Veal Demi-Glace: Maillard Reaction

If you’ve been following along here, I’m doing a series of posts on the subject of the all-important veal demi-glace. There was a story in today’s newspaper here explaining why it’s important. I explain the basic stuff you need to make demi-glace (ingredients, equipment and time) in this post.

So now you have a sense of why you might want to make demi-glace, and you have the essentials prepared. What do you do now?

Start by cranking up your oven to about 425 degrees. Get your big roasting pan and dump in your veal bones. Try to keep them all in one layer. I usually do about 25lbs worth of veal bones at a time, which fills up two big-ass roasting pans. Fortunately, I have two ovens, so I slap one pan in each oven. Toss the roasting pan(s) into the oven(s) and roast until the bones are nicely browned on top, at least an hour or so. Then pull them out, use some tongs to shift everything around until the underside of the bones is exposed, and give them at least another 30-45 minutes until they are browned all over. If your bones are packed on top of one another, keep rotating them and roasting them until they are all totally browned. You can remove fully browned ones to your stockpot so they don’t scorch while you keep roasting the rest. You can also do this in batches if you don’t have a big roasting pan or two ovens to work with.

What you are trying to do here is create Maillard reactions: that appetizing browning that says “roasted yumminess.” This will do two things for the demi-glace: it will add color to the finished product, and it will add a savory roasted flavor. There is such a thing as white veal stock, made from bones that have not been roasted, but white veal stock is not what you’re seeking here. Maillard reactions are fascinating–read more on the subject here, or better yet pick up Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking to learn more.

While your veal bones are roasting, prep some mirepoix. I use two parts onions: two parts carrots: one part celery for demi-glace. For 25lbs of veal bones, I’m looking at about 5lbs of mirepoix. Clean and peel the carrots and cut them into large chunks. Onions get peeled and cut into similar chunks. Celery must be cleaned thoroughly before being cut. I use the fleshy bases from the stalks, the leafy ends, and the pale inner heart of celery for this sort of thing–the bits I might discard when making something like celery sticks are great in mirepoix.

Once your veal bones are through roasting, remove them from the oven and set them into your stockpot. Put the roasting pan right on the stove and add a cup or two of fresh, cold water. Turn the heat on the eye of the stove under the pan to medium and use a wooden spoon to scrape and dislodge all those wonderful browned bits on the bottom of the pan. If you want to sound fancy, you can refer to this process as “deglazing”–and the brown stuff is your “fond.” If it’s got a burnt flavor to it, you’ll have to discard it, but if not, dump the liquid and dislodged solids into your stockpot.

Now, put your mirepoix into the scraped roasting pan and stick it back in the oven. As with the bones, you don’t want to crowd the pan, so if it’s a deep layer of veggies you have in your pan, split it into two pans or just do two batches back-to-back. Roast, tossing periodically, until browned around the edges but not charred, about 45 minutes. Remove and add to the stockpot with the bones.

This is often where I stop for the day when making demi-glace at home–the end of Day 1 if you will. If you decide to stop here, stick the pot of bones and vegetables into your refrigerator and keep it chilled overnight. (If it’s the dead of winter you can always use the outdoor fridge, but be sure to secure the pot against raccoons and other Yogi Bear types.) Have a glass of wine. Tomorrow is a new day and you’re well on the way to the best flavor enhancer since salt and sugar.

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