Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bone Soup

I have been making chicken broth for a couple years now and preach the gospel of bone broth every chance I get. Broth made from animal bones and connective tissue is full of healthful gelatin, minerals and - most importantly - flavor!

There is a reason chicken soup is a food for sick people throughout the world. Studies are showing that the gelatin and other proteins found in properly made bone broth are essential in bone, joint and skin health as well as digestive health. In fact, bone broth is the base of the very popular GAPS diet for healing digestive and related psychological disorders. Every Jewish grandmother knows that chicken soup heals, and as is usually true of grandmother's wisdom, science is finally coming around.

Chicken broth is the most common homemade broth (in my kitchen and beyond) because we tend to collect more chicken bones than beef or lamb bones but I recently ventured into the land of beef stock. Last fall in a fit of panic over the economy and weather I went to a local discount grocery warehouse store and spent 75 dollars on food, including two packs of meaty beef "soup bones". I wrapped them up, threw them in the freezer and haven't looked at them since. Finally this last weekend I decided to get out one pack and make some beef stock.

I decided to roast the bones before boiling them as I had heard that imparted such great flavor to beef stock. I threw the bones in a foil lined pyrex into the oven at 500 degrees until things started looking a little browned and sizzly. The browned bones, their meat and accumulated juices went into a soup pot along with half an onion, a few garlic cloves, a celery stick and some peppercorns. A bunch of hours later this humble start turned into one of the most delicious things to ever come out of my kitchen. I used the same bones with more onion and garlic to make a second batch that was equally tasty. Talk about frugal!

One of the tricks to making good tasting bone broth is to skim the foam off the top as it comes to a boil. You need to start with cold water so the pot comes slowly to a boil and the gelatin can seep out of the bones before it sets with the heat. As the stock boils a foam will rise to the top and this needs to come out. It is a protein foam and is made by the same process that makes the foam on ocean waves. If left in the stock for the long simmer the protein will overcook and impart bitter flavors into the stock. Just use a spoon or a wire strainer to get that foam off.

There are two camps in the debate over simmer time for chicken stock. One camp says that after long simmering times, like 12 hours or 24 hours or longer, the minerals from the chicken bones have fully leached into the broth and it is most nutritious. The other camp says that a shorter simmer time gets enough minerals out but doesn't destroy the gelatin. I'm in the short simmer camp for both gelatin and flavor - I find long cooked chicken stock to not have much of the chickeny flavor I am looking for. I usually simmer my chicken stocks for between 4 and 6 hours, sometimes over two days with a cooling period inbetween simmering periods.

Beef broth, on the other hand, both requires and can handle a much longer simmer. My first batch of beef broth simmered for 12 hours the first day, and another 8 the second day. I simply put a lid on the pot, turn off the heat and let the stock sit on the stove overnight. The next day I turn the heat back on, make sure the stock comes to a full boil for a couple minutes, and then let it simmer away. This may freak out food safety officials, but I figure any bacteria growing in the soup get boiled off the next day. When I am done simmering I make sure to use a quick cooling method like a water bath, to get the stock as cool as possible as quickly as possible. Safety first!

I used some of this fantastic broth to make a very simple soup the other night. I sauteed some onions, celery and carrots in goose fat, seasoned with italian seasoning and herbs de provance, added the broth and cooked some egg noodles in the soup. With broth in the fridge or freezer a tasty, nutritious meal is only minutes away. And you can't beat that with a stick.

Thanks to These Days in French Life and Graygoosie for their gorgeous photos!!


  1. Thanks for this post! I've been making chicken broth for a little while, but haven't figured out how to get the elusive "collagen gel" when cold. I bet it's because I'm not starting with cold water and I'm boiling it too long! Thanks for these tips...I'll try them next time and see if it solves my problem!

  2. Laryssa - also try using less water. Just enough to cover all the bones for chicken stock. This beef stock is really gelly, it's kinda cool :)

  3. I love homemade stock/broth I use it to make rice/risotto and tamales and so many things that seem simple, but the flavor addition makes them special! I love your information and I read somewhere that it is stock when it ceases to be translucent, my chicken stock gets the gel and I use that to fry vegis sometimes, sooo yummy!

  4. I started roasting the bones too--it definitely adds to the flavor!

  5. Sure, boiling kills the germs but you have to keep in mind that everything that lives eats and excretes. While the stock is sitting on the stove overnight it's excreting into the stock, in effect your eating bacteria poop. That poop will make one sick.

    Sort of makes a joke of your statement of "Safety First".

  6. Wonderful suggestion about roasting bones first, Alyss.

    OMG, Anonymous, according to your theory, I must have eaten tons of bacteria poop in my lifetime. It amazes me that I've been around for 75 years and in good health. During my young years our refrigeration consisted of ice boxes -- more amazement. Perhaps the "poop" is in your post, hmmm?

  7. @Anonymous re: bacteria poop
    Sure, you're correct, bacteria excrete 'waste' despite the fact that they're killed in boiling, however, in the relatively controlled environment of a cooling pot overnight, any bacteria which culture can actually impart added flavor and nutrients. I would remind you that lactobacillus 'poop' makes natural pickles & sauerkraut, yeast 'poop' makes beer and wine, and mycoderma aceti 'poop' is vinegar. I used to work in a 5 star french restaurant and bar, and the kitchen ALWAYS left the next day's batch of stock to cool overnight UNCOVERED before re-pasteurizing the next day. Airborne microbes are a culinary secret.

  8. I've never been afraid of a little poop, lol. And I keep reading research saying the hygiene standards of our world today are responsible for all of our autoimmune diseases.