Recently it has fallen to my lot to hear a lot about the health benefits of a magical substance called "bone broth." It cures colds, eases joint pain, speeds recovery after injuries, helps fat people lose weight, makes your hair shine and your fingernails grow and can be used to raise the dead ...
Well, practically. Have you noticed, advertisers sometimes say things that aren't true to sell their products? And by the time I began hearing about this miraculous stuff, bone broth had become a product.
If there is any good in a thing, in America at least one entrepreneur but more probably a small army of them will commodify it, package it and sell it to you online, over the counter and twice on Sunday. And if a simple, natural product becomes popular, the food processing industry jumps on it, shouting, "We'll manufacture that for you using only the simplest, most natural chemicals and additives, er, we mean ingredients!" Good God, look what they did with cornflakes, or yogurt. Anyway, this is what happened to bone broth.
When I first heard the term "bone broth" I had to think for a minute what it might mean. I've done my share of vegetarian cooking and I know it is possible to make a creditable vegetable broth without bones. (It is also possible, and I have proved it myself, to make a very nasty one. If you ever read a recipe that tells you to put potato peelings in a stock, laugh heartily at my expense and run like a bunny!)
But in general, when you read the word "broth" or "stock," what is meant is bones simmered slowly in water until the water tastes like the bones. So "bone broth" equals "broth." I make it all the time.
Why would anybody do this? Especially when the food processors can furnish you a dazzling array of attractively packaged facsimiles? I'll cite again the Michael Pollan quote that was the inspiration for this Chef Guevara column: “To reclaim control over one's food, to take it back from industry and science, is no small thing; indeed, in our time, cooking from scratch qualifies as subversive.”
(Subversive. I love to say that! As if my plump cozy housewifery is an act of revolution ... "Take that, cupcake!" she screamed, whacking Little Debbie upside the head with her wooden spoon. Yariba yariba!)
Ahem. One reason to make your own broth is quality and another is cost. You can buy canned broth fer cheep but if you want the "all-natural" kind (which doesn't really mean all natural but let's move on) you will pay double.
And cost is never just cost. There are so many dirty little tricks to part the poor from their money and enslave them to the system: Payday advances! Drug addiction! Liberty Tax! Precooked bacon! Freeing oneself from unnecessary expenses really can mean the difference between freedom and servitude. Freiheit! Freiheit! Vive la revolution!
Sorry. It gets confusing being a warrior-philosopher-earth-mama-kitchen-queen. A girl finds herself going for the jugular, then rushing to dose the wounded with nice chicken soup.
And the fact is, homemade broth is at the base of the nicest soups. I may be skeptical about the claims of Big Food but I am a true soup believer. I have fought off many a cold with a steaming bowl of French onion and I am even now curing a monster Christmas flu with liberal infusions of hot & sour. So let's cut the rhetoric and talk about broth.
Despite what you may read on the ingredients list of commercial bone broths, this is how you make bone broth: YOU MAKE IT FROM BONES.
In the case of chicken broth, after you eat chicken, rinse the spit off the bones and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. When the bag is full, put the bones in a stockpot with some whole garlic cloves and any of the other following ingredients you have on hand: Onion, celery with leaves, a couple of hot peppers, carrots.
No need to chop the vegetables up; you're going to throw them away in any case. But avoid the temptation of getting rid of rotting vegetation by putting it in your stock. I ruined a whole pot of otherwise perfect soup by using celery past its prime in the broth. Every time I took a sip I got that overripe limp ex-celery taste. Never again! Better to leave the broth just bones and garlic than add a discordant taste.
Fill the stockpot with water and add salt to taste--be careful, you can't unsalt--and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for as long as you can. You can leave it bubbling gently on the stovetop for hours on a rainy Sunday, or let it cook all day or overnight in your crockpot. It takes time but it's no trouble. If you're in a hurry, you can boil the bones a bit harder and call it done after a half hour, but it won't be as rich.
Anyway, after your broth tastes strong enough, strain it, discard the solids and use the liquid for everything. If you're not immediately using it for soup, you can cool the broth, skim off any fat that comes to the surface, and store it in the freezer. Smaller containers are handy when you need a cup or 16 ounces to make sauces or gravies or to cook vegetables. Best case is, you've made enough to freeze some and use the bulk for soup, such as:
Hot & Sour Chicken Soup This is a family fave around here, and one of our few spousal cooperative efforts. In general I have a low opinion of marital togetherness in the kitchen. Here is what would happen if we tried to do a cooking show at my house.
Mr. Chef: This is how we begin our famous gateau: Crack two eggs .... Mrs. Chef: ARE YOU DRUNK? Don't listen to him! He's out of his mind. We begin our famous gateau by sifting the flour ...
But about hot & sour soup I am inclined to let Mr. Chef have his way, or at least his say. It is in fact his dish. I took it up because he didn't make it often enough to suit me. I got pretty good at it, even Mr. Chef admits that, and complains I have "u-souped his surp." But I am still uncharacteristically amenable to his suggestions on this subject.
Mr. Chef was born a white-bread Southern Baptist in Macon, Ga., but I have always suspected him of secretly being a very tall Chinese. He loves incense, paper lanterns and black carpet slippers, and his parents actually owned a laundry. But mostly his sub-surface ethnicity shows up gastronomically.Mr. Chef loves him some Chinese food!
He learned this hot and sour soup from one of the first cookbooks he ever bought and he used to own a dedicated pot to make it in. It started out more authentic, with tofu and a dried black fungus called, I think, moki. But we seldom keep tofu around for anything else, the moki was hard to find locally and I always found both of them nasty anyway. So this is how we ended up making our hot & sour.
Ingredients Enough homemade or canned chicken broth to fill a six-quart soup pot 2/3 full 7 tablespoons good soy sauce 5 tablespoons white wine vinegar 1 tablespoon white pepper 2 chicken breast fillets (or use 1 of those huge unnatural Dolly-Parton sized bone-in chicken breasts you find these days at the grocery store)
1 can bamboo shoots Cabbage Carrots, turnips, daikon, as available Frozen green peas Frozen corn kernels (optional) 3-5 (see note below) tablespoons cornstarch 2 eggs Sesame oil
This is one of the few dishes I make often that I still use measuring spoons for. The white pepper is what makes the soup "hot" and the white wine vinegar is what makes it "sour." We like it pretty hot but nobody likes it too vinegary! I have put in too much vinegar (and so has Mr. Chef whatever he may tell you!) and it spoils everything. So ever afterwards I start out with Mr. Chef's recommendation of 5 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and 7 of soy sauce, and I've often added more soy sauce but never once a drop more vinegar. As for the tablespoon of white pepper, you may want to start with less if you don't like it hot.
Measure the soy sauce, pepper and vinegar into the broth as you bring it to a gentle, rolling boil. If you are using filleted breast, cut it into small pieces and put it in the broth to cook. If you are using bone-in breast, put the whole thing in and boil it for 15 or so minutes until done through, then fish it out to cool and shred the meat in later.
Meanwhile, chop up some cabbage (here you can be creative with amounts, depending on how much you like it or how much you have) and toss that in. When we have turnips or daikon from the garden, or both, we'll cut some into matchsticks and add with the cabbage. If we have carrots we'll put some in--Mr. Chef likes to cut julienned carrots into smaller shreds; Mrs. Chef prefers cutting tiny circles or cubes from whole ones.
So you have some leeway but both of us insist that hot & sour's not hot & sour without the bamboo shoots. Mr. Chef cuts them into smaller slivers before adding them. Mrs. Chef finds that fussy. Mr. Chef pours the liquid from the bamboo can into the soup. Mrs. Chef finds that sloppy.
As you have done all this, the soup has been rolling right along, and none of the ingredients takes that long to cook, so there is not usually any spare time involved. But be sure to add the frozen peas and corn last, because they overcook so quickly.
Meanwhile, dissolve the cornstarch in a cup of cool water. Mrs. Chef likes a thinner soup and will not use more than 3 tablespoons, but Mr. Chef prefers it thicker and persists in putting in at least 5. Stir this liquid into the soup.
While the soup goes from clear to cloudy to clear again, beat two eggs with a fork. (Here again, measurements are, magically and irrationally, important. Mr. Chef insists that no matter how large a pot of soup or how small, the number of eggs must always be two. Mrs. Chef is dubious about that one, but lets him get away with it.) Strew the beaten eggs from the fork into the rolling soup so that they solidify into strands.
Lastly, pour a capful or two of sesame oil into the soup, stir and serve. Minced green onion is a nice garnish.
This is an extremely healthful as well as delicious soup. I keep 8-ounce containers of it in the freezer and use them as a winter flu preventative, diet lifeline and impromptu side dish. Unless Mr. Chef finds them first and laps them up two at a time with his eggrolls.
Other Uses For Chicken Broth
Not to harp on it, but you really can't have enough chicken broth around the house. If you need a quick sauce or gravy, you can just brown three tablespoons of flour in butter or chicken fat, stir in a cup of chicken broth, add pepper and go from there.
But something I've been doing just this year I discovered by serendipity is using chicken broth as the liquid in long-cooked green beans, collards or turnip greens.
To start, chop a couple of cloves of garlic and part of an onion fine and fry them up in the bottom of the pot with three to six bacon strips, depending on how many vegetables you're cooking. I usually use turkey bacon so I add some olive oil. If you're using pork you won't need that.
When the bacon has cooked, add enough chicken broth to cook the vegetables in, bring to a boil, then add the vegetables. Turn down the heat and let them simmer at least half an hour for green beans or twice that for collards or turnip greens.
This makes green beans so delicious that they've become a staple around here, and next year I'm going to plant mega-rows of 'em. Meanwhile, I use the Italian style frozen ones you buy in big two-pound bags in the frozen section.
The Revolution Will Not be (Partially) Hydrolized
Well. You may believe it or not that the world can be changed for the better by cooking. I do. When a young person takes an interest in cuisine I know that he will not only be better fed than his less enlightened peers but also happier.
And certainly he will be more likely to question the blandishments of the corporate-government structure. No one could believe in the lies of Big Food who has experienced the ravages and horror brought into the culinary world by canned cream of mushroom soup.