This Broth has Good Bones

We are suddenly yearning for a homestead of our own, and so my husband and I are learning to de-code the lingo of real estate. I could go into all the euphemisms meant to spruce up sub-par situations, but you’ve probably already figured out that “cozy” actually means cramped and so on. I have to chuckle though when an ad says, “this house had good bones,” which of course means that you might as well tear it down to the frame and start fresh. Still though, good bones are good bones, and there’s nothing more homey than a bubbling pot of broth on the stove in winter. 

Wouldn’t it be awesome if every house came with a steady supply of good bones for broth? But good bones are not as easy to come by as one might hope. Economics don’t work in favor of small-scale meat farmers, even as there is growing demand for humanely-raised meat. At the farm where I get my bones, the cows are fed on nothing but green pasture in the summer and hay in the winter. They are healthy and live how cows would choose to if left to their own devices. It takes two years from the time a calf is born until the cow is shipped (aka slaughtered). This is exactly double the time it takes to get a cow to the same weight in a feedlot. You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize the disadvantage that small-scale pastured meat farmers are at in a market dominated by cheap industrial meat. 

Meat has become so commonplace in the american diet that we hardly stop to appreciate the amount of time and energy that went into producing it. There is a natural hierarchy to food. Because meat takes so many more resources to produce than vegetables or grain, I like to think of meat as somewhat of a delicacy, and it should probably be priced that way to reflect it’s value.

Michael Pollan’s food philosophy was a big inspiration to my own, and he sums it up with the adage, “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.” He recalls the traditional American dinner plate, where vegetables were mere embellishment for a sizable meat entree. Pollen says we should move toward the opposite, where the norm is a plant-centric plate with meat as a sort of optional condiment.

I personally am not willing to give up meat altogether simply by the fact that I’m in love with food, and carefully chosen meat is deeply nourishing. Whenever possible I buy meat directly from farm stores, farmers markets or a local butcher, where I can get an idea of how the animals were raised. Organic is not as important to me as what they ate and how they lived. The greatest thing about befriending a meat farmer or a butcher is that you can cheaply obtain the less-desired parts, such as bones, organ meats and fats, which happen to be where most of the nutrition is. A big part of respecting the process of raising meat is learning to eat the whole hog (or cow), and broth is one of the easiest ways to do that.

A regular dose of broth in the diet improves joint mobility, bone strength, skin hair and nails, digestion, sleep and energy. It contains a high concentration of essential minerals that boosts the immune system (source: Nourishing Broth by Sally Fallon). It’s a “feel good” food in every sense.

A few notes about my broth recipe: I don’t use vegetable scraps in this recipe because I’m pretty particular about which scraps I use, and it can take a long time to gather enough of the good ones. It’s a “garbage in garbage out” situation. Vegetables in the cabbage family can lend a strange taste to broth, and onion and garlic skins don’t have much flavor themselves. Bruised or bad spots will cause a bad taste in the broth. I love to add medicinal herbs to my broth, but that will have to be another post. I prefer the slow cooker for ease and the stovetop for flavor. I give options for both.

IMG_1257.JPG

Grass-fed Beef Bone Broth

makes about 1.5 quarts

 

2-3 lbs beef marrow bones 

2 onions, halved

2 carrots

2 stalks celery

a sprig of fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

about 3 quarts water

 

1. Roast the bones: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange the bones in a roasting pan so that there is room to add the vegetables later. Roast bones for 15 minutes, remove from oven and flip them over. Then add the onions, carrots and celery to the pan and toss them in any fat that has gathered at the bottom of the pan before returning the pan to the oven for another 15 minutes.

2. Throw everything in a pot and cook it: Scrape the roasted bones, vegetables and any juices and fats in the pan into a large soup pot or a slow cooker. Add the spices and vinegar (this helps draw minerals out of the bones). Add enough water to cover everything by about one inch. Stovetop: Bring the pot just to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Cook, partially covered, at least 6 hours. Slow Cooker: cook on the low setting for 12-24 hours. 

3. Strain and cool: strain the broth into another pan or a heat-proof bowl. Let it cool to lukewarm before freezing or refrigerating (placing the bowl in an ice-bath speeds this process up and reduces risk of spoilage). 

4. Freeze and store: If you know you’ll use the broth within one week, you can pour it into a jar and refrigerate it. I like to freeze my broth in ice cube trays so I can thaw any amount, large or small, relatively quickly. Put the frozen cubes in a freezer zip bag and push the air out before sealing it. Frozen it will stay good for about 6 months. 

5. Using broth: Heat a couple cubes in a sauce pan until hot, then add salt and lemon to taste for a nourishing beverage. Miso is also great in place of lemon and salt. OR use as a base for soups, stews, sauces, gravies, risottos, beans etc.