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Bone broths have become quite the hot item in recent years. Strong claims as to their curative and preventative properties have been made, having advocates in both the GAPS diet camp and the traditional foods movement. Broths are even being touted by such high-profile personalities as Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers. Restaurants and mail order supply companies have opened just to meet this “new” demand.
Are bone broths the new cure-all? To begin, let’s define some terms for the purposes of our discussion:
• A broth is made by simmering meat with a small amount of bones, such as a whole chicken. It is not as concentrated in flavor as a stock, lacking the gelatin content of either stock or bone broth. Excellent when used as a base for lighter soups.
• Stock is made by simmering bones with meat. (I will buy bone-in cuts of beef, pork, and poultry, cook them, and then freeze the bones, making stock when I have accumulated enough.) Vegetable scraps are often added to stock. Stocks are simmered for several hours in order to reduce the liquid, concentrate the flavors and extract gelatin. Stocks are a fantastic deglazing liquid, base for sauces, or as the liquid for hearty stews and soups.
• Bone Broth is mostly bone, sometimes with small bits of meat, and often with the addition of knuckles or other joints (this is a way to increase collagen extraction. Bone broths recipes, like stock, usually roast the bones first to deepen the flavor. The simmering of a bone broth is usually in excess of 24 hours, with some recipes recommending 72 hours. This is to ensure maximum extraction of mineral content and gelatin.
Broths are long established in wellness circles. Chicken soup is certainly regarded as a nourishing meal and has been prescribed for millennia in treatment of colds and respiratory ailments. As a cook, I can personally attest that making my own stocks has more vastly changed the quality of my home cooking than any other recipe I have.
This bone broth, though – this was new to me. Cooking down chicken or turkey frames (a less grisly term for carcasses) for days is a strict no-no in traditional stock craft. Some practitioners have slow cookers dedicated to the purpose. At the beginning of the week, they add a whole chicken and cover with cold water. Then 24 hours later they ladle out what is needed for the day, adding more water to the pot. I have even read accounts of people blending the entire contents of the pot – bones and all – to get all of the nutrition therein. (As an editorial note: This seems uniquely American in a sense of going overboard.)
Bones and joints contain collagen and gelatin. These properties liquefy in the long cooking process and become infused in the water. Following the Chinese/Greek/homeopathic medicinal principle “like cures like”, the theory is that, by imbibing this collagen, the body will use it to repair damage to joints, rebuild bone, patch up leaky gut, remineralize teeth, repair skin and have many other positive reactions in the body.
The documented and researched science behind all of these claims does seem to be somewhat inconclusive. The problem seems to be that, once the collagen reaches your stomach, it is broken down to amino acids and your body simply uses these building blocks however it sees fit. Another thought is that, by adding apple cider vinegar, you are extracting more of the minerals from the bones than normal simmering would allow. One of the few medical studies done on the nutritive properties of bone broth (McCance and Widdowson 1934) did not find this to be the case; the acid is too mild and/or the bones too strong to allow much calcium or other mineral seepage. Practically, the largest hurdle in making specific claims about the benefits of bone broth is that this product is made from such a wide variety of ingredients and amounts; there simply is no recipe on which to base statistics.
Lest we venture too far into the skeptics camp – bone broths, or broths in general, are not without significant merit to the home cook. Firstly, this is still a nutrient rich food. So what if drinking a quart of bone broth doesn’t cure your arthritis? It is still extremely good for you. It is a protein and mineral rich food. (My personal suspicion is that most of the perceived benefits from eating bone broth is that it balances a deficiency which previously existed in the subject’s diet). Broths are also a very cost-effective means of providing nutrition to your family. By buying whole and bone-in cuts of meat, you are stretching your food dollar. You are not only saving the processing fee of the butchering (I am looking at you, boneless/skinless chicken breast), but by turning around and using the bones after you have roasted your bird, you lower both the cost of the roast and the eventual soup.
Another benefit you reap is in quality; store-bought broths and stocks are not in the same ballpark as what you are capable of making (for less money) at home. That gelatin you have extracted creates umami in your dishes. The fact that you made it yourself means that you control the salt and other additives in your finished product. Lastly, I am a firm believer that every choice you make to prepare food for yourself and your family impacts the physical and psychological health of those members in a wholly and measurably positive manner.
By all means, boil that broth. It irks me that we tend to be so all or nothing with our idea of wellness. Bone broth, like every healthy food that has had recent time in the spotlight (tart cherries, leafy greens, quinoa, etc.), does not have to be a magic bullet to have worth, to have a place in your diet. Maybe it won’t fix every problem that you have. That doesn’t mean that it has lost its centuries-old position as a cornerstone of balanced nutrition, along with other whole foods of a wide variety, in moderation.
If you are interested in further information on bone broth, please consider visiting the following links!
Below is my base recipe for chicken stock. I would like to mention it is rarely if ever this precise. A pound more or less of chicken scrap, or a handful more of vegetable is not going to make a noticeable difference. This recipe is intended more as an illustration of method than a hard and fast rule; please do not hold off on stock production due to being short a stalk of celery.
12 pounds Chicken carcasses/meat
2 medium Onions
2 medium Carrots
1 stalk Celery
9 quarts Cold Water
1 large Bouquet Garni (thyme, bay, parsley)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse carcasses with cold water, make sure they are fresh (sniff), trim off any excess fat. If using whole chicken cut into 10 pieces (4 breast, 2 leg, 2 thigh, 2 wing). Spread carcasses/meat in a single layer in a roasting pan and place in oven. Chop your onion, carrot, and celery. Check your chicken after 20 minutes, it should be golden brown. Give it a stir and add your veggies and continue roasting. Check in 25 minutes (45 minutes of total roasting time), though it may require 1 hour of total roasting time – make sure that chicken is dark brown and juices have caramelized on the bottom of the pan.
Remove pan from oven and place on stove. Remove any excess fat that has accumulated in the bottom of the pan with a ladle. Add 1 quart of water to roasting pan and heat over high heat on the stove, using a wooden spoon to dissolve caramelized juices from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the chicken parts to a large stock pot w/ the deglazing liquid. Add the remaining cold water (it should only reach about ¾ of the way up the chicken). Bring stock to a simmer – DO NOT allow to boil. Skim surface regularly to remove fat and scum, after 45 minutes most of this will be removed and you can add your Bouquet Garni (push down into the pot with the back of a ladle to keep from floating to the surface). Cook for 3 hours, uncovered. Strain the stock first through a coarse strainer and again through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Do not press on the pieces or stock will cloud. Allow stock to cool to room temperature and place in an ice bath in the fridge.