Packaged versions of the perennial superfood don’t measure up; but it’s cheap and easy to make the real thing yourself.
By SANDRA SUKHAN
I’ve been cooking and baking for as long as I can remember, and I can confidently say I developed my passion by watching and helping my mother create some delicious fare. In later years as a young, stay-at-home mother (albeit many years ago when staying at home was not in vogue), money was scarce; but I wanted to ensure my three daughters had the best and healthiest food I could provide on a limited budget. I grew my own vegetables, canned my own tomatoes, made my own crab-apple jelly from my trees, baked my own bread and regularly made gallons of chicken broth.
I started hearing about bone broth as a “new superfood” a few years ago, but didn’t pay much attention even as reputable organizations like the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic jumped on the bandwagon. Finally last year, as I watched an Asian doctor extoll its benefits during a PBS fundraising drive, I thought it was time to find out what this “new” health food was all about.
After some research, I realized I’ve been making bone broth for decades while simply calling it “broth.” (Click here for recipe at end of article.) Did someone just discover this new superfood? No and Yes. Grandmothers have known the secret for centuries, which is why chicken soup is their go-to remedy when you have a cold. Scientists now are catching up to what Gramma knew intuitively. They are discovering that the collagen and minerals extracted by simmering bones for several hours help to fight inflammation and the cold and flu viruses. And, of course, bone broth is good for your bones.
I wondered why bone broth has suddenly become a superfood. Most people of my generation and younger have become so busy that they hardly have time to cook from scratch. They buy prepared foods and other basic things like broth (which is not the same as the source of traditional bone broth, also known as “stock”). At some point, they complain about the amount of sodium in the flavoured water – and manufacturers note another marketing opportunity. They then offer low sodium options, but mostly with the same laundry list of additives.
My sister asked me about ten years ago why I bother to make my own stock (i.e., bone broth) or how I even find the time with a full-time job and (at that time) doctoral studies. I put it down to the therapeutic benefit I derive from creating my own tasty food. She thought it was a lot of work for a small reward. But to my mind, it takes very little effort. The beauty of making your own bone broth is it is very easy, the ingredient list is short and devoid of additives and preservatives, and you can make it as low- or no-sodium. Add water to the concentrated bone broth, and voila: you have a rich, flavoured “ready-to-eat” broth.
Here is what I do: When I cook chicken, I remove the skin and sometimes debone it. I save these raw scraps in the freezer; and when I have about five or more pounds, I defrost them, put them into my 25-litre cauldron (a relic from the days when my children lived at home), add my herbs and spices (recipe below) and simmer for several hours. The resulting stock is incredibly rich and flavourful and far superior to anything store bought, even high end broth. With packaged products, most of bone broth’s nutritional value has been diluted away. Some DIY recipes call for scraps from cooked chicken, but the resulting bone broth has little or no flavour, because most of it has already been cooked away. I always start with raw chicken.
My 23-cubic foot freezer is never without some variety of bone broth. I’ve mentioned chicken, but I have also made stock from fish and shrimp – mostly the heads, which have all the flavour. Shrimp shells and fish bones alone make for a weak tasting bone broth if the heads are not included, but would at least be as flavourful as store bought broth. I can thank my friend Eddy who is an avid fisherman for the copious amounts of fresh fish he brings home after his fishing trips in the summer. Nothing like a fresh pike, pickerel or bass for my stock pot. I wish I was near the ocean so I could indulge in fresh shrimp. But alas, I must shop at the Asian supermarkets for shrimp with heads still attached.
Bone broth can be made with beef or pork bones, but the simmering time should be doubled, because the bones are much larger and it will take more time to extract the minerals. A four- to six-hour simmering time is good. If all of this seems like a lot of work, it is not and it’s well worth the modest effort once every few months. If you own a pressure cooker (a staple in any good cook’s kitchen), a three-hour simmer using a regular pot would be reduced to one hour.
Homemade bone broth can be used in place of water for many dishes. It’s great for adding to rice (instead of water) with a handful of dried vegetable flakes for a very simple, no fuss, rice pilaf. Adding water to bone broth in a ratio of two parts broth to one part water makes for a simple, savoury drink which is so good, you can heat it and drink it by itself. Sometimes, I blend two cups of it with roasted vegetables I have stored in the freezer: instant soup!
If people are rediscovering bone broth as a “new” superfood, I think that’s a good thing. It gives me comfort to know that what was old is new again. And now that I am a Nani (grandmother in Hindi), I am proud to know that my homemade chicken-barley soup is one of my grandchildren’s favourite dishes. It tastes good and, as a bonus, it’s also good for them.
I am expecting to see some crafty entrepreneur add the word “artisanal” – and bone broth will become a high end health food with a healthy price tag to match. Meanwhile, you can make it yourself for pennies a cup if you’re a frugal gourmet like me.
Winnipeg writer Sandra Sukhan was born and raised in Guyana. She recently published a cookbook of some of her favourite recipes, including traditional Guyanese food. To order a copy of Comfort Food From Sandra’s Kitchen: Guyanese and Other Favourites, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 204-488-2628.
Yield: 12 cups
1–3 lb. chicken cut into large pieces
16 c. water
1 large onion cut into quarters
2 tbsp. dried parsley
10 black peppercorns, cracked
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp. dried Guyanese thyme (available at West Indian supermarkets)
leaves from the inner part of a celery head (or two stalks cut into 3” pieces)
1 medium carrot, halved and cut into 3” pieces
1 tbsp. kosher sea salt
1 tbsp. no-salt seasoning blend (e.g., Costco Organic No-Salt Blend)
In a large stock pot, brown chicken, skin side down, for a few minutes on medium high heat (no need to use oil, as fat will be rendered from the browning of the chicken skin).
Add all the other ingredients, bring to a boil, cover and let simmer for 2–3 hours.
Cool and strain so that only broth is left.
Skim off any liquid fat that has risen to the top (don’t worry about getting all of it out).
Store in freezer containers.
When ready to use, remove frozen fat which will have settled on top and you’ll be left with a rich, flavourful, low salt, fat-free bone broth.
Recipe from Comfort Food from Sandra’s Kitchen, by Sandra Sukhan. To buy a copy, call or email Sandra at (204) 488-2628 or email@example.com.