cook with only so much fat.
Impurities form in a film on the surface of the stock, which can be maneuvered aside with the bottom of a ladle and removed. Beneath, floating above the still watery stock, is the fat we want. Pick your moment. I take my fat as soon as its depth makes it easy for me to remove it without also collecting water beneath. It’s not the end of the world if you get some water, just and extra step in the process.
It becomes immediately clear that you cannot dip that ladle in the stock like you would rum-punch (or like I would). You dip it gently, just barely tipping the edge of the ladle under the surface until fat begins to slip in. The fat collection process takes five or ten minutes.
I use Ball Jars to collect the fat. In fact, I use Ball Jars almost exclusively for storing any food, but especially for food that is either hot to begin with or might be microwaved in the container later, like a stew. We dislike breast cancer and man-boobs in our home, so we treat plastic with suspicion, let alone Bisphenol A (BPA). If, like us, you are inclined to use these temperature-stable canning jars, a stainless steel canning funnel is a great tool for overcoming the narrowness of the jars.
I like to gather about a pint of fat over the course of two extractions from the stock. A pint is a pittance compared to the quantity of available fat, but is more than enough to sustain us until the next batch of stock. If humankind regresses to the days of tallow candles and whale blubber, I’ll revisit my quantities.
The rendering process can begin any time within four days. Maybe I’m being conservative around food safety, but just don’t procrastinate. Heat the fat to a very low simmer and skim impurities as they rise to the surface. This is a good task for Sundays with either football in the background or your favorite podcast. When you feel reasonably confident the fat has surrendered all the impurities your patience can handle, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth into your man-boob-and-breast-cancer-free glass or ceramic container.
After it cools, I refrigerate my Bone Tallow. This is theoretically unneccessary. Still, my instinct around refrigeration has to do with protecting the more fragile fatty acids even though they may be in the minority.
Now that you have your Stock Tallow, make some food! This is a nice thing to do while waiting the 36 to 72 hours required for your stock to extract the goods from the beef bones.
Two easy uses I recommend are: (A) hamburger and onions; (B) sweet potato fries.
A. Add 1 Tablespoon (maybe two) of tallow to a skillet over medium heat. Add a seasoned burger patty. Add onions sliced however you like them. Enjoy the aroma of pre-Ornish diners. Cook to your liking. Serve with salad.
B. Peel and julienne a sweet potato. In a saucepan small enough in circumference to conserve your hard-won tallow, but large enough for the quantity of fries to fit in one layer, add enough tallow to cover the fries. Working in batches is fine. Over medium heat, erring toward low, fry until crispy outside and tender inside. Using a slotted spoon, remove to a plate covered with paper towels. Paper towels are not there to remove the fat but to keep the fries crispy. Salt immediately. Unrefined cider vinegar adds a nice taste even though it softens the fries.
For anyone comfortable producing lye (who may bare the brand of lips on the back of his/her hand), I would be curious to know how bone tallow works when making soap.