Mmmm the warm smell of nourishing bone broth fills my home with its rich scent and heady perfume. The combination of roasted bones and aromatic vegetables mingle for hours, and I mean hours, slowly extracting every last bit of yummy goodness. Can mere writing extol the virtues of something so primal, so deeply nourishing and satisfying? I don’t know, but I feel bone broth is such an important thing to share that I’m going to attempt it. Here we go!
Introduction to broth
Bone broth has been made for thousands and thousands of years, transcending cultural bounds and is found amongst nearly all traditional cultures the world over. Strictly speaking bone broth can be defined by a combination of simple ingredients, boiled together with water for anywhere from an hour to days at a time. While some may associate beef with bone broth, and indeed it is common, bone broth can be made from chicken bones, wild animal bones and even fish bones! Most often bone broths have some element of vegetable which not only enhances flavor but adds even more crucial minerals. Every culture will have their way of making bone broth, largely influenced by the animals and vegetables available to them and every modern cook will have their own way as well. That said following a few simple guidelines can enhance both the taste and nutritional content of your broth. In general it is recommended to add a splash of vinegar to bone broths, aiding the water to pull out minerals from the hard and dense bones (do not despair; you won’t taste it in the end!). Bones other than chicken and fish do well by browning them in an oven before making stock. While not necessary for nutrition, this action caramelizes some of the sugars and will go a long way in enhancing the final taste of your stock. As mentioned above, the addition of some vegetables and/or scraps will further enhance both flavor and nutrition. These can include carrots, onions and their skins, celery and other aromatic or root vegetables. Aromatic herbs can also make a delicious addition to stocks and can include thyme, sage or more exotic flavored herbs like monarda or wild thyme.
Ok so we’ve espoused the flavors of bone broth and talked a bit about how to enhance the flavor even more but what about the health benefits? Bone broth is a nutritional powerhouse full of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and trace minerals. While calcium, magnesium and other minerals may be obtained from other dietary sources (and should be) bone broth provides them for your body in a very easily digestible and absorbable form. Minerals are especially important to our health as they are responsible for not only structural formations, maintenance and repair of our bodies but are also crucial elements to many enzymatic reactions. Broth is also a rich source of collagen, a necessary component for the development and maintenance of various tissues including bones, ligaments, tendons, skin and cartilage. Collagen, known as gelatin in its food form, is a rich source of chondroitin sulfate. Yes, chondroitin sulfate, that overly priced and well-touted supplement that you are purchasing from the store. Chondroitin sulfate is a structural component of cartilage and has been shown to help with arthritis, degenerative joint disease, inflammatory bowel disease and lowered immune function. My opinion…ditch the supplement and drink more broth. Gelatin is rich in the amino acids proline and glycine which are integral to many functions of our body. Glycine supports proper digestion by enhancing gastric secretion, supports the liver’s natural detoxifying abilities and acts as a precursor to glutathione, the body’s number one endogenous antioxidant. Proline is an essential part of the structure of collagen and therefore enhances the health and nutrition of our bones, skins, tendons and joints.
Adequate nutrition is vital to our health. Unfortunately, subclinical deficiencies left untreated often fail to express themselves as pathologies until it is too late. In the US, true clinical nutritional deficiencies are rare. Syndromes such as rickets and scurvy have largely been eliminated due to the fortification of foods and better nutritional intake. However, while many people will survive and live “healthy” lives without developing pathologies or clinical disease many of the subclinical illnesses such as poor digestion can later morph into more serious problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Ensuring adequate nutrition early on in life and maintaining it throughout can go a long way in preventing these diseases and drinking bone broth daily or weekly is a great way to get these vital nutrients and components into your body. Of course, should these diseases develop bone broth can be a vital (and tasty) part of their treatment.
Bone broth is also extremely economical and can be made for mere cents. I buy them 15 lbs at a time for about 15 dollars. That boils down to about $1 a quart, a savings of over 80% if bought at a store (not to mention the nutritional inferiority of store bought broth). If that’s not incentive, what is?
Being an herbalist I have to mention a bit about herbs or sticks (right?). Sticks, here referring to rooty herbs and mushrooms can be a wonderful and healing addition to broths. Occasionally I find I want a little extra punch in my broth, so to speak. Adding roots and mushrooms can be a great way to tailor broths for more specific needs. For example, to enhance the immune boosting effects of bone broth add a bit of astragalus. Or, to enhance the gut healing action add some licorice or for a more neutral flavor, hemp seeds. Many mushrooms have wonderful immune enhancing effects and are also tasty. Try maitake or shiitake for flavor. More bold mushrooms like Reishi have strong immune regulating effects but also an accompanying strong flavor. Keep in mind many herbs come with strong flavors and thus will affect the final flavor of your broth. I encourage experimentation, in small batches.
Every cook will have their own special recipe and way of making broth and I encourage you to develop your own. Instead of a specific recipe, I want to share with you a loose guide that I hope you will adapt and make your own. General rules of thumb: fish, due to their small frames and strong flavor need only 1-2 hours to make good broth. Chicken, beef and game benefit from a longer cooking period, sometimes as long as 24 hours. Beef and game should be roasted at 425 degrees for 15-25 minutes or until browned.
5lbs bones (roasted or unroasted)
A good handful of vegetable scraps- onion skins, carrot peels, celery ends etc.
5 quarts of water
A splash of vinegar
Salt to taste
Herbs if using-half a handful
Roots and mushrooms if using- to taste or as desired for medicinal effect.
Place all ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil. During the first half an hour impurities will rise to the surface, referred to as scum in cooking terminology. Using a spoon, skim off the scum until it stops forming. Turn heat to low and cover, simmer for hours. Enjoy the smell as it fills your home with its yummy goodness.
Once done, you can let it cool and refrigerate it. Remove the fat layer from the top and save it if desired. Put the broth into jars or other containers and either refrigerate or freeze.