Bone Broths and Tasty Alternatives

Today is the day I refill my freezer with meat broth, both rich and light. Plus a wonderful small amount of demi glace. We do this about every six months. I realize I am in the minority of being able to order cases of meaty bones through my restaurant. But you'll be surprised what you can find if you create a relationship with a good butcher. I will start by saying right now--get good quality bones. Meaning that if the animals ate feed that had antibiotics or grass that had been sprayed with chemicals you too will now be consuming that at a concentrated level. I don't eat organic at every meal, but when I am cooking at home my food is naturally produced at the very least. I find it is more important to know the producer of your food than to pay for the label "organic". I will now step off that soap box and get back to the goodness of bone broth. IMG_2329I referred above to what I'm making today, however, bone broth is made from any animal. Chicken broth is bone broth. The tales of being healed by grandma's chicken broth are true! Long cooking the bones and vegetables in water pulls out the minerals. Short cooking vegetables or eating them raw gets you the wonderful vitamins. We are going beyond that with long cooked broths. You will enjoy the health benefits of the nutrients and collagen (that is so very good for your joints) with bone broths. I always have large and small containers of various broths in my freezer at any one time. I use chicken broth the most for soups, sauces and gravy. After Thanksgiving Turkey broth is added. Rooster becoming an ankle biter (I mean that literally) into the freezer he goes. But drinking (or eating it in soups) the beef broth is when I feel the most healthful.IMG_2335

Alright, I think we can agree that we these broths (which seems to be all the rage to drink right now) are very good for you, let's talk about how to make these broths tasty. Cooking some bones and vegetables together can mean anything and I have to say that before I spent some quality time with my mother-in-law my broths tasted a bit weak. My chicken broth didn't have the golden color of her broth and my veal broth could have come from a can. In the 1970's my mother-in-law apprenticed with John Snowden in Chicago (of Père L'Ecole de la Cuisine Française). She is a petite blond of Scandinavian descent who, like me, completely adopted the Italian lifestyle when she married. Combining that with the french cooking techniques she learned from Snowden has made her a very impressive home cook. From her I learned that after you eat a roast chicken you want to scrape all the goodness from that baking dish along with the carcass into the stock pot; you never allow a stock to boil (a gentle simmer is the best); cook your broth at least 4 hours (some french chefs believe stopping at 4 hours is perfect); the vegetable accompaniment to the bones should be carrot, celery, onion, leek and possibly garlic; the herbs should include bay, parsley, thyme. Over the years my husband and I have tried different recipes after reading cookbooks and working with other chefs. We really stick to his mother's basics for the most part. I add chervil and sometimes marjoram to my green vegetables and after herb classes last fall I am also adding Astragulas root and Reishi mushroom slices to give just a bit more healing aids. Sometimes after we strain the poultry broths I still don't feel it's viscous enough so I'll let it sit overnight, skimming off the fat the next morning and cooking it down to just the right flavor.IMG_2337

About 15 years ago Gail (my mother-in-law does have a name) came upon her notes from classes with John Snowden. She and I decided to make his demi glace. It was a "decision" as following exactly through his notes we were taking on a 24 hour project. We began with 30 pounds of veal, beef and pork bones and ended with a quart of the most incredible creation I've ever eaten. I haven't repeated that recipe again as we were happy with flavors we met along the road in that 24 hour journey. Again over the years since my husband and I have read much, seen many renditions made and experimented ourselves to get to the process we now have developed. I see what we are in the middle of right now (still a 24 hour process of cooking 30 pounds of veal bones) as a cross between Snowden (Gail's interpretation of her time with him), Keller, Robuchon and ourselves. We roast the bones for 10 minutes, add the cut up vegetables and continue roasting for a bit. We then put all in a pot of water with the herbs and lightly simmer for 12 hours. After pouring off we add more water and cook another 8 hours for a light veal broth that is used for soups. The first broth is cooked down even further to become thick for a semi-demi which I love in French onion soup and then finally into the gel that is demi-glace. I often add a bit of tomato paste (ala John Snowden) to that final stage. You may realize that I have not give specific amounts on everything and I have left a couple little secrets out;) But this is about you finding the flavors that you want. It took us years to get to what works for what we cook at home. And there is a book in my head that is starting to find its way to paper. Good for you as more of these cooking adventures and stories will be finding there way to the blog.

I did want to add a bit for my vegetarian friends (even though at this point they probably are not paying attention). Cooking vegetables for lengths of time also opens the cells and gives you the mineral benefits of the plants. I have mushroom broths I love to use in risotto or soups; I add parsnip to my vegetarian broth to give a sweetness and body to the broth. I have recently been paying more attention to Chinese vegetable broths where jujube fruit is added for health benefits. I always add a lot more herbs to carry the flavor.

Fish broth is in a whole other category as I want a light flavor for the most part. I tend to add fennel to that broth. If I want something heavier I add shrimp shells. As I said there are a large variety of broths in my freezer. I consider the freezer to be part of my "Pantry" set up. Spending some time once every 6 months to make a large project broth like the one I'm working on right now is worth it when I haven't gone shopping and I have everything else to make a warming soup or only have some rice and frozen peas--add any of the broths I've described for a healthy and tasty risotto with Aborio rice or rice soup with brown rice or basmati. Most of the broths I make are at the end of a meal (chicken or fish) and it cooks while we are watching tv or visiting with friends. They have just become part of our life. I've said for years I could give up all other meats but never broth!