This post is an update of sorts to this one, when I first tried adding chicken feet to my stock. (That was one of my very first posts altogether… I’ve come a long way, baby!)
You can visit that post to read about that experience, and see step-by-step pictures. (Not that it’s rocket science…) Here, I’ll give the hows and whys of making homemade stock in a bit more readable format.
Stock or Broth?
Please realize that throughout the blog, and probably in this very post, I will use these terms interchangeably. There is a subtle difference, however. Although both are basically just water simmered with meat and/or bones, veggies and herbs, broth is generally richer. It is usually made with actual pieces of meat, while stock tends to be bones and some trim. Because of this difference, broth tastes more like a finished product that can be served on its own. So, if you add meat to stock – you get broth. (But in recipes, you can use whichever you have on hand.)
Benefits of Homemade Stock
Properly prepared homemade stock contains a large amount of gelatin (vegetable stock excepted). Gelatin is very interesting in that even when heated it is a hydrophilic colloidal, meaning it disperses throughout the broth and attracts liquids (in this case, digestive juices). The benefit of this is similar to that of eating raw foods, such as a salad, before a meal.
But it doesn’t stop at being a digestion aid. Although not a complete protein, it acts as a protein sparer, allowing the body to better utilize proteins that it is taking in. (It is a must for those who cannot afford large amounts of healthy meat in their diet.)
Broth supports and boosts the immune system, and prevents gastrointestinal pathogens from attaching themselves to the lining of the gut. The components of cartilage and collagen found in broth are being used with remarkable results in the treatment of all kinds of ailments, including cancer. And I could go on… Visit the this link on the Weston A. Price Foundation website for more information on the many benefits of broth.
How to Make Stock
Update Note: If you’re looking for a super-easy crockpot method, please visit this post.
Every chef has their own way to make stock, with their own set of rules. But do you want to know the quick & dirty way? Take the bones of whatever meat you have roasted, throw them in filtered water with a splash of vinegar, and simmer for 24-48 hours (on the low end for chicken stock, higher end for beef stock). Done. (And it’s basically free!)
But you know I can’t leave it at that! (That instruction was only 37 words for heaven’s sake!) So here’s a more detailed (and more flavorful) method:
*Picked over chicken carcass OR leftover beef bones OR leftover fish parts
*Chicken OR calf feet (Yes, I’m serious)
*Sea vegetables of choice
*Herbs of choice
*Raw apple cider vinegar
*Pinch of sea salt
1. Chop the celery, carrots and onions (mirepoix).
Adjust the amounts to the size of your pot and the amount of bones. Use these ratios as a guide:
Carrots to Celery to Onion 1:1:2
Mirepoix to fill 1/3 of the pot (and about equal to the amount of bones)
I cannot express how quickly this goes once you get the hang of it. Since you’re not going to eat these veggies, you don’t have to chop nicely. (When I’m quite lazy, I chop them in my food processor, but it does make them pretty wet and they don’t saute as well.) I don’t peel my carrots, and I keep some of the inner layers of my onions on, too. And make sure to use the celery leaves! They are full of flavor. (Please make sure your veggies are clean and organic!)
2. Saute the mirepoix. (*See update below.)
Use butter, coconut oil or your healthy fat of choice to saute the mirepoix until fragrant.
Alternatively, you could roast your veggies before adding them to the pot (and then skip sauteing, of course). I tend to do this when I have a lot going on and am short on ‘hands-on’ time.
3. Add in your bones, feet and filtered cold water.
The bones/ feet should fill the next third of the pot. Then fill the pot with cold filtered water, give it a stir, cover it and bring it to a boil.
If making chicken stock I use the carcass of a roasted chicken. I include bones leftover from dinner plates, too! (You could also use turkey, goose or duck. I once used quail!) Make sure to include the wing tips, specifically, as they increase the gelatin content.
If making beef stock you can use any leftover bones you have (or you can get beef broth bones from your local farmer, which is what I do). Roasting the bones before adding them to the stock adds a nice, intense flavor. When the bones are roasted it makes what is called a brown or dirty stock. Made without roasting the bones it is called white stock. (You could also use veal or lamb.)
In chicken or beef stocks adding the feet greatly increases the gelatin content. For chicken feet, you only need three or four for a large pot of stock. And they are cheap! (They come frozen in a bag. When I first get that bag, I thaw it just slightly so I can bang it enough to separate the chicken feet. I then place them in separate, less crowded bags back in the freezer, so I can easily grab just the amount I need.)
If making fish stock use as much of the fish as you can, including the skin, bones and head (which is particularly nutritious!).
As always, make sure to source these well. Chicken should be pastured and organic, beef should be grass-fed, and fish should be wild-caught in clean waters. (Check out my Recommendations page, to be updated this weekend, if you need help.)
(For veggie stock, it’s a good idea to keep a veggie-bag in your fridge or freezer with all your clean, discarded veggie pieces to use when it’s time to make vegetable stock. Stick to organic root vegetables and organic veggies from the lily and nightshade families. Avoid cruciferous and dark green leafy vegetables for stock. Personally, I think you should compost the veggie remnants and make chicken stock instead, but that’s just me…)
4. As soon as it begins to boil, lower heat and skim off any scum that rises to the surface.
Vinegar will assist in drawing the minerals out of the bones.
If you are adding herbs, do so now. Fresh herbs are generally more nutrient dense than dried. If using dried, make sure to buy organic as most non-organic herbs are irradiated. (Avoid parsley for stock.)
I tend to not add much seasoning or salt (beyond a pinch) to my stock because I use it for such varied things. I, personally, like to season it as I use it.
6. Return cover and lower bring to a low simmer.
Actually, it should be too hot to touch, but not quite simmering. Too high and you’ll get cloudy stock.
7. Simmer for 24-48 hours (except vegetable and fish stocks).
Vegetable and fish stocks don’t need longer than two hours. Chicken stock should simmer all day or longer. Beef stock should simmer overnight or longer.
8. Strain through a flour-sack cloth inside of a stainless steel sieve.
Make sure to place another pot below the sieve. (Ask me why I’m giving you this reminder…)
Um, Thanks, But They Sell This in Stores Now…
It’s important to realize that store-bought soups and broth/stocks are nutritionless, even if organic! The are full of cheap salts and almost always contain MSG (hidden in the ingredient list under one of many pseudonyms). Because they are not produced using traditional methods, they do not contain beneficial amounts of gelatin.
How to Use Stock
Use stock as often as you can. Quite obviously it is a wonderful base for soups. Cook rice or other grains in it. Add it to pan and reduction sauces (excellent for deglazing pans), and use it to keep leftovers from drying out during reheating.
Stock is also delicious heated and drunk straight from a mug. (Since mine is pretty unseasoned, I add additional sea salt at this point.) My five year-old will always ask for broth at the first sign of a cough or runny nose! We drink it like tea for most of the winter to boost our immune systems.
If that doesn’t work for you, add – along with the sea salt – crushed garlic, your favorite herbs, and maybe some cayenne pepper for heat, and you have a fabulous two-second soup! (Add in some additional kelp or seaweed flakes to really boost the nutrients.)
Stock is easy to store so you always have it on hand. I use glass jars and plastic freezer bags. (I’m trying to avoid plastic as much as I can, but when it comes to storing in the freezer it’s pretty hard to avoid. Please remember that if you use plastic, you should never place hot food into plastic. Wait until it is completely cooled.)
I keep a supply of stock cubes in the freezer at all times. (Each cube is about one ounce. I freeze them in ice cube trays and then pop all of the cubes into a large freezer bag.) These are perfect when I need a little bit for a recipe or reheating food. (Or to add to a mug of broth that is too hot for my little one .)
I used to measure the broth out in increments (1-cup, 2-cup, and a few 4-cup) and place these in freezer bags to freeze flat. This is an easy and space-efficient way to do it.
I now use glass jars to freeze the broth, and store them in the door of our extra freezer. We go through it so quickly that I don’t really need it measured out, I just always have a jar or so thawed, and make sure to thaw in advance for a huge batch of soup. Please note: “They” (I don’t really know who) say that you should not freeze in glass jars unless you use jars specially designed for that purpose, because the glass could break. I choose to use repurposed jars from all over, and have not had any problems. Please choose whether or not to assume this risk for yourself. Of course, you need to leave room for expansion (at least an inch in a large jar).
If space is really at a premium and you don’t have room to store much stock, you can boil it down for a few hours, uncovered, until it becomes very concentrated and syrupy. This is called fumet or demi-glace, and can be stored in small freezer bags. It thaws quickly, and only needs filtered water to be added to it to turn back into stock.
Make sure you label your stock, and include the date. I usually make a unique mark on the jar lid, and then keep a master list of all of my freezer food.
Our Chicken Soup Story
When my youngest was first eating solid foods, I was “into” nutrition, as I’ve always been, but unfortunately at that point it was conventional, mainstream nutrition. In trying to do good, I did a lot of things wrong (low-fat dairy, lots of soy). One thing I did right, though, was make homemade chicken soup (from homemade stock) for Abi’s lunch almost every day of her life. I would freeze it in cubes, and then when she was bigger, cupcake tins. I didn’t do it perfectly. I wasn’t really buying organic at that time, I was afraid of salt, and I didn’t add anything (like feet) to increase the gelatin.
Yet, I still believe that eating it every single day and absorbing those bone minerals and beneficial nutrients is one of the reasons (along with extended breastfeeding) that she was never, ever really sick. When other kids in playgroup would drop like flies, she would be fine (even with an older sibling in school). In fact, it wasn’t until this very year that she had her first antibiotic (which of course made things worse, but that’s a whole ‘nother post…).
Cold season isn’t over yet! Make some beautiful, golden broth and boost your family’s immunity today!
*Please, if you haven’t already, vote for Dishrag Diaries for Top Food Mom Blog on Babble.com! (You don’t have to register or do anything complicated, just find Dishrag Diaries and click “I like this.”) Thank you!
*Update on 4.9.2011: We all keep learning… I recently read this post by Mark Ruhlman that is making me consider changing my stock routine. He feels that if the veggies simmer any longer than about four hours, they break down so that they absorb back nutrients from the stock, and so you lose those nutrients to straining. Makes sense, huh? So, I think I may roast my veggies from now on, and then add them for the last three hours of cooking. (And I love that he makes me feel better about leaving my stock out on the stovetop… I do this quite frequently!) Remember, however, that to draw all of the minerals and gelatin from the bones, you do need them to cook longer than he suggests.
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