ILLUSTRATIONS BY DANIELLE MULCAHY
I come from a family, nay a culture, which measures your worth on your soup-making ability. My mother’s chicken soup and, therefore, my grandmother’s chicken soup (since the only gold likely to be handed down in my family was in liquid form) was a thing of beauty—golden, rich and comforting. It was as my mother liked to say “our life’s blood.”
And the medicinal properties were touted just as strongly as the epicurean ones—there was never a cold or an infection that did not require and receive a dose of “Jewish penicillin.” So, it came as no surprise that, decades on, the food world caught on to what generations of my family has always known—that stock, aka bone broth, be it chicken, beef or pork, is not only delicious but healthful as well.
As with any hip, “new” foodstuff, whole industries have suddenly sprung forth surrounding bone broth in the last year or two. There are frozen containers on offer web-wide, a subscription service, a delivery service and even a broth-devoted restaurant. I feel like an old-timer talking about a much-loved band when it comes to broth, like, “You know, man, back in the day, we used to refer to it as stock and it was amazing! You know, really homemade, you couldn’t get it just anywhere.”
As an old hand at the process of making stock, soup, broth or whatever you want to call it, I would like to share some tips that are often forgotten when it comes to making this centuries-old modern tonic. Here are some stock tips:
1 Start with great bones. This means organic or pasture- raised bones from well-raised animals.
2 Expect to pay for your bones. Butchers don’t get them for free and neither should you. There is work involved in making sure you have bones for your soup—they must be cut and cleaned—one of the most labor-intensive and dangerous jobs a butcher can do is to cut bones.
3 For chicken stock start with a whole washed bird immersed in cold water. My mom used to add chicken wings, backs and necks for additional flavor and feet (harder to get and almost impossible to get organic) for richer, viscous results. I favor an old hen—the more they’ve lived, the better they taste—but unless you have a connection at a poultry farm or shop at a farmers’ market, you may not easily obtain one of these prize birds.
4 For beef, veal, lamb and pork stock, use a combination of marrowbones and knucklebones. Marrowbones are the bones you think of when you think of the femur or humerus, while knucklebones are those connecting joints and have that wonderful cartilage at each end that, when boiled, results in a delicious, unctuous mouthfeel and the healthful nutrients of collagen and elastin.
5 Feel free to mix bones from different animals to make stocks or mix individual stocks into an inspired blend. Lamb stock is quite powerful and for lack of a better word “lamby,” but when mixed with turkey or chicken stock it becomes mellow. Meaty bones are going to give you more flavor and fat than well-cleaned bones, but there will be more work at the end when you need to strain out the bits.
6 Use stock as the base for all good things. Sure, the trend is to sip broth as you would a fine wine but don’t forget to add it to soups (of course!), stews, stir-fry, sauces and grain dishes like risotto or pilaf.
7 Use those roasted chicken carcasses and don’t get rid of the bones until you have made soup from them. I have an ever-rotating stock bag that I keep in my freezer. In goes roasted chicken carcasses and bones (free from seasonings and sauces) and veggie ends like carrot tops and celery bottoms and out comes delicious stock.
8 Roasted bones will give a deeper flavor and richer color but a “raw” stock (meaning a stock started with raw bones) is not necessarily a bad thing and is certainly less work.
9 Don’t be afraid to cook your stock too long, your bones may disintegrate and the liquid may become cloudy or murky but it shouldn’t affect the taste. Some recipes suggest using vinegar to leach valuable nutrients from the bones, but I say cook it longer and it shouldn’t ever be an issue.
I feel like an old-timer talking about a
much-loved band when it comes to broth, like,
“You know, man, back in the day, we used to
refer to it as stock and it was amazing!”
10 Cool your stock and always strain it before putting it away. I like to use cheesecloth in a fine sieve or strainer, but there are lots of ways to do it, including wrapping your bones in cheesecloth so that you won’t have to strain the stock at the end. I find it easiest to remove the fat layer (though I do leave some) by chilling the stock and removing it once the fat has congealed on the surface.
11 If you want a clear light stock, DO NOT BOIL your stock. Boiling stock results in the fat and liquid emulsifying and creating a creamier, fatty broth. This is especially true for pork stock. Asian stocks are often boiled at high heat for shorter time periods and this results in a richer stock perfect for a dish like ramen. If you want a lighter stock keep your pot lightly simmering.
12 Do not add salt to the water. Salt your stock afterward and use a generous amount, as salt brings out the umami flavor of meat.
13 There are as many variations on stock as there are cooks but most recipes call for vegetables. Use organic or pesticide-free veggies since you are literally distilling the essence from them and that includes all those toxic chemicals. I like to dice my vegetables (carrots, celery and parsnips), but I do tend to throw in a whole, unpeeled onion, which helps bring a bright-golden color to the soup and keeps the soup from becoming too oniony. I always add the veggies about halfway through the cooking process and I don’t add aromatics to my stock, but many people do, and a bay leaf, parsley and peppercorns can certainly enhance the flavor.
14 Frozen stock is like money in the bank. Always cool your stock before freezing it and then freeze in food-safe plastic containers or glass. Leave some room at the top of your container so that when you freeze your broth you don’t push the top up and off. I like to fill a couple of ice cube trays. Reduce your stock to a demi-glace, and as Anthony Bourdain says in his book Kitchen Confidential: “Pop out a cube or two as needed, and you are in business—you can rule the world.” Stock should last at least six months in the freezer.
15 Don’t give the bones to the dogs, they may be too brittle and splinter. But do give them the fat, schmutz or scum from the top of stock, but remember to keep the schmaltz or chicken fat for yourself. It’s great for cooking or spreading on a nice piece of black bread with a sprinkle of salt.