I love fall. It’s my favorite season. Aside from the crisp fresh air, the colorful tree displays and, of course, football, it’s the time of year that sends me into nesting mode. I guess that doesn’t sound too exciting, but trust me, it’s the best. For me, it means waking up on a brisk Saturday morning, starting a fire in the wood stove, and getting out the big stainless steel stock pot. What happens next is nothing less than magical. With some fairly inexpensive cuts of meat, leftover veggies, salt, wine and water, I’m able to make bone broth – the delicious, nutritious base to so many great fall recipes.
A lot has been said about bone broth lately. I’ve read about bone broth in magazines, books, on blogs and in newspapers. Here in Portland, we even have a Broth Bar that serves a wide variety of bone broths with your choice of add-ins. Genius.
I love that traditional foods are getting so much attention these days. If my mom were still with us, she would probably get a wrinkle on her forehead, squinch her eyebrows together and ask (in her really thick German accent) “What’s the big deal with bone broth, it sounds like just soup to me.” Yes mom, it is just soup. It’s the kind of soup you used to make, not the kind of soup that most of us eat out of a can or box. It’s the kind of soup that values frugality, that uses leftovers and meaty bones, that takes all day over a slow fire, that ends up being so delicious it is sometimes attributed with healing powers. But that’s kind of silly, because all good food – real food – has the power to heal. Enough reminiscing. On to the broth.
Meat and Bones
What makes bone broth so amazing is the minerals and collagen that come from the bones and connective tissues in meat which pass along to us in the broth. And while a perfectly wonderful broth can be made with just the bones, a little meat adds flavor and texture to the broth. I use a mix of knuckle and femur bones with a couple of meaty, boney (and inexpensive) shanks. Throw the bones in a 400 degree or so oven to let them brown, then brown the meat in the stock pot with a smidge of olive oil to keep them from sticking. Browning adds color and flavor to the broth.
Here’s the best part of a great broth. You don’t have to buy a mix of fresh veggies from the store or farmer’s market. You can use the ends, stems, and funny looking veggie parts that you don’t use during the week. In this batch I used carrot peels, a sad-looking carrot, a left over celery heart and the cut-off ends of the stalks, broccoli stems, kale stems, the top and bottom ends of a couple of beets, parsley stems, and onion ends and peels. I cut one additional onion in half and browned it with the bones for good measure. In all, the veggies were about the same volume as the bones and meat.
To round out the flavor, I add a few whole peppercorns and a couple of whole cloves. Salt is optional. If you’re planning on using the broth in recipes or reducing it, don’t add salt; but occasionally, I like to add just a pinch of sea salt to bring out the flavors. Acid helps break down the collagen and draw out the minerals, so if I have a little wine left over from the previous evening I’ll add a generous splash to the pot. Leftover wine is fine, but don’t use plonk. If you don’t have any decent wine (i.e. wine you would drink), add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar. Finally, I add some herbs – a bay leaf, maybe some thyme and a few extra stems of parsley.
When everything has found its way into your pot, fill the pot with water, cover and set on the stove. I set the heat to medium until just before it boils, then turn the heat to low and let it sit all day. You don’t want the broth to boil, just a light simmer will do. After 8 to 12 hours of slow
cooking, I skim all the veggies and other bits from the top and set the broth pot out to cool. Usually I’ll start the stock in the morning, let it cook all day and then just before going to bed, I’ll skim it and set it out on the back porch to cool overnight. In the morning a lovely layer of yellow fat will cover your broth. Skim this off if you want, but don’t throw the fat away. The fat can be used for cooking – I like to sauté veggies with it.
Once the fat is skimmed from the top, I reheat the gelatinous remains just enough to liquefy. Remove the bones, meat and remaining veggies and pour the broth through a strainer into containers. Voilà, a week’s worth of healthy goodness! Aside from soups, I use the broth to braise veggies and meat, create thick, silky sauces, make gravies and reheat leftovers. If, like me, you’re trying to break a decades long coffee addiction, a warm mug of broth in the morning is (almost) as comforting, and much healthier, than that cup of joe.
That’s it, except for some final words of encouragement. Like all homesteading projects, making bone broth takes time and planning. While it’s much quicker to pick up that hermetically sealed box of broth from the store, the health benefits of homemade bone broth far outweigh the convenience of store bought – not to mention the amazing smells that fill the house as the broth slowly simmers. It doesn’t sound like much, but how we feed our families is a fundamental statement of our values. Every part of this process that we can take out of the hands of corporations brings us closer to better health, better sustainability and a greater sense of “home”. We all work, we all have busy lives, but sometimes it’s worth the extra time spent. Nuff said.