Never does a week go by in our household where the scraps of our epicurean labors aren’t heaped in a giant enamelware pot and stewed for hours while we mill about the homestead. We’re fanatical about our bone-collecting, surreptitiously slipping chicken carcasses into napkins under the table, asking waiters to box up our goat bones after indulging in a hearty pot of Birria De Chivo Goat Stew. The result of our rampant scrap-mongering is a rich, profoundly nourishing bone broth, imbued with golden melted life-force, exceedingly nourishing to the illustrious Three Treasures of Chinese Medicine:
Jing, our Essence, the source of life, the basis for all growth, development, and sexuality.
Qi, our energy, giving us the ability to activate and move our bodies, whilst protecting us against external and internal pathogenic factors.
Shen, our inner light, the vitality behind Jing and Qi, the mental and spiritual force that shapes our personality and spirit.
Bone Broth- or ‘stock’, depending our your particular cultural milieu- is a pan-cultural old world panacea, utilitarian kitchen alchemy transforming vegetable scraps and bones into pure nutritional gold. Heaps of vegetables, herbs, and leftover bones are pragmatically piled in a pot, and left to simmer slowly for long periods of time, extracting every morsel of function and flavor. The resulting infusion is a gently potent brew, teeming with trenchant, bio-available nutrition, easy to digest and suitable for all matter of medicine, both preventative AND curative. A complex, rich mosaic of variegated flavors, it is also an opulent addition to stews, soups, sauces, poaching liquid, grains, beans, and porridge, transforming blasé cooking water into a savory swill. It nourishes our tendons, ligaments, skin, bones, and blood, keeping us limber and spry, with an assassin-worthy immune system. As a grounding force in our otherwise hypersonic, twenty-first century lives, it forces us to spend a few hours a week at home, tending to our hearth fire. If I seem a little in love with it, it’s because I am. I get to melt bones in a giant pot, like a surly wizard necromancer.
Many moons ago, before I was religious about my bone broth, I was stricken by a persnickety set of symptoms that left me vacillating between a sprightly 20-something yoga warrior and a knobby, decrepit old crone. One day, I would be handstanding in yoga class like nobody’s business, and the next day, I could barely touch my toes, plagued with spells of tightness, pain, and numbness, accompanied by bouts of sleep seizures that made me feel ancient, neurotic, and utterly powerless. After getting diagnosed with a vague autoimmune disease, delivered with a despondent, helpless send-off from the Western Medical Hegemony, my homegrown recovery was rooted in cutting out all inflammatory foods (gluten, sugar, ungainly processed rubbish), and going the way of old man Hippocrates by using food as my medicine. Through Traditional Chinese Medicine and the wisdom of thee Weston A. Price Foundation, I discovered the ancient magic of bone broth, and have never looked back. Years later, I am symptom free (though on occasion, I go to town on Chocolate Stout and homemade bread), and enjoying all sorts of bendy melee on the regular. And really, despite seeing tons of under-the-weather patients daily, have developed a super-human resistance to colds and flu. I make my cauldron of bone broth weekly, and drink a cup a day, increasing in times of debauchery, disorder, or debilitation. I suggest this to everyone that walks through my door, as I’ve seen countless miracles in managing all matter of disease (you can check out the foxy graphic below from Vanessa Romero at Healthy Living How To for a list of its wiles and wonders).
If broth seems too good to be true, it’s because it is. Our leery, infirmed culture has taught us to be inherently disdainful of anything that seems ‘too good to be true’, a silly idiom I’ve always despised for shading the world in a Saturnine hue, thwarting the everyday magic of simple things, and propagating the ‘snake-oil’ mythos that impedes the advancement of traditional medicines. I much prefer the wisdom of wise old Yeats, who knew that “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
Why is bone broth so beautiful? The venerable Dr. Mercola at The Mercola Institute drops some science on this egregious elixir below, adding some credence to my highfalutin claims:
BENEFITS OF BONE BROTH
Helps heal and seal your gut, and promotes healthy digestion: The gelatin found in bone broth is a hydrophilic colloid. It attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices, thereby supporting proper digestion.
Inhibits infection caused by cold and flu viruses: A study published over a decade ago found that chicken soup indeed has medicinal qualities, significantly mitigating infection.
Reduces joint pain and inflammation, courtesy of chondroitin sulphates, glucosamine, and other compounds extracted from the boiled down cartilage. (Aside: glucosamine and chondroitin are usually sold over the counter as fancy supplements for arthritis).
Fights inflammation: Amino acids such as glycine, proline, and arginine all have anti-inflammatory effects. Arginine, for example, has been found to be particularly beneficial for the treatment of sepsis (whole-body inflammation).Glycine also has calming effects, which may help you sleep better.
Promotes strong, healthy bones: As mentioned above, bone broth contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients that play an important role in healthy bone formation.
Promotes healthy hair and nail growth, thanks to the ample gelatin in the broth.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
Large Stainless Steel Stock Pot or Crock Pot
Roughly two pounds of organic chicken, beef, lamb, or fish bones, procured from a local butcher, or culled from recent feastings and stored in the freezer until needed. We’re talkin’ carcasses, knuckles, and hooves, oh my! If you plan on making a habit out of your stock making shenanigans (which you should!), I suggest finding a sympathetic meat peddler to bro-down with in your hood. In Los Angeles, I’m sweet on J&J Grassfed Beef. You can peruse sustainably raised local livestock on LocalHarvest.org, or check out the CrossFit gyms in your area, as many CSA’s are starting to offer gym delivery.
¼ cup vinegar: Of paramount importance, for extracting the minerals from the bones into your broth.
A Mirepoix, consisting of 1 coarsely chopped onion, 2 carrots, and 2 sticks of celery.
Other coarsely chopped vegetables and assorted kitchen detritus: Perhaps the most admiral facet of broth is its commonsensical use of otherwise discarded cooking debris, with a peasant zeal otherwise reserved for Bruce Springsteen. Yellowing parsley, disfigured carrots, celery tops, blood-red chard stalks, onion skins, the graveyard of your heroic juicing efforts, haunted specters from the crisper… they all get their day in the sun. Your ingredients will be subject to the capricious nature of your weekly eating habits, producing a protean olio that is romantically un-reproducible from one week to the next. We keep a jar in the freezer that we fill with our forsaken vegetable fragments just for this purpose. My mainstays for flavor are 1 bunch of parsley, 2 quartered potatoes, a few hearty sprigs of rosemary and thyme from the garden, and a few cloves of garlic.
1 tsp black peppercorns
Fresh, cold water
I love to add a smidgen of Chinese herbs to my brew, to enhance and direct the healing vectors of my broth. 2-3 ounces of each herb should do the trick, always being intuitive with your needs and working with what you have on hand, like the cunning egalitarian Kitchen Witch that you are. These folks are mainstays in my cabinet, and on any given Sunday, I may sprinkle a smattering of the following into my cauldron:
A handful of Dang Shen/Codonopsis Root: To help strengthen the qi, counter mental and physical fatigue, build blood, and nourish body fluids.
Perhaps 5-10 slices of Huang Qi/Astragalus Root: To boost the immune system and strengthen qi, ensconcing one in protective energy that helps prevent illness due to external influences.
Certainly always a knuckle or so of Sheng Jiang/Fresh Ginger Root: To stoke the digestive fires and stimulate the circulatory system.
A pinch of Xi Yang Shen/American Ginseng Root: Boosting gentler Ginseng tendrils than the Chinese or Korean varietals, an admirable addition to combat fatigue and stress, whilst improving athletic and mental performance,
Dong Quai/Chinese Angelica Root: The ultimate femme tonic, invaluable for strengthening the blood, nourishing the reproductive organs, regulating menstruation, and alleviating period pain.
Shan Yao/Chinese Wild Yam: A lovely anti-inflammatory that tonifies qi, nourishes yin, and strengthens the spleen, lungs, and kidneys, particularly puissant after a long-term illness.
A sprinkling of Shan Zhu Yu/Dogwood Fruit: An excellent astringent herb and reproductive tonic that strengthens the liver and kidneys, while securing leakage of vital essence.
6 or so strands of dried Dong Chong Xia Cao/Cordyceps Mushroom: My most favorite herb in the Chinese pharmacopeia, Cordyceps is hailed on the street as the Himalayan Viagra for its revered ability to increase stamina, sex drive, virility, strength, brainpower, athletic prowess & focus. It’s a favorite of Chinese Olympians, so you know it’s gooch.
1. Break your precious bones up into smaller pieces (ideally about 3 inches long), with kitchen scissors or a fun weapon (living with a ninja has infinite perks). This will increase the surface area of bone exposed to the water, giving you a higher nutrient yield.
2. If using beef bones, you’ll want to roast your bones until browned at 400 degrees F for roughly 60-90 minutes to add richness.
3. Place the bones in your stockpot or crockpot, along with your vegetables, scraps, peppercorns, and Chinese herbs. Cover with cold water, adding a few fingers for good measure. Add your splash of vinegar and cover with a lid.
4. Slowly bring your stock to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer gently for 6-48 hours (yes, I know 48 hours is a very daunting commitment in our breakneck world). I love to use a crockpot, because you can just pile all your business in, turn on high until boiling, reduce to low, and then promptly forget about it whilst retiring to your bedchamber for the evening. It’s so egalitarian, I can hardly stand it. If using a stockpot, you can use the following guidelines (and your own pending commitments) to gauge cooking time: 6-48 hours for chicken bones, and 12-72 hours for beef and other meats.
5. Give your bone broth the occasional shout-out during simmering, checking to see that there is always a fair amount of water covering your accoutrements.
6. At some point, you will inevitably notice a thick, insalubrious scum rising to the top of your broth. Many folks will trick you into thinking you MUST skim this off routinely, to clarify the product and make a finer tasting brew. To this I say, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” The whole skimming off the top thing is sadly overrated, as testing has shown that this “scum”, while unsightly, contains nothing harmful. If you wanna be fancy, go right ahead. Otherwise, fret not!
7. When you’re ready to call it quits, remove your bones with a slotted spoon, discard, and strain the rest through a colander into a large bowl. If you’re feeling spry, you can strain again through a sieve or cheesecloth to achieve an extra-fancy, clear broth. Chill your luscious potion of collagen and gelatin in the fridge, until the fat congeals and rises to the top. If you want a liquid broth for cooking purposes, you can skim the fat off and store the remaining liquid in the fridge for roundabout a week’s time. However, if you want your broth to drink like a rich toddy of hot buttered rum, I say leave the fat on (we do), and enjoy your broth like molten velvet bone mojo. Enjoy in radiant heath, golden ones!