Boning up on Broth

Bone-Broth

After last week’s veg-centric post on the wonders of cauliflower, I’d like to go to the meat side for something quite different, but no less healthy. If cauliflower can be considered brain food, then perhaps the subject of this post, bone broth, could be thought of as gut food, given its well-established gut-healing properties. However, to leave it at that would be selling it short, as it contains a myriad of health benefits. But before I elaborate further, let me step back a second.

What is bone broth? At its most simplistic level, it’s just boiled bones. But isn’t that just stock, you may ask, like the stuff that comes in little cubes from the supermarket? Well, not quite. They share some similarities, but in reality they’re a world apart. Stock cubes, and even most liquid stock, bought in shops have a lot of added flavouring but none of the natural goodness that comes with slow-cooking bones for long periods of time. I might add that, technically, stock is made from bones and connective tissue, whereas broth is the liquid that meat has been cooked in. However, for some reason, bone stock is more commonly referred to as bone broth. If you know why this is, please leave a comment below. For the purpose of consistency, let’s call it bone broth.

Why bone broth? Let’s start with the health benefits.

  • Have you ever heard chicken soup referred to as Jewish Penicillin? If so, it’s because it’s been used for ages to help cures colds and ills. But what is it in the soup that gives it this reputation: the bones! Or rather, what’s in the bones that gets transferred to the broth over the long cooking time. For one, there’s a natural amino acid called cysteine, which can thin the mucus in your lungs and make it less sticky, enabling it to be expelled more easily.
  • Then there are the minerals: calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus for starters. All stuff your body needs, and bone broth delivers them in an easily-absorbable package.
  • Do you have joint issues? Throw away your glucosamine + chondroitin tablets, as the collagen in bones, tendons, ligaments, and other flexible tissues, is broken down during the cooking process into  gelatin, which gives your body the raw materials to rebuild your own connective tissue, especially tendons and ligaments. It also enhances your skin, nails and hair – my wife swears by it!
  • I mentioned gut food previously. This is because bone broth contains both Glycine and Glutamine, two amino acids that can really help rebuild your gut lining.

I could go on and on. If you want to read a bit more about the health benefits of bone broth, check out the following articles, or just Google bone broth. There’s loads of great stuff out there on it.

Eat This:Bone Broth
Bone Broth—One of Your Most Healing Diet Staples
Bone Broth Benefits for Digestion, Arthritis and Cellulite

Finding good quality bone broth in shops can be a tricky affair. Some good butchers sell it, and there’s even a restaurant in NYC called Brodo which specialises in it, but the best way to get hold of it is to make it yourself. Fortunately it’s really easy! This is especially the case if you have a slow cooker, and if you don’t, I recommend you get one.  They are pretty cheap and very useful. Some, like the one I have, are actually rice cookers with added slow cooking features. Bonus! You can make your broth in it, and then use the broth to make your rice. But I’ll go more into how you can use your broth later.

First you need some bones. Any kind will do. Beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, whatever. You don’t have to limit your broth to one type, either. You can mix them, too. It’s important that you start with good quality bones. Ideally organic, and if beef, from cows that have been grass-fed. If you’re wondering why grass-fed, check out this trio of articles that I also referenced in my beef jerky post:

The Differences Between Grass-Fed Beef and Grain-Fed Beef
Why Grass-Fed Animal Products Are Better For You
Why Grass-Fed Trumps Grain-Fed

So where do I get my bones? From several places. First, whenever I cook up a roast, be it lamb shoulder, pork belly, chicken, etc., I save any bones. Wrapped up well, they can be stored in the freezer for a really long time until you’re ready to use them, so don’t throw them out!  If I don’t have any bones on hand, I’ll get some from my local butcher. I’m fortunate to have two nearby, M. Moen & Sons and The Ginger Pig, that sell really good quality meat. They will sell bones for cheap, or even give some away for nothing in some cases. Sometimes I order meat online from Donald Russell, based in Scotland, as they sell grass-fed (though not organic) beef at good prices, and if requested, they will throw some bones into an order for no extra charge.

If you are getting bones from the butcher, try to get ones that will fit in your slow cooker or stock pot. Trust me, I’ve slogged away with a hacksaw cutting up big beef leg bones, and it ain’t easy. If in doubt, ask the butcher to cut them for you, as they’ve got the right tools for the job! Also, if you can, try and get some joint bones, as the connective tissue in them is extra good for you. Makes your broth really thick, too, because of the amount of collagen which, if you’ve been paying attention, turns into gelatin.

For this batch, I've used a combination of lamb ribs from the butcher, and some leftover chicken bones from a roast.

For this batch, I’ve used a combination of lamb ribs from the butcher, beef off-cuts, and some leftover chicken bones from a roast.

Some people like to first roast the bones in a really hot oven, say 250C/450F, for 20 minutes or so to brown them and render any fat off them. I’m a bit lazy, and not afraid of a little fat, so I usually skip this step. Place the bones in the slow cooker and fill it with water.  If you have any veg bits that you’re not keen on eating, such as carrot tops, cauliflower leaves, etc., you can add those too. Just give them a rinse first. You can also add some seasoning here if you like. I tend to use my bone broth as part of other recipes which call for their own seasoning, so I don’t add much.  A few peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves are pretty much it. You can opt for adding onions and garlic, as they add nice flavour. I also add a couple of spoonfuls of vinegar, as supposedly it helps leach the nutrients out of the bones. One ingredient that I started adding recently is dried seaweed, as it’s got loads of minerals and good stuff that we don’t normally get enough of. I suppose it might add a touch of salty goodness as well.

I tend to start the slow cooker off on a high heat setting for the initial hour of cooking, especially if I haven’t roasted the bones first. This isn’t essential, but for some reason I feel better knowing that I’ve boiled everything a little first to kill any unwanted bacteria. Then I turn it down to a low heat, and leave it be for 24 hours (for chicken or other small bones) to 48 hours (for chunky beef and lamb bones). The nice thing about using a slow cooker instead of the hob, is that (with the exception of the initial boiling period) it won’t stink up your house with meat smells for days. Also, you don’t have to worry about the liquid boiling off or the gas flame accidentally going out.

When it’s ready to go, strain the liquid into a storage container and chuck out whatever’s left. If you’ve got pets, you can give them a treat with any meaty bits that have come off the bones. You can now either use the broth right away, or (once cooled) freeze it for later use. I usually freeze half of mine.  It’s worth noting that the cooled broth will often have a layer of congealed fat on it. You can either skim this off and use it for cooking, or throw it out if you’re a bit fat-phobic. But remember, this is good fat. Saturated fat has been demonised for years, but people are now getting hip to the misinformation we’ve been force fed by governments in bed with big food companies. Read more here or here.

So, I’ve now got all this bone broth, what do I do with it? Plenty!

  • It makes a great base for soup. I make a weekly pot of veg soup, using broth in place of, or in addition to water. It makes the soup much richer, tastier, and healthier. I could do an entire post about soups, and perhaps I will at some point. Watch this space.
  • Use it in place of water to cook grains. Your rice, barley, quinoa, etc., will taste sooo much nicer.
  • Add it to casseroles or sauces which need liquid. A mixture of bone broth and wine (or port or vermouth) does wonders for a hearty stew.
  • Make gravy with it. You’ll need to season it, and thicken it a bit with flour or corn starch, but it’s dead easy.
  • Drink it as a hot beverage on a chilly day. I usually season it with a bit of soy sauce, but you can add whatever you like.
  • Bathe in it! Okay, I’m kidding with this one. Bone broth is best taken internally.

So there you have it. Bone broth is tasty, healthy, versatile and cheap. The only excuse you’ve got for not using it is if you’re a vegetarian. And if so, I’m afraid you’re really missing out. Ah well, more for the rest of us.

Until next time…

bone-broth-jars

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The Lamb Lies Down on Moxon Street

Just a quick one here on what’s probably my favourite meat: Lamb (Okay, maybe bacon aside, but IMHO that porky goodness occupies its own space in the carnivore’s universe!)

For my wife Sue’s birthday, I gave her a butchery course at the Ginger Pig here in London. Some of you may be thinking, ‘Gee, that’s not a very romantic gift.’ Maybe not, but trust me, she liked it. And I did, too, as I got to go along on the 2nd voucher I bought. Woo!

The Ginger Pig is well-known for selling excellent quality meat from its seven London retail locations. The course was being run out of their Moxon Street location in Marylebone, an area filled with ridiculously chichi shops displaying 5 items of clothes, priceless antiques, or Rolls Royces. There’s even a shop dedicated solely to buttons! Fortunately, the butcher shop was down to earth, and not snooty in the slightest.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a lamb carcass laid out on an enormous butcher block. Fortunately, it appeared we would not need to first hunt down and slaughter the evening’s subject. That was a relief.

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Our tutor for the evening, a proper old school London butcher named Perry, gave us the lowdown on what we were to expect. We were to learn all the different cuts that make up the lamb, then try our hand at some butchery techniques, followed by a big old meal of, yeah, you guessed it, lamb. Sounded good to me!

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And good it was. Perry proceeded to carve up the carcass into its multitude of cuts, encouraging the students to try a cut here and there. We learned a little about knife technique, using the sharpest knives I have ever encountered. Good thing we were provided with a sparkly safety glove. A little reminiscent of Michael Jackson, though I couldn’t imagine him ever doing this. Of course, there was the ubiquitous meat saw as well, not at all dissimilar to the metal-cutting hacksaws I’ve got in my tool box at home. Sue even got to have a go with it, practising her ovine surgery skills.

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Eventually the entire lamb was broken down into all of its cuts. In addition to the familiar leg, shoulder, chops and rack, we learned about some of the often overlooked cheaper cuts which are delicious when slow cooked, such as the scrag end (neck) and breast. The latter is apparently best cooked up similarly to a pork belly. I’ll definitely be giving this a try sometime soon!

Then the class had the amusing task of trying to put the whole carcass back together, a real 3D meat jigsaw puzzle, and not as easy as you might think!

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For the final educational portion of the class, each student was given a massive lamb shoulder, and the directive to bone it, ideally without making a complete mess. Again, more of a  challenge than you might expect, particularly as the shoulder blade is completely hidden within the flesh, creating quite a meticulous procedure to remove it without cutting the whole shoulder in half. But in the end we managed it.

To be honest, I found that easier than the final step, which was to roll and tie it up. I realised years ago, when taking a sailing class, that knots are not my strong point, and this was strongly reinforced as I struggled mightily to bind it up. But Sue gave me a hand after she finished hers, and we were gifted our massive lamb shoulders to take home with us. 3 kgs without the bones, and a usual price tag of £50 each!

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For the grand finale it was time to eat! Huge trays of slow-cooked lamb shoulder and shanks were brought out to us, along with lovely buttery mash and, most appreciated, numerous bottles of red wine, which flowed down oh so nicely.

Stuffed and tipsy, we packed up our carnivore swag, which also included several kilos of lamb bones destined for our stock pot, and dragged ourselves home. Good thing we love lamb as we wound up eating it for the rest of the week!

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