I am not aware of anyone who sells liquid veal stock in London.
Tom Aikens is about to introduce a range of stocks and sauces for sale at Selfridges. These will not be cheap and there's no word yet on whether veal will be included in the range.
Waitrose sells a liquid beef stock, which is thin, salty and sort of beefy in flavour. Flaneur, a specialty food store on Farringdon Road also sells a liquid beef stock. It's also rather thin and salty, and has a hint of game.
For a few weeks last year, the Ginger Pig at Borough Market sold liquid beef stock. A girl who worked at Turnips, the very expensive grocer at Borough Market, made it from the Ginger Pig's beef bones and Turnip's vegetables. It was good - tasty and authentic. After a few weeks the Ginger Pig stopped selling it because no one bought it. Except me.
Wholefoods in Soho sold liquid beef stock for a while. Now Wholefoods only sells beef stock cubes. The liquid beef stock didn't sell.
Compared to most beef stock, most veal stock is more flavoursome, more rich and more full bodied. The richness and body comes from the high gelatin content of veal bones. A good veal stock will set like jelly when left overnight in the fridge and wobble like a beer belly at the end of springy diving board.
The French Laundry's Thomas Keller likes his veal stock to be "neutral and clean flavoured, with the presence of veal, but not an overwhelming flavour of it." I prefer a pronounced veal flavour that I can dip my crusty bread into.
The richness and body of veal stock make it the ideal base for sauces to accompany red meat, game or duck. If I have veal stock in the fridge or freezer my most regular use for it is a red wine sauce - toss some shallots into a pan, add veal stock, red wine, thyme, reduce until the sauce coats the back of the wooden spoon, strain and serve. That's the quick and easy part.
Over the last few years I've done a bit of reading on veal stock and tried a few different recipes from a few serious chefs. I started with the recipe in Gordon Ramsay's Passion for Flavour, moved on to the recipe in Liam Tomlin's Season to Taste and tried the recipe in David Everitt-Matthias' Essence. I've simultaneously cooked Ramsay's stock and Everitt-Matthias' stock then held a comparative tasting - and couldn't really taste much difference.
A few months ago I ordered Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook. When it arrived I eagerly removed Amazon's cardboard packaging, turned to the pages on veal stock and stared at Keller's recipe in disbelief. More on this later.
Veal bones are difficult to find in central London. If you can wake up with the birds you can buy them from some of the wholesale butchers at Smithfield Meat Market - but you'll need to order them a few days in advance. At Borough Market, the Ginger Pig and Farmer Sharp occasionally sell veal bones, but they often run out quickly and they don't like to give you too many unless you're buying lots of expensive meat.
In addition to veal bones, Keller, Tomlin and Everett-Matthias use the hoof of one calf in their veal stocks. These are quite rare in central London so I generally limp on hoof-less. If I'm very low on veal bones then I might use a pig's trotter, which are surprisingly abundant.
The first step in all veal stock recipes other than Keller's is to roast the bones. The next step in most recipes is to cook onions, carrots, celery, garlic and often leeks. In some recipes the vegetables are roasted in the oven after the bones and on the same tray as the veal bones. The vegetables might then be coated in tomato paste and/or alcohol and the base of the tray scraped to loosen the sediment from the bones. In other recipes the vegetables are merely fried in oil in the stock pot.
Ramsay gives his veal stock plenty of alcohol - one and a half cups of Madeira and one and half cups of Port. Everitt-Matthias uses about the same quantity of Madeira and red wine instead of the Port. Keller and Tomlin are liquor free.
The next step in most recipes is to add the water to the stockpot containing the bones and vegetables, bring the water slowly to the boil, skim away any scum that rises to the surface, add thyme, bay leaves and perhaps mushrooms. Then simmer, simmer, simmer and skim, skim, skim.
Simmer and skim for how long? If you're short of time, Everett-Matthias is your man. Three to three and half hours, he says. Six hours for Ramsay. Eight for Tomlin.
And Keller? What do they do at the French Laundry? How did it reach number four on Restaurant Magazine's Top 50 Restaurants in the World?
Keller's (non-white) veal stock involves four key stages: (i) blanching the bones - no roasting; (ii) initial extraction of flavor from the bones and vegetables; (iii) second extraction of flavor from the bones to obtain a second liquid; (iv) the marriage of the two liquids and further reduction.
And how long does all this take? Umm. 23 hours. Most of it constantly skimming the stock pot. Stage one takes one and half hours, stages two and three each take six hours and stage four takes nine hours. By the time you finish you could have flown from London to Melbourne, cleared Melbourne customs and eaten a mud crab on Victoria Street.
Keller takes his veal stock very seriously. In his words: "You can't have a good sauce if you start with a bad stock. Too many people take stocks for granted. In many restaurants the stock pot is like the garbage can: they throw in all kinds of trimmings. They slather the bones with tomato paste and roast them until they burn. The ideology of a stock is important. The idea is to remove through extended gentle heat the flavour and gelatin of the bones and meat while continually removing the impurities: the blood, fat, bone and vegetable particles released in the cooking process."
Before reading Keller's veal stock recipe I'd thought that Heston Blumenthal was uniquely obsessive with food. In Blumenthal's book, In Search of Perfection, his perfect steak requires browning the meat with a blow torch, four to eight hours in the oven to raise the internal temperature of the meat to 50 C, then a further 18 hours in the oven at 50 C.
At the end of Blumenthal's steak marathon at least you have something to eat. At the end of Keller's hilly climb you have a stock - with the presence of veal.
If you start Keller's veal stock a few hours before you start Blumenthal's steak, you could just about enjoy your steak with a veal stock based red wine sauce. Of course if you're planning this for Saturday night you'll need to take Thursday and Friday off work and clear the diary for three days.