One of the things about returning to meat eating after bouts of vegetarianism (including some flirting with veganism) is that a lot of the reasons why I stopped eating meat, namely animal cruelty and amount of unused animal parts thrown away to produce boneless, skinless, plastic wrapped meat, are still 100% valid.
I still love animals, so much. I always have been and always will be a total and complete animal person. Sebas and I frequent parks during “dog hours” to go “dog watching” and both experience severe internal melting when we see cute pictures of animals. I feel deeply that the next short-as-possible while in my life will be my “pre-dog” years. We want to foster cats in the near future. I have gotten in arguments with bitchy chickens while I oggle their chicklet babies, and am respectfully in awe and terrified of swans. I find being licked by cows hilarious, and there’s no feeling quite like riding a horse. My heart broke when my two pet rats (RIP Cam and Mitchel!) passed away. It is my dream to one day have a modest piece of property crawling with critters. I even love spiders, bugs, and worms (including a certain pet hopping spider and worm named Tony from childhood). I know that animals are inquisitive, intelligent, hilarious, loving, and brilliant- I do, after all, consider myself among their ranks. We are one of the same, a fact that is often forgotten.
There are plenty of moral complexities and dilemmas connected to eating meat. I’ve touched on it in a previous post, and will continue to address it in the future. In this post, however, I am going to talk a bit about taking the sting out of meat consumption by eating the “odd bits”. The funny bits on the top shelf of the grocery store, hiding in the freezer, or behind the butchers counter. The necks and feet and tongues and organs and tails. Nose to tail eating is experiencing a resurgence as meat prices rise and the cost of eating only deboned muscle meat becomes clear. I recently learned in a food fundamentals class that “only 30% of chicken is edible” after discarding the fat, bones, and organs. That KILLS me- if I weigh a bone before and after making bone broth, it loses more than half the weight depending on the kind of bone. I gain all the nutrients from the bones, save the fat from the top, and use the organ meats to make a nutritious gravy or a whole other meal. No one in our history would even consider tossing nutrients in the garbage, so I don’t see how we view that as a rule now.
With great use of all parts of the animal, though, comes a bit of responsibility. Organs, fat, and bones are great places to deposit toxins and antibiotics accumulated over the lifetime of an animal. Sourcing high quality meats, preferably free of antibiotics and raised in healthy living conditions, becomes more important if you are going to consume a lot of these odd bits of a regular basis. The trade off is, kindly, a smaller hit to your wallet as many of these odd bits are cheaper than their pure-muscle counterparts. Beef tongue, which is amazingly tender, comes in at about 1/2 the price of any beef roasts I can find at my butcher shop. Bones and scraps, which are sometimes bundled together and frozen, can be had for very reasonable prices. The decline in popularity in organs like liver and heart have made them very affordable even at high quality.
It takes a bit of hunting on how to cook these morsels, which can be had in the forms of cookbooks and blogs. I would recommend following a recipe or technique for a lot of these bits- “winging” a liver recipe isn’t for the faint of heart. A great book that I recently received for Christmas is “Odd Bits” by Jennifer McLagan. It is 234 pages of, well, everything starting at the front and ending at the back. Beautifully photographed with everything from the familiar (buillon, pork shoulder, corned beef, and grilled liver) to the very unfamiliar (heart tartare, tripe salad, pigs foot terrine, and crispy testicles). While I haven’t tried any recipes yet, it’s been an inspiration.
So, yet another broth recipe. As you can see, this is my preferred scrap-stuff-use-it-up method. This time beef broth, made from beef neck. This is an “all in the pot” recipe that can be adapted for veal and lamb. Again, I recommend keeping a “bone bag” in the freezer where you can save up scraps until you are ready to make this recipe. If you are a big broth user/drinker, I would also recommend finding a good source of bones/scraps, because you will probably go through quite a bit.
The key to beef broth is coaxing out extra savory flavour. Unlike chicken broth, a generous amount of meat still on the bone is really important. Plenty of meat, browned on the outside in a hot oven or stovetop, will create an excellent flavour and leave you lots to pull off the bone and use in a stew. A combination of onions, red wine, dried mushrooms, and star anise will boost the “beefy” flavour. The red wine will also bump the acidity, helping to draw minerals out of the bones- you just need a couple splashes of pretty cheap wine (neighbor give you some home bottled stuff? perfect). If you want to be up to your neck in umami, browning the onions then adding a spoonful of tomato paste and sauteing it until the paste is brown, should take you over the edge. I, however, am mostly lazy. I brown the beef on the bone, arrange onions on the bottom with aromatics, then pour water/wine over the whole lot.
Yet again, with broth, it’s more of a technique than a recipe. Different bones have different mineral contents, come from animals of different ages, and carry different amounts of gelatin. All of these things are not like the other. You can take a bunch of ingredients, put them in a pot, cover it in water, and see what happens. Try it- if it is too _________ or not enough __________ you can adjust it- leave a question at the bottom if you are not sure how and I will get back to you. You won’t need measuring cups- just a handful of this and a few of these.
In the photos I took, I ended up with 9 cups of completely solid beef broth because there was so much gelatin. I used beef neck, which had so much meat on them, I added a few extra star anise, shredded the meat after it was cooked, and we had steaming bowls of pho for the next two dinners. You can also use marrow bones, knuckle bones, and any other bones. When using just marrow bones (which you can get in most freezer sections), add some beef stew meat or other beef scraps, because there usually isn’t adequate meat on them- 1 lb of stew meat for every 5 lbs of marrow bones is a good ratio, I find. If you have any leftover broth (not in my household, haha), freezing the extra in silicon muffin trays is my favourite method. Broth keeps for 4-7 days in the fridge. If your broth doesn’t adequately gelatinize, you can prepare the resulting liquid with powdered gelatin following the instructions on the package (usually 1 packet for every 3 cups). The gelatin is important for the distinct mouth feel broth gives, and also has health benefits. For the dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot method, check out here. In this post I’ll only be covering the good old slow cooker method!
Enjoy this savory elixir over 2013, hope it’s a good one!
Beef Bone Broth
~5 lbs of meaty bones (neck, marrow, and/or knuckle– but any bones really, beef, veal, or lamb)
1 star anise
Several bay leaves (2 large, 3 medium, or 5 small is my rule of thumb)
Spoonful of peppercorns
Handful of dried mushrooms (can be purchased cheaply in ethnic grocery stores, such as the ones found in Chinatown)
Splash of red wine (1 cup? Just slosh some in there.)
1) Cut the onions in half and separate into layers. Arrange on the bottom of your slow cooker with mushrooms and spices.
2) Brown the meat on the bones either in the oven or on the stovetop. In the oven, turn on the broiler and arrange bones on lined (parchment paper or silicon) cookie sheet. Broil for several minutes until brown, remove from oven, flip with tongs, and return to oven. Broil for several more minutes. On the stovetop, heat a small amount of oil in a heavy pan. Add one bone piece at a time, browning on both sides, then removing from the pan. When browning things, as always, keep a tea towel close in case your inconveniently close fire alarm goes off.
3) Arrange meat on top of onions. Splash a bit of wine up in there. Add water until everything is happily submerged. Cook on low for 12-16 hours. Strain into a glass container and chill- reserve the solids to pull the meat off and enjoy later. If you want it pretty and clear later, strain through cheesecloth on the way in.
4) Pull out of fridge. Remove the fat collected on the top- if it is a nice solid colour (not scummy) reserve for cooking use later (aka “tallow” if it’s beef fat).
5) Enjoy your lovely, thick beef broth! If you found yours to be thin and watery, you can use powdered gelatin and prepare it according to the manufacturers instructions.