Well, it’s been a minute… both since I last wrote a blog and since I made bone broth, and here I am doing both.
l’m not going to go into all of the details of my absence. Suffice to say it’s been a bumpy year. To be honest, I want really sure I wanted to start the blog up again. Circumstances change and priorities with them. Recently, however, I found myself wanting an outlet for my thoughts and stuff again. I figure the odds maybe around fifty/fifty that I have something worth saying, as I think Frank Zappa once said. The odds anyone is listening maybe somewhat less but whatever, it helps organise my thoughts putting it all down. If anyone has been ready from the start, you may notice a bit of a change in direction with some of the posts. The things that occupy my mind and time these days are rather different than at the beginning of the year.
anyway, to the broth:
I used to make bone broth, or stock as we Brits tend to call it, all the time. For some years we had a smallholding, rearing our own chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, sheep etc, and butchered all our own meat. There was never any shortage of bones to boil down ( note, never boil broth, always simmer your stock).
I first started making stock/broth because I was a foodie. I wanted better ingredients for my soups and risottos. Stock cubes may be handing and those little stock pot things they have now are not bad at all, but using a real homemade stock makes a world of difference to a dish. The depth and complexity of flavour, without wanting to sound all wanky and cheffy, is something you just don’t get from crumbling in an Oxo cube.
in addition to its culinary versatility, bone broth is also purported to have many health benefits. The traditional ‘Jewish Penicillin’ of chicken soup to cure any malady is testament to the restorative comforting powers of a cup of warm bone broth. In the Hmong culture, a new mother has a soup made of a whole chicken after giving birth to restore her health and energy. Bone broth is Keto and Paleo, and just about one of the best things you can put inside your body.
In recent times we have become used to just taking the fat breast of the chicken, the leg and possibly the wing and discarding the rest. People have developed a horror of the remainder of the bird. We hear horror stories of ‘mechanically separated chicken’ and myths of Mcdonalds nuggets containing beaks and feet and bits of connective tissue. Well, if you are shuddering as you read this, perhaps you should surf away now, because the truth of the matter is, those are the bits we are really interested in. The parts we routinely throw away are where the goodness lies. In fact, I would go as far as to say that, on an average supermarket chicken you would get more nutritional value by throwing away the pappy white breast and forced legs and just keeping the carcass instead ( I don’t actually do this of course. I eat a lot of chicken breast, because protein, but you get my point.)
Bone broth is made by simply taking the carcass, or the beef bones, sticking the, in a pot and very gently cooking them over the course of many hours. Through the long slow simmering process, you are basically cooking out all the minerals in the bones and rendering all the marrow and connective tissues into liquid form. The broth is rich in collagen, glycogen, proline, and glycine. It is rich in electrolytes – perhaps ill your Camelbak with chicken stock instead of that sports drink for your next marathon?
Collagen is a structural protein that is the main component in our structural tissues. The body naturally produces it from amino acids, but as we age, collagen production slows down. It reduces inflammation in the gut and can help repair leaky gut, it eases joints and arthritis and aids recovery from injury. In addition it improves skin elasticity and strengthens hair and nails ( more body! More shine!) which is why the beauty industry advertises its inclusion in anti-aging skincare products and face masks etc (at exorbitant prices). What they fail to mention is that collagen is not absorbable through the skin – the molecules are too large. It is absorbable by digestion however.
In recent years, I had got out of the habit of making my own bone broth. I did still have a good stock of it (haha! See what I did there) stored in freezers and bottled, but when that eventually dwindled, I just started buying the stock pot thingies in the supermarket. To be honest, most of the more elaborate things I used to spend hours doing in the kitchen have gone by the wayside in the past few years. I don’t keep any animals, I don’t hunt, I don’t make my own bacon or sausage or charcuterie any more. I don’t dry my own herbs or ferment or do half the things I used to do from scratch. It is a shame and sometimes I miss it, both the actual doing it and the quality of the food we have, but circumstances change. Being a single parent with children with health challenges is a struggle just to find enough hours to manage daily life, and compromises have to be made somewhere. If life is to short to stuff a mushroom (I actually did stuff some mushrooms last week though), making goose and pistachio mortadella has to take a back seat.
Recently, however, my interest in, and prioritising of all things foodie has been reinvigorated from a functional medicine perspective. My youngest son has Asperger syndrome and a raft of associated issues for which we have struggled greatly to get any constructive help through medical channels. There is a lot of evidence now suggesting links between the gut biome and autistic spectrum disorders, and the role of diet in general has long been known to be a factor in exacerbating/aiding management of behaviours – at the obvious end, children on the spectrum who have high intake of sugars, processed carbs etc tend to become more extreme in their behaviour. I have been experimenting with a higher protein and more omega-3 biased diet and reducing starchy carbs, and it seems to be working well. The positives that bone broth offers to gut health seem to be an obvious addition to this. Additionally, my girlfriend is a cancer survivor. She had sarcoma of the knee, and had the entire knee and surrounding ligaments and muscles removed and transplanted. Whilst this was, happily, entirely successful, it has left her with no flexion at all in that joint and consequent greatly increased risk of arthritis in the leg. Again, the anti-inflammatory properties of the collagen rich bone broth are greatly beneficial. Lastly, and it sounds somewhat trite in comparison to those reasons, I am not getting any younger and my joints are not getting any happier with the exercise I do to keep fit and buff. For that matter my skin is not getting any smoother on its own, and if I can have all the beauty benefits the skin cream adverts promise but fail to deliver from a bowl of broth, then I am all for it. I was having a ‘discussion’ with someone the other day who was very sceptical and scornful of the potential for diet to improve my son’s condition. What if you are right and I am completely wrong, I asked him. What if it doesn’t have any effect at all, and we will just have spent all this time eating delicious healthy food at very little cost?
And so let’s get down to the bones of it…
The simplest way to make a chicken stock is simply to save the carcass from your Sunday roast, and chuck it in a pot with a few veggies and simmer way. This won’t produce a huge quantity but it will be enough for one meal or a couple of days drinking in broth form. That is exactly how I did it for years when I first started. Then I took to making in slightly larger bulk- I would save the carcasses in the freezer until I had half a dozen or so. I also used to scrounge the carcass every week from my sister’s family roast. Waste not, want not.
then I hit upon the tactic I use now: your local butcher sells chicken breast and legs and wings, which they harvest from whole chickens. They don’t do anything with the leftover carcass. They will be more than happy to sell them to you for pennies. They only have to pay to dispose of them otherwise. The ten carcasses I used in this stock cost me, I think, £2. The marrow bone was tossed in free.
Ten chicken carcass fronts and a marrow bone in the big 22 litre pot. Usually I would drizzle the carcasses with a little olive oil and roast them off for 20minutes or so before putting them in the pan, just to get a bit more flavour, but the oven was being used for something else on this day so they just went in raw. It doesn’t make any difference to the healthful qualities of the broth either way.
Hubble, bubble, simmer and glimmer… for 9 hours on this occasion. If I was just using chicken carcasses, 6 hours would have sufficed; if it had been more marrow bone based I would have kept it going for 12. I actually threw in a couple of ham bones halfway through from the hocks I was using to make a pea and ham soup, for a bit of added goodness. Also in the pot went a head of celery, a few large onions and half a dozen large carrots, all roughly chopped like a mirepoix cut up by a toddler. The veg are not strictly necessary for a bone broth but for culinary use the added flavours are desirable.
The liquid level needs to keep being topped up through the process. I added a good 6 litres of extra water as it evaporated off again and again. However towards the end I just let it reduce down so I was left with a scant 5 litres of concentrated broth.
Once it was fully cool and strained, the broth was bagged up into 1 litre portions. It was so collagen rich by this stage that my hands were coated in. A glossy film after bagging it up (and looked 20 years younger). 5 bags went into the freezer, one into the fridge for immediate use.
It is getting used in risotto, soup obviously, simmered into ground beef, gravies and sauces. I am trying to work on everyone having a glass of it for breakfast, but, like the apple cider vinegar, this has not been an easy sell with any of my family so far.
The 5 litres is about 2 weeks worth, and I now have a regular order with my butcher to put aside chicken carcasses for me to pick up every other week. This batch was just what they happened to have in the back that day. Hopefully next time I will get a much larger batch. If not I can just freeze them until I have a greater quantity.