In most cooking, stocks are an integral part of many recipes. From soups, to stews to sauce reductions, many cookbooks (and restaurants) rely on them. In fact, one of the first tasks in a restaurant is making stock. Especially in winter, I want a constant supply at my finger tips.
In the past (near past actually), I relied on those aseptic containers of chicken broth. I made sure to purchase low sodium, organic broth and it was convenient. But not really healthy in the sense of the word I have gotten to know. Pacific Natural Foods sells an “Organic Free Range Low Sodium Chicken Broth”. The ingredients are:
- Organic Chicken Broth (filtered water, organic chicken)
- Organic Chicken Flavor
- Natural Chicken Flavor (chicken broth, salt)
- Organic evaporated cane juice
- Autolyzed yeast extract
- Organic onion powder
- Organic Flavor.
So what is yeast extract and sugar doing in my chicken broth? And what the heck is “Organic Flavor”? Yes its convenient, but not the nutritious food I thought it was. It was also quite expensive, running around $4.75 a quart. Since some recommendations for using chicken broth is about a quart a day, this can be an expensive habit. So the question becomes, how do I make a better stock?
There is a difference between stock (also known as bone broth) and broth. Broth is usually made from meat and vegetables, simmered in water. The meats are usually discarded and while you get some benefits from eating the broth, you would do just fine eating the meat and vegetables you used it for in the first place. Broths are expensive to make since you are using the most expensive bits that could be used in more appetizing ways. Stocks, on the other hand are actually best made with those bits of the animal you would throw away, mostly the bones.
There is a reason chicken soup got its reputation as “Jewish Penicillin”. Old-fashioned chicken soup, that made by our grandparents and great grandparents, started with a chicken carcass in water with some vegetables. In other words, a bone broth.
So why use the bones?
Well, first of all, bones are thrifty. They are cheap if you have to buy them, and they are usually left over after you’ve cooked something else. Add water, some cider vinegar (to help promote the minerals leaching out into the broth), some vegetable scrapings that you’ve saved from other things and what you get is a nutritious, mineral rich food that can be used for many things. The only real costs is for the electricity or gas you will use to actually heat the stock. In the past (think at least 50 years ago and a lot longer than that), in many homes a pot of stock was kept on the stove constantly, and leftover meats, vegetables and bones were added to it. This was the first “perpetual bone broth”.
But more importantly, bone broths are rich in many of the minerals we need to maintain health (or helps us to actually heal). These benefits come from the bones, not from the meat, which is why it is so essential to actually make our stocks from the bones of organically or locally pastured animals which are not subjected to the levels of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics that most farmed animals contain. Especially in the case of a bone broth, these items are contained in the animal’s bones and are leached out along with the minerals during the long, slow extraction process.
So, assuming that we have access to locally, sustainably raised or organic bones, what are the benefits? Just in terms of minerals alone, bone broths supply you with a myriad of easily assimilated minerals, including: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur, chondroitin, as well as glucosamine and other trace minerals. The flavors from a bone broth are much more complex that what you get out of a can (or aseptic packaging). Plus it just tastes good, an easily sipped cup of chicken broth on a cold day is really nice.
I tend to make and use bone broth from chickens most of the time. Mainly because I usually have a ready supply of chicken bones to use. I tend to roast and eat one chicken a week (most of the meat goes into my lunches which I take to work). Since I already have the bones, it just turns out that I’m not wasting anything. I also purchase chicken feet from one of my farmers and use those. Chicken feet are a rich source of gelatin, which is a cheap source of protein. It helps your nails and hair grow and supports the connective tissue in your body. I’m able to get 6 chicken feet from my farmer for about $3 or $.50 a foot.
I’ve also made beef bone broths. They are good, but require a much longer extraction time. (Chicken is usually ready in 24 hours, beef tends to take 48 hours or longer). I’ll make a beef bone broth when I want to make a beef soup. For everyday uses, chicken is a much more versatile broth.
Bone broths are very simple to make and keep very well. Simply put, bone broths require a long, slow extraction process, which lends itself very well to a slow cooker. When I began cooking bone broths consistently, I actually bought a new slow cooker, one that was not programmable, so I could leave it on. The problem for me of course is how to make these stocks, and have them handy when I want to use them? Freezing them takes up too much room in my already crowded freezer. So what is the solution?
I started doing what is called a “perpetual bone broth”. On Friday when I am home, I roast a chicken, tear off and keep the skin and the meat for my work lunches. I place the bones, a chicken foot (toenails cut off), half an onion, a few bay leaves, some salt (not much) and some peppercorns in the slow cooker with about 16 cups of water (I have a 6-quart slow cooker) and turn it to low. After 24 hours the bone broth is ready to use, whether for soups, cooking or just a hot drink. For every cup of bone broth I take out of the slow cooker, I replace it with an equal amount of water. The slow cooker is on constantly, extracting every bit of goodness from those bones. At the end of the week, I save about 2 quarts of stock (to get me through til the next batch is ready), discard the leavings, clean the slow cooker and start over again. Easy, cheap and a constant source of something nourishing and wonderful. I tend to bring a thermos of it to work, to sip when I need something more than water and while I want something hot, I don’t want something caffeinated. I can drink 3 cups of it during my typical work day (10 hours). Sometimes, when I know my early week will have a lot of uses for broth, I’ll save most of the broth before discarding the leavings.
Bone Broths benefit from the addition of cider vinegar. Chicken bones should have some added to the water when cooking is started, larger bones (beef, lamb) benefit from sitting in the acidified water for at least an hour before cooking. I prefer roasted bones to raw. For chickens, this means roasting a bird. For larger bones, just throw them in a pan, set your oven to 400 and roast for about 45 minutes. This deepens the complexity of the stock.
Can you use a raw chicken? Sure. I did that the first time. I made sure to get rid of as much of the skin and fat as I could (I rendered all of that down for chicken fat), then removed the meat after 24 hours. The results were okay, but not as good as using a previously roasted chicken. The meat was fairly tasteless, and the stock needed to be filtered a lot. With roasting, I rarely need to filter the stock and the meat is very tasty. All in all, it’s easier to roast the chicken first.
So when I have perpetual bone broth, I also have an essential ingredient on hand at all times. I can braise vegetables with it, or whip up a quick soup using other vegetables (or the chicken meat itself). Kind of like being in a restaurant.
- Perpetual Soup: The Easiest Bone Broth You’ll Make (nourishedkitchen.com)
- Homemade Beef Broth (thenourishinggourmet.com)
- Making a Simple Bone Broth (blogher.com)