As New Years resolutions swirl in and out of existence, food blogs are a-buzz with “cleanses”, juicing, and liquid fasts. While I am not a fan of cleanses or juice fasts (probably an understatement), I am a fan of liquids. Like, a big fan. To illustrate, I will describe the liquids I consume in a typical day:
-1 cup of earl grey while I’m getting ready
-1 smoothie for breakfast
-1 to-go mug of green tea
-1 to-go mug of coffee
-1 pureed coconut-milk or chicken stock based soup for lunch
-1 cup of earl grey pre-workout around 4
-1 cup of water with dinner
-2 cups of herbal tea before bed
On top of all that, by the end of the day my beloved orange water bottle is usually empty. For me, hot liquids keep me sane during the winter. In the morning, our windows have a charming frost on them-the problem is, it’s on the inside of the window that lies just above our head, which apparently hits sub-zero temperatures while we snooze. Needless to say, I can do with a little warming up. After the brisk-enough-to-have-troubles-breathing walk to the bus stop, I snuggle against the aluminum siding of a bus, the ambient temperature of which hovers somewhere around 5 degrees first thing in the morning. To help me stay awake, I sip hot beverages throughout all my classes, except for when I switch it out for my freezing cold smoothie- the massive temperature difference is a shock-awake when you are struggling through a particularly muddle-some calculus lecture. The dry climate, which has allowed me the experience of truly frizzy hair for the first time in my life, also demands a constant stream of hydration.
One of the miracle-elixirs that I drink and spoon up by the bucketful during these cold months, is broth. Proper, stand-up-on-the-spoon, ultra-savory, homemade bone broth. I really can’t use the word “savory” enough when I describe homemade broth-it puts the two “mm”‘s in umami. Not only is bone broth really nutritious and flavourful, it is also very cheap and easy to make. It is a great “student food” because it is way cheaper than buying mineral supplements, makes a great base for a thermos lunch, and allows you to stretch out meager amounts of meat and veggie into a full meal. I also don’t salt my broth right when I make it, so you can use the broth to cook veggies, grains, or stir miso into. I find it easier to leave the broth unsalted, then salt according to the use- this makes it a highly versatile asset to every kitchen.
Broth you buy from the store is not even in the same food category as the homemade kind. The bouillon cubes and powder are basically a savory-flavoured salt, which is fine for stirring into dishes for flavour boosting, but it isn’t a nutritious or adequately flavoured base for a soup. The boxed stock is no where near as nutritious as homemade stock- for shortcuts, many use MSG to create a “meatier” flavour, and emulsifiers to thicken.
Homemade stock is a powerhouse of minerals and nutrients. If you are lactose intolerant or do not consume very much dairy, bone broth is an excellent way to supplement calcium in your diet, as it is very bioavailable in broth (in comparison to vegetables, where calcium generally has a low bio-availability). Magnesium, phosphorous, silicon, and other trace minerals are also in bone broth- it is like a flavourful mineral supplement. Gelatin is the component of homemade broth that makes it so thick and jelly-like. Gelatin has been used since the 1600’s in France to aid in digestion, which makes sense: gelatin “attracts” and holds liquids, including digestive juices, so it could potentially aid in the break down of other foods consumed around the same time period (for the science-ers, it’s a hydrophilic colloid). It sounds odd, but I actually like to drink a hot cup of broth on mornings when I don’t feel like eating and my stomach is upset- it makes a soothing substitute breakfast, and usually helps calm down my stomach. Also, bone broth contains collagen, which is what keeps your skin smooth (wrinkles and cellulite result from a lack of collagen). While there is not a verified mechanism that consumption of collagen could equal smoothed skin, here’s to trying!
Although I include recipe that is vaguely specific, making stock is more of a method than a precise science. Basically, you want to put bones in water and heat that water enough to extract the minerals, gelatin, and collagen to form a thick, savory, flavourful stock. For the bones themselves, I recommend starting a “bone bag” in your freezer-anytime you eat anything with bones, whether it be a whole chicken, a couple of drumsticks, turkey, or a leg of lamb, you can just throw the bones into the freezer. This way, especially if your household is only one or two people, you can build up a stockpile (get it?) until you have enough scraps. If you are really crazy, if you eat something with bones in a restaurant, you can ask them to wrap it up instead of throwing it away- this is probably exclusively a struggling university student practice I figure. I usually save up two chicken carcasses before bothering to make stock, but I have a large slow cooker, so if you have a smaller one you could put your stock on right after your roast chicken dinner. Alternatively, you can buy bones and carcasses from some stores and butchers, that are usually very reasonably priced. One of my favourite boney bits to buy from the store is chicken feet- while chicken feet are really odd to actually eat because there really isn’t anything on there but bones and skin, they have loads of gelatin in them. You can buy a large pack and freeze all of them, pulling out only 1 or 2 at a time for stock, and it’ll really help thicken and “rich-en” your stock. The famous “Jewish Penicillin” chicken broth was considered inferior if it wasn’t made with at least 2 chicken feet, so I’m not the only one who has found them useful!
While this recipe is written for chicken, you can use this word-for-word on turkey, duck, lamb, and rabbit bones. If you want to make a fish broth, the cooking time is much, much shorter- I would recommend using the stovetop method, but only cook the stock for 2 hours. You can use fish bones saved over time in your “bone bag”, or you can ask for fish heads from a seafood store-they are usually pretty reasonably priced and make an excellent broth. For a beef broth, because I don’t really buy cuts that have large bones in them, I usually buy beef marrow bones specifically for this (if you have an odd beef or pork bone from a T-bone steak or pork chop, I just throw those in with the chicken batch instead of waiting to save them up). Because you don’t previously cook beef marrow bones, I usually throw them in a hot oven (400 degrees F) in a shallow pan with onions and carrots, for about 45 minutes. This will help caramelize the bones and add a lot of richness to your stock. Another compliment to beef stock is a handful of dried mushrooms-this will really add flavour and “meatiness” to the stock! Having beef stock is a fabulous treat, because you can also reduce it to create a demi-glaze, which is delicious on everything from pot roast to brussel sprouts.
For storing the broth, you can keep the broth in the fridge for up to one week. To freeze the stock, I find that it is easier to use the stock if it is frozen in smaller portions. I use a silicon muffin tin to freeze my stock in 1/2 c portions- you have to be very careful putting it in the freezer (use a cookie tray or 2 pairs of hands to transfer it without spilling), but it is so easy to pop them out when they are frozen. If you have a traditional metal muffin tin, that also will do the trick. When it comes to getting the stock out after it is frozen, just allow the tray to sit at room temperature for a little bit until you can pop the frozen stock out. If you are in a rush, you can run the bottom of the muffin tin in cold water to slightly defrost the edges so they come loose. To freeze the stock in even smaller portions, if you like to put just a couple of spoonfuls of stock in for roasting vegetables or something, I use a silicon ice cube tray and freeze a few 1 Tbsp portions. Again, you could use a standard ice cube tray and be able to pop them out just like regular ice cubes.
Chicken bones and scraps (carcasses, necks, leg bones, wings, gizzards, feet etc.)
2 stalks of celery (or the ends + bases of celery that you would normally discard), washed thoroughly and roughly chopped
2 carrots (don’t bother peeling), washed thoroughly and roughly chopped
1 onion, cut in half and layers peeled apart
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves (optional)
1 Tbsp of spices (I use: star anise, cumin, and coriander) (optional)
1 lemon, washed and sliced (optional)
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (optional)
1) Line the bottom of your slow cooker, or a large heavy-bottomed pot, with the onion layers. Add the lemon slices and spices if using. Place the carrots, celery, and garlic on top of the aromatic bottom. Nestle the chicken bones on top. If the bones aren’t fitting nicely, use kitchen shears or your hands to break the carcasses up, or pull apart other bones so they fit in with greater ease.
2) Fill the slow cooker or pot with enough water to submerge the bones. Try and have them covered by at least one inch- if there are odd bits sticking out, don’t worry too much, as the stock cooks the volume will reduce and it will be easier to push all the bones down as the connective tissue softens.
SLOW COOKER METHOD:
Put your slow cooker to the “low”, or just the lowest setting depending on what your slow cooker calls it (could be “1”). If there is a time option on your slow cooker, initially set it to 12 hours. At 12 hours you can taste your stock- it should be smooth (no grit) and very savory. If it is savory, but thin, I usually continue to cook my stock to 24 hours on the “warm” serving setting. If you wish to stop at 12 hours though, it will still be a delicious stock! You want to cook it long enough so that it is rich, but not so long that the bones start to dissolve, as it creates an unpleasant texture**. Skim off any “scum” that forms on the top.
This method has a bit of flexibility. If you have a big, heavy bottomed pot you can place it on the stovetop at the lowest setting and leave it on for up to a maximum of 12 hours. Keep the lid on, and check every once in a while to make sure there is enough water. If you don’t have a heavy duty pot, just something on the light side, you will keep the heat more consistent if you make the stock in the oven at a low setting. 200-250 degrees F should do it- if you know your oven tends to “the hot side” or “the cold side” (many older models will be either hotter or cooler than what the temperature gauge says) ere on the upper or lower end of my suggestions- if you have a newer model, go for 225 degrees F. Place the pot in and cook for up to a maximum of 12 hours, checking occasionally to make sure there is enough water. Skim off any “scum” that forms on the top.
3) Skim off any unpleasant bits from the top. You can also try and spoon off any fat, but it is easier to remove the fat after refrigeration. Strain the stock by placing a colander above a large bowl (you can line with cheese clothe if you want to guarantee a smooth texture. Place in the fridge and store up to once week- freeze the leftovers.
4) Optional, but recommended: Pick over the bones and carcasses for meat. You can usually get a fair amount of meat off of the bones, and even if you are not planning to make a chicken soup or use it immediately, you can throw it into the freezer for a later date.
5) Discard the bones and vegetable bits. Enjoy your savory, delicious, nutrient packed stock! You can add salt to taste right after making the stock, or you can leave it unsalted for more versatility. Simply salt it as you put your broth to it’s many possible uses!
**If you cooked the stock really long and the temperature setting was too high, you might have a gritty texture. Do not despair! Try straining your stock through double-layered cheesecloth. Just line a sieve or colander with cheese cloth and pour the stock through (make sure it is well positioned over a bowl so you don’t splash). This should sort out the texture, and you’ll know for next time!