"Bones, to a chef, are the gold of an animal," says Rachael Mamane. "It's what makes a beautiful foundation for our cooking." Mamane, who started picking up bones from farmers in her Jetta, makes and sells stock through her company, Brooklyn Bouillon.
Melissa Clark: When did you first start collecting bones?
Rachael Mamane: I moved to New York City from Seattle in 2010. At that time, I didn't think I would go back into tech. I had a little bit of money in the bank, and could do what I wanted for the summer. I got a job at Greenmarket with Hudson Valley Duck Farm selling duck and meeting the farmers in New York State.
I noticed that there was a gap between the farmer and the slaughterhouse and the butcher and all the way to the end consumer in transporting bones. At that point, as I started doing research, I realized the value of a good stock was lacking on the market for the home cook.
Then I became a broker of bones.
MC: What was happening before you stepped in? What was happening to all those bones?
RM: I would say that it depends on the scale of the farm. Small farms really understand the value of the bones. They know all of their animals. Because of that, when they take their animals to harvest, they have the option to take the bones back. A lot of small farmers do, but it creates challenges with transportation costs, the logistics associated with it, and sometimes storage is a challenge as well.
However, on a larger scale, I see bones going to dog food, some are going to hot composting -- neither is a terrible route. But bones, to a chef, are the gold of an animal. It's what makes a beautiful foundation for our cooking.
If we look at the supply chain of food, there's a place that I'm trying to establish where we can extract all of these beautiful nutrients and flavor from the bones and bring that back into the marketplace.
MC: I've heard you talk about "rescuing" the bones. Is that what you mean?
MC: For the consumer, there are stocks that you can buy in cans, or you can buy little frozen bouillon, but you can't really buy a good, flavorful stock.
RM: Yes. I was doing research on the origins of bouillon, and in the 1800s, there was a gentleman who had a meat extract company. He had a very high-quality meat extract that was then usurped by what we know as bouillon today, which is the tiny, salty cubes.
But the true etymology of bouillon means "to brew." It's a concentrated liquid. The effort of our company is to bring the true meaning of bouillon back to the home cook.
MC: When you collect these bones, how do you do it? Do you drive to the farms and ask farmers for the bones? Do you go directly to the slaughterhouses? What is your process?
RM: This is a matter of scale. We are a small company. I have relationships with all of the farms that we work with.
I'm very excited to say that each batch is entirely traceable back to the farm. We might get grass-fed beef bones from one farm or pastured beef bones from another farm; the label is always going to make that distinction. We're also building partnerships with butchers across the state, who also have relationships with farms.
MC: When you make stock, you make these huge batches. Are there any techniques you have that are transferable to people cooking stock at home?
RM: The first tip is to start your water slow; you want to start with cold water and you want to bring the temperature up very gradually.
At that point, you will have your washed, blanched or roasted bones in the water, and proteins will rise to the surface and all of the impurities. As you bring it up slowly, it allows those proteins to lift in an uncooked state, so you can capture them at the top and remove the impurities.
If the water is boiling too rapidly, then it cooks those proteins, sucks them back into the water and emulsifies them into this stock, creating cloudy, less-pure and sometimes distasteful stock.
Then you add your vegetables, which will float to the top. Continue to cook it until the vegetables are done. At that point, you've got a pretty stock.
Melissa Clark is a food writer and author. She is a food columnist for The New York Times, and has written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Every Day with Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart. She is the author of Cook This Now, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite and 32 other cookbooks.