Inside every pot of stock is a redemption story.
The finished rich liquid is almost magically produced from paupers’ ingredients — discardable trimmings of animal and vegetable otherwise destined for a garbage can or compost heap.
There’s kitchen alchemy in a long simmer, which creates the gold that has historically been the soul of hearty soups, sauces, braises and demi-glaces.
In yet another version of everything old is new again, meat juice (and its vegetarian counterpart) is hot — which remains the best way to consume it. A cup of steaming bone broth is trendy as a stand-alone drink or alternative to a caffeinated cup. Takeout windows and markets in food-forward cities have begun dispensing the drink — at $4 to $6 a pop.
The shelf of newly released cookbooks is stacked with titles devoted to producing stock; a local start-up features a fresh broth made from Minnesota ingredients, and there’s even a K-cup version, with plastic pods for fast single servings (chicken or beef), sure to be of particular interest to Paleo dieters in search of a high-protein beverage.
Health claims accompany the trend. New York supermodels who swear by a daily cup say the nutrients released from bones improve the look of their hair, skin and nails. Bone broth is showing up on training tables for some professional athletes, who swig it as a sports recovery drink.
The benefits are promoted in the title of “The Bare Bones Broth Cookbook: 125 Gut-Friendly Recipes to Heal, Strengthen and Nourish the Body.” The book’s introduction is written by a doctor who says the collagen extracted from a long simmer of bones imbues the elixir with “powerful, almost magical growth-promoting properties” that can enhance gut health and spur healing.
While there is little in the way of formal research to support the superfood claim, there’s no doubt the stocks and broths are nutrient-dense.
The terms are often used interchangeably, but culinary hairsplitters know that stock is made by roasting, then boiling, bones and whatever meat, gristle and connective tissue clings to them, with vegetables and herbs thrown in for flavoring. When cooled, the reduction wiggles like almost-set Jell-O.
Broth is water simmered with meat (vegetables and herbs optional) for a flavored end result; it’s cooked for a shorter duration. Lighter with less body, broth remains fluid when chilled.
Bone broth is made with roasted bones that are cooked for an extended period, then skimmed and strained before serving; it, too, congeals in the refrigerator.
Chef Hai Truong has his own term for what’s forever bubbling in the kitchen at his Ngon Vietnamese Bistro in St Paul.
“I just call it pho,” he said. “We spend a lot of time, getting it perfect. It’s not a convenience food, but it’s the basis of everything we do.”
Several times a week, Troung simmers 40 pounds of bones over two days to make a 140-quart batch of his signature soup base. He credits locally sourced products — chicken carcasses, pork heads and trotters, oxtails and beef knuckle and marrow bones — for the final memorable result.
“The beef bones are from grass-fed cattle — I don’t want beef from feed lots. When an animal has eaten grass instead of corn, it comes through in the flavor.”
Born in Vietnam, Troung, 41, came to St. Paul as a child and has made only a few tweaks to the pho recipe that was handed down though generations of his family.
“At the restaurant, we don’t put sauces and bottles of Sriracha on the table,” he said. “They dull the flavor we’ve worked so hard to get.”
Tracy Yue, a personal chef, caterer and teacher, creates her chicken broth in the traditional way. She learned from her Chinese grandmothers to boil chicken feet.
“They’re bony, with lots of tendons and cartilage,” she said. “There’s no fat in them, so you don’t have to skim anything off the broth. It’s clear, like a consommé.”
Yue, raised in St Paul by immigrant parents, admits she doesn’t always tell people about her broth’s sole ingredient.
“They might think it’s funny, but it’s just part of the chicken,” she said. “They’re cheap, and in Asian kitchens, we waste nothing. What we can’t eat, we boil.”
A business plan
Free-range-chicken parts — backs, drumsticks and thighs — are the basis of the broth cooked in a commercial kitchen in St. Paul by two veterans of the local food and restaurant scene.
Business partners Molly Clark, 30, and Maddy Kaudy, 31, have begun to sell their Taking Stock product at winter farmers markets for $5 a steaming cup or $8 for a frozen pint.
“People like to take it home so they can have it for every day,” Clark said, adding that a Taking Stock “subscription service” is in the works for customers who want regular delivery of their broth.
Taking Stock’s end product is cooked for 12 hours, using five ingredients — filtered water, chicken, vinegar, carrots and onions. Clark and Kaudy experimented with two dozen modifications to come up with the recipe, sipping the versions in side-by-side taste tests to nail down their final flavor profile.
“It was super nerdy but fun,” said Clark. “The dark-horse ingredient was the vinegar, which we source from a Minnesota artisan producer. It adds an interesting, mellow note. We soak the bones in a vinegar solution, which is supposed to help the nutrients come out.”
Stock can be robust without being meaty. Brenda Langton’s Spoonriver restaurant offers dishes for carnivores, but the Minneapolis chef, teacher and author has a long history of creating tasty vegetarian fare.
“I don’t like a lot of commercial vegetable stocks; they’re too intense,” she said. “It’s so simple to make it from scratch — carrots, onions, celery, sometimes parsnips for sweetening. It has a clean, pure taste. I love to make fish stock with fish bones and sautéed shrimp shells.”
Langton, an early promoter of sustainability, thinks a stockpot is an easy way for home cooks to avoid food waste.
“Save your leftover bones and scraps and peels of vegetables. Turning them into stock is efficient and stretches your dollars. People think it’s more complicated than it is.”
In the kitchen
I have boiled many a bone in my day, motivated by the thriftiness in my peasant DNA.
Black Friday means doorbusters for most people. For me it has traditionally been a day devoted to simmering the turkey carcass in a bubbling stock pot on my front burner.
I’m notorious among a certain set of friends for once asking for the ham bone at the company Christmas party. (The resulting split pea soup was fantastic, if I do say so myself.)
Recipes that I surveyed in several new stock and broth cookbooks uniformly suggested a long simmer in the slow cooker as an option to the stovetop method that I have always used.
I spent a recent wintry afternoon with the recipe, first roasting an assortment of bones and vegetables in my oven, then covering them with water in my slow cooker.
I didn’t miss the steaminess in my kitchen that I’d experienced with my previous technique. A full 24 hours of slow cooking extended the deep pleasure of inhaling the aroma of stock in progress.
I wasn’t the only one tempted by the savory scent. My terrier mutt was at my feet and on high alert every time I lifted the lid to skim the foam that floated to the surface as the stock cooked.
I happen to live in a condo in a century-old fourplex, and the beefy humidity apparently worked its way through the old walls.
“What you got cooking in there?” my downstairs neighbor asked. “Sure smells good,” said another when we crossed paths.
I was primed when I strained the final product, dark as brewed stout, then ladled it into a bowl.
As I savored the meld of flavors, I was pleased to reflect that making stock allows me to call myself patient, efficient and sustainable — not just cheap.
BEEF BONE BROTH
Makes 3 quarts.
Note: If you don’t find the bones in the supermarket meat case, ask the butcher. From “The Bare Bones Broth Cookbook,” by Katherine and Ryan Harvey.
• 2 lb. beef knuckle bones (see Note)
• 2 lb. beef femur bones (see Note)
• 2 lb. bone-in beef short ribs
• 1 oxtail or pig’s foot or several chicken feet (see Note)
• 1 lb. carrots, chopped
• 2 onions, peeled
• 1 leek, white and pale green parts, chopped
• 6 to 8 quarts water, or as needed to cover ingredients
• 2 tbsp. apple cider, white, or white wine vinegar
• 6 springs fresh thyme
• 2 bay leaves
Preheat over to 400 degrees.
On a baking sheet or two, spread out the knuckle bones, femur bones, short ribs and oxtail (or pig’s foot or chicken feet) in an even layer and roast in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.
On a separate baking sheet, spread out the carrots, onions and leek in an even layer and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
When the bones are roasted, transfer them into a stockpot or slow cooker, cover with water, and add the vinegar, if desired. If using a stockpot, place the pot on the stovetop over high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. If using a slow cooker, set the temperature to high; reduce heat to low after broth starts to boil.
Skim off the fat and scum that rises to the surface and, if you wish to save the fat for future use as a cooking fat, pass it through a strainer into a storage container. Continue the skimming process for a few hours as the fat and scum rise to the surface.
Continue simmering for up to 24 hours, skimming as necessary. Add the roasted vegetables and herbs to the stockpot or slow cooker when you have about 5 hours left on your intended cook time.
Gently strain or ladle the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a container. Fill your sink with ice water. Place the container of broth in the ice bath to cool for about 1 hour. Use the broth right away, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 1 year.
Nutrition information per serving of 1 cup:
Calories 25 Fat 0 g Sodium 90 mg
Carbohydrates 2 g Saturated fat 0 g Calcium 15 mg
Protein 5 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 0 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 lean meat.
BEEF BRISKET PHO
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: From “The Bare Bones Broth Cookbook.”
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 3/4 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
• 3/4 tbsp. whole fennel seeds
• 3 star anise pods
• 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom, or 3 whole pods
• 6 whole cloves
• 2 tbsp. olive oil or ghee (which is clarified butter), divided
• 1 to 2 lb. beef brisket, fat trimmed
• Sea salt
• 1 carrot, chopped
• 1 onion, peeled and halved
• 1 (3-in.) piece fresh ginger, cut into 3/4 in. slices
• 6 garlic cloves, peeled
• 1/4 c. fish sauce
• 8 c. beef bone broth
• 2 c. fresh bean sprouts, for garnish
• 1 c. fresh basil leaves, for garnish
• 4 to 6 hard-cooked eggs (1 per serving, optional)
In a skillet or sauté pan over medium heat, combine the cinnamon, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, star anise, cardamom and cloves, and toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove the spices from the pan and transfer to a slow cooker. In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil or ghee over medium-high heat until just about smoking.
Pat the brisket dry with paper towels and season evenly with sea salt. Sear the brisket in the hot ghee or oil until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side, turning as needed to brown as much of the surface as you can. Transfer the brisket into the slow cooker.
In the same pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil or ghee. Add the carrot, onion, ginger and garlic cloves, and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to the slow cooker, along with the fish sauce and bone broth. Set the slow cooker on high and cook for 5 hours.
Remove the meat from the slow cooker and set aside. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer; discard the solids.
To serve, thinly slice the brisket and add a few slices to each of 4 to 6 serving bowls. Pour the broth over the meat and garnish with some bean sprouts and fresh basil. Cut the hard-cooked egg in half or in slices, one egg per soup bowl. Serve immediately.
The ungarnished soup can be refrigerated for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 6 months.
Nutrition information per serving of 6:
Calories 205 Fat 9 g Sodium 1,095 mg
Carbohydrates 6 g Saturated fat 2 g Calcium 68 mg
Protein 27 g Cholesterol 48 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 3½ lean meat.
SPICY CARROT SOUP
Note: From “Bone Deep Broth,” by Taylor Chen and Lya Mojica.
• 2 tbsp. coconut oil
• 2 onions, peeled and chopped
• 6 c. beef or chicken bone broth
• 2 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced
• 3 tbsp. grated fresh ginger root
• 1 c. unsweetened full-fat coconut milk (if using coconut milk, reduce the amount of broth by 1 c.)
• Fresh herbs such as parsley, dill or cilantro
• Fresh pesto
• Toasted pumpkin seeds
Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft.
Add the broth, carrots and ginger. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender when pierced, about 12 minutes.
Remove the soup from the heat and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Pour it into a blender in batches and pulse to start, then purée til smooth.
Return the blended soup to the pot. Stir in the coconut milk, if using, and heat to a simmer.
Serve with garnish of herbs, pesto or pumpkin seeds.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 106 Fat 4 g Sodium 140 mg
Carbohydrates 15 g Saturated fat 3 g Calcium 52 mg
Protein 5 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 3 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 bread/starch, 1 fat.
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.