If someone had told me there were a way to spend $10 to $20 and get (rich, flavorful) dinners for an entire week, I’d probably have imagined some sort of magic with rice and beans. But, speaking from day five of soups for dinner, I can tell you there’s another option—one that is crazy high in easy-to-absorb calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous, as well as healing for our bones, teeth, and guts: perpetual bone broth.
As I mentioned in the last post, Tim and I left Little Seed Farm last week with more than good memories. James and Eileen had sent us home with a bag of grass-fed beef bones, too, and so first thing Saturday morning I set them on the stove to cook. Making homemade beef broth truly is as simple as the phrase “set them on the stove to cook,” because all it involves, literally, is placing a pot on the stove (or turning on a crockpot), inserting bones, covering them with filtered water, adding a little apple cider vinegar if you like (to pull out minerals), and adding any other vegetables or vegetable scraps you have on hand. Bring the mixture to a simmer, skim off scum as it collects on the top, and replenish the water as it goes down. In return you get rich, nutrient-dense broth to use in soups as you like.
Over here in the Mallon household, we make broth fairly regularly, almost every time we have meat for dinner I guess, but this week has been my first experience with perpetual broth. Whereas usually I let the bones cook for six to eight hours (as described here) before straining the bones and storing the stock in the refrigerator or the freezer, this time I let it keep cooking, deciding instead to ladle out stock each night for soup from our perpetually cooking pot. The experience has been such a positive one, with comforting, pot roasty soups every night, that I wanted to share about it here. Whether you’ve been making bone broths for years or the idea is entirely new, I hope this post will provide a solid framework for how to do it, why it matters, and ways to use it once it’s bubbling on your stove.
Step One: Get Your Hands on Some Bones
The most common way we make bone broth is with leftover chicken bones from a roast. We tend to stick to our old faithfuls in the meat department, like a salted chicken, cooked at high heat or, terrible as the photos are in this archived post, a version of this, with lemon shoved inside the bird and under the skin, an onion and some herbs and butter alongside it. We cut chicken off to eat, then stick the carcass and bones inside a large pot, following the same basic method outlined above (cover bones with water, add a little apple cider vinegar, simmer for 6 to 8 hours, skimming scum and replenishing water; strain and store). But even without a roast chicken on hand, there are easy ways to get your hands on bones to roast: You can buy them wherever you buy your meat. If it’s from your farmer, you can bet he has bones available. If it’s from your local grocery store, you might find soup bones packaged up in the meat department, but, even if you don’t, you can always ask and see if they’ll wrap some up for you from the back. We look for bones from organic and/or pastured animals that have not been fed gmo grains. A pack of soup bones usually costs $4 to $10, depending on the type and quantity of bones, but especially when compared with expensive cuts of meat, it’s a bargain.
Step Two: Carve out Time
Being that Tim and I both work from home, I prefer to use a stockpot on low heat on the stove rather than a crockpot for stock. That said, Jenny from Nourished Kitchen uses a crockpot method, and she keeps it going all week long. Whichever method you use, two important things to remember are to skim off scum, “Otherwise the broth will be ruined by strange flavors,” says Weston A. Price (think of scum as the undesirable stuff in the food, i.e., impurities, what you don’t need to eat) and to replenish water (as the soup cooks, water will evaporate, and you’ll need to keep adding more so the bones’ minerals can fill it).
What about when I leave the house? go to sleep? We took two approaches here. At night, we covered the stock pots, turned off the heat, and went to bed. This may not be necessary, but we’re paranoid about burning the house down, so it’s what we did. In the morning, we brought the soup to a boil before returning it to a simmer to cook all day. You could also refrigerate the pots while they’re not cooking if you prefer. Bonus with this method: The soup’s fat will rise to the top, making it easy to remove if you prefer a clearer stock (again, it’s a preference thing). For shorter windows of time, when I’d run outside or be gone for a little bit, I’d leave the soup filled high with water on super-low heat, returning it to a simmer when I was home.
Why make stock? The layman’s terms answer is that stock is super good for you. The more detailed, lengthy explanation would be that it’s high in several things that help your health, such as:
1. Glycosaminoglycans (you may have heard of glucosamine supplements) are good for your joints, according to Dr Shanahan of Deep Nutrition: “The health of your joints depends upon the health of the collagen in your ligaments, tendons, and on the ends of your bones. Collagens are a large family of biomolecules, which include the glycosaminoglycans, very special molecules that help keep our joints healthy.”
2. Gelatin (which we’ve talked about a little here and here) is incredibly healing to the gut, so anyone with digestive issues of any kinds (former Crohn’s patient here!), listen up. According to an article at Mind Body Green by Dr. Amy Myers, “The gelatin in bone broth protects and heals the mucosal lining of the digestive tract and helps aid in the digestion of nutrients.”
3. Amino Acids have a long list of benefits, according to this “Why Broth Is Beautiful” article from Weston A. Price, which I’ll just point you to for more information because it is detailed!
In sum: There’s a reason greater than tradition for why grandmothers always told us to eat chicken soup when we had a cold. Bone broths can be wonderfully healing, as they are both nourishing and easy to digest.
Especially for women: One last thing about the benefits of bone broth I want to add is that I’ve read a lot about the ways it’s good for women’s health especially (example here.)
What to do with bone broth? You can sip bone broth on its own, salted to taste, but probably a lot of people won’t be into that. Next best option is soup. This week, for us, every night, that’s been sliced onions cooked in a little bit of broth until caramelized-esque in smell and color, then added to fresh kale and bone broth, with salt to taste. It’s wildly simple and yet wildly deliciously because the bone broth does most of the work for you.
What does bone broth taste like? It depends on type of bones, but this time I thought it tasted like pot roast. Rich and meaty and satisfying.
How do I know when the bones are done? At some point, your bones will become super brittle and dry, and they will no longer be useful. We have had two pots going since Saturday, and, in one, the bones started to disintegrate—enough so that the bones looked like what Instagram friends could only assume was cheese or spongey bread. If you’re not sure if the bones are done, try feeling them with your hands and see if they’re dry and crumbly; if so, strain the soup and quit!
How to store leftover broth? We like to strain the stock and pour it into mason jars. If we’re going to use them within the week, we put the jars in the refrigerator. If we want to save them for later than that, we freeze them (word of caution: don’t fill them too full as the liquids will expand and potentially break your jars in the cold; likewise, let them cool to room temperature before freezing) and thaw when we’re ready to make soup.
So that’s bone broth! Such a marvel to me. Every time we make it, from the simplest to the most elaborate soups that come as a result, I think about that famous quote from Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
disclaimer: It should go without saying, but we’re not writing this post as your doctor or your health practitioner, so don’t take our advice without researching on your own. We’re just sharing what’s worked for us.