Deep, Cheap Nutrition
As the weather gets colder, few meals beckon us home like steaming, savory, comforting soup! Whether enjoyed as an appetizer or as a main course, soup comes in enough varieties to keep us all happy. However, the ubiquitous canned or powdered stuff is not nutritious enough to make it a mainstay of a healthy diet. Canned soups and stocks have some of the highest sodium content of all packaged foods, and offer little in the way of protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. Making your own soup from scratch is by far more wholesome and not as complicated as it sounds. If you’d like to make a deeply nourishing homemade soup but are at a loss for how to start, here’s a fairly easy way to make soup stock that will keep you healthy and satisfied all winter long.
Most broths are made from bones cooked for an hour or two, but cooking stock for days instead of hours helps break down the bones to release the nutritious marrow. This rich, thick stock, when eaten regularly, is an old-fashioned but effective tonic for the immune system. In Chinese Medicine, bone broths are given medicinally for conditions such as infertility, debility due to long illnesses, and post-childbirth recovery – this type of nutrition is considered – literally – bone-deep. Additionally, eating soup made from bone and joint tissue of “free-range” animals may have positive health benefits for your OWN joints as well. As a bonus, keeping a pot going on the stove will help warm up your home on a chilly day!
Good stock starts with any type of meat bones. Our great-grandmothers would be horrified if they saw us throwing away perfectly good chicken bones and the like; in their day almost every cut of meat came attached to a bone, and once the meat was eaten, the bones made the base for continually-cooked soups and stews. If you want to start your own stock with raw meat bones, be sure to roast them first; otherwise you can save up bones from roast chicken, rack of lamb, holiday turkeys, etc. in your freezer until you’re ready to start. If you’ve eaten the meat straight off the bone, a few days’ stint in the freezer should kill any leftover bacteria; once you’re done cooking the bones, you’ll be doubly sure of a germ-free broth. Be sure to use the bones of only organically raised, free-range animals in order to keep heavy metals and other contaminants from leaching into your stock.
Although the idea of cooking something for several days may seem daunting, remember that it only requires checking on every few hours, and adding water to the pot a couple of times a day. The easiest stovetop method for cooking broth is to use a large pot with a spaghetti / steamer insert, but any pot that will accommodate all of your collected bones will do. You can also use a slow cooker or crockpot, but pressure cookers are not recommended.
Here’s the basic how-to:
Fit the steamer insert into your large pot and add your assortment of roasted bones.
Cover the bones with filtered water and about 1 teaspoon of pink or grey salt.
Cover and simmer for 4-5 days or longer, until the bones soften and disintegrate.
You may refrigerate your stock at night so that your pot does not cook unattended. In the morning before putting the pot back on the stove, break the bones apart if possible to release the marrow into the stock. Larger bones may not be breakable.
When you’re done, lift the steamer insert up to remove any scraps of bones that may be left. These can be composted or mixed with pet food for your dogs and cats.
Ladle the stock into jars. Refrigerate or freeze as needed.
If you’ve started with little bits of meat clinging to the bones, you can scoop those pieces off as they float to the top and make your first batch of soup with them. As the broth cooks, you can ladle some off every day to make soups, stews, gravies, etc. You can filter the first day’s broth if you want a light, clear stock. If you’ve used bones from fattier meats such as lamb, you may want to skim off the fat every morning after you take it out of the refrigerator. To flavor your broth with vegetable scraps or herbs, add them to the last few hours of boiling. Depending on what type of bones you’re using, there may be some mornings when the whole pot of stock comes out of the refrigerator looking like gelatin. At this point you can either add more water and keep cooking it, melt it down for gravy or a very thick soup, or re-cook the bones in a whole new batch. The longer you cook the bones, the thicker your stock will become.
Once you are done, there are as many ways to use the broth as there are people on the planet. You can thicken some broth with arrowroot and add spices for a delicious gravy. Use the stock to make soup with fresh vegetables and meat or fish leftover from another meal – since you’ve already made your stock, your vegetables can be cooked quickly to retain their crunch and flavor. Cook your favorite grains in the broth to make a more filling side dish. Or use it as the base for a slow-cooked stew. If you’ve stopped boiling at the gelatin stage, you can use it for aspic. Perhaps the easiest and most delicious way to enjoy bone broth is to heat some up and add salt and lemon, and drink it like a tea. For an amazing digestive tonic, use a small amount of cooled broth to blend up some raw sauerkraut, and drop a teaspoon of the mixture into a cup of hot, salted broth – the kraut will lend a lemony kick, and give your digestive tract a healthy dose of probiotics along with the soothing qualities of the broth.
However you decide to use your bone broth, try to have a little bit every day to keep yourself nourished, healthy, and warm all winter long.
Sharone Franzen is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist at Lakeside Village.