Bone broth is one of my favorite foods. I eat it as breakfast sometimes, or as a snack. I use it as a treasured ingredient in braises, soups and sauces. I use it as a preventative measure against colds and a treatment for sore throats and the flu. It is, in my opinion, liquid gold, and a foundational part of kitchen skill and traditional nutrition wisdom.
I first learned about the magic that is bone broth a couple of summers ago, when I first got into reading about nutrition. I was home from college and staying with my parents on the farm, where our garden was full to bursting and the pastures were ripe with hay for reaping. It was a beautiful setting in which to devour such books as Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Sally Fallon’s cookbook/nutritional manifesto, Nourishing Traditions. The NT cookbook turned my world upside-down. Much of what I’d learned about how to eat and be healthy came from sources of conventional wisdom – women’s magazines, new studies on heart health and cholesterol, and morning television – but I was fortunate enough to come from a long line of good cooks, plus a long line of country people. What Fallon was championing in her tome was familiar, in a sense, because I had grown up tasting fatback and buttermilk and homemade canned sauerkraut at my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ dinner tables. (Read more about traditional nutrition here.)
And thus began the enormous and gradual overhaul of my nutritional understanding.
One of Fallon’s most recommended nutrient-dense foods is bone broth, otherwise known as stock, or bouillon in French cuisine. Made from the slow simmering of marrow- and collagen-rich bones, the result is a savory liquid rich in minerals and fats to build strong bones, healthy joints, and strengthen the immune system.
Adding vegetables like celery, carrots, onions and garlic improve the flavor and the nutritional profile, as do bay leaves, peppercorns and sea salt. A little acid splashed in with the rest helps to leach the bones of the valuable minerals, and adds a pleasant tang to the broth. This is also a great use for vegetable scraps – kale stems, asparagus ends, lemon rinds, etc – and so instead of throwing them away they go into the soup pot for flavor.
The tricky part about making bone broth is that it should, ideally, simmer for at least 24 hours, or up to a couple of days. The nutritional profile and the flavor will only be improved the longer it cooks, but few of us have the time or resources to watch a bubbling pot for an entire day. Enter the slow-cooker, the kitchen miracle and savior. Put everything in, set it on low, and check back when you remember. If you have a small house like I do, it won’t be easy to forget. The savory, roasty aromas will fill every corridor, and probably every dream you have that night.
Once you go through the draining and fat-skimming portion of the preparation, you will know you’ve hit the bone broth jackpot when your stuff gels. If it gets thick and gloopy and almost solid, like Jell-O, that’s when you can tangibly see the gelatin from the bones now infused into your magic tonic. Gelatin is an incredible superfood, assisting your body in everything from healthy digestion to radiant skin tone and texture. The gelatin and collagen in bone broth sooth arthritis and other problems of joint inflammation, and can be very beneficial to athletes whose ligaments and tendons need extra protection.
One of my new favorite books, Deep Nutrition by Catharine Shanahan, MD, identifies bone broth or stock as one of the pillars of traditional cuisine and, therefore, a foundational aspect of overall heath and wellness. Shanahan writes of bone broth, collagen, and glucosamine (a glycosaminoglycan molecule): “Veterinarians have been using glucosamine supplements to treat arthritic pets for decades. But physicians dismissed the practice as a waste of time, assuming that, since glucosamine is a protein, the digestive system would break it down into its component amino acids. Nobody can explain how, but studies have shown that glucosamine is somehow able to resist digestion and pass through the intestinal wall intact. Once it gets into your bloodstream, ‘…glucosamine has a special tropism for cartilage.’ (That’s techno-speak for ‘somehow, it knows just where to go.’) Even more amazing, glucosamine can actually stimulate the growth of new, healthy collagen and help repair damaged joints. And collagen isn’t just in your joints; it’s in bone, and skin, and arteries, and hair, and just about everywhere in between. This means that glucosamine-rich broth is a kind of youth serum, capable of rejuvinating your body, no matter what your age.”
Plus, it’s delicious. Warmed on the stove, with some greens thrown in to wilt, it is a protein- and mineral-rich snack, just as satisfying or moreso than a boring salad. Added to a skillet after grilling meat, the broth can deglaze the pan and make a flavorful sauce or gravy. Simmered with a poached egg, bone broth is a nourishing and satisfying thing to sip on cold mornings, when it seems like all that stands between you and a cold is one more sneeze.
For more comprehensive information about bone broth, check out this article by Sally Fallon, archived on the Weston A. Price Foundation website. Various traditional foods bloggers like The Healthy Home Economist and Nourished Kitchen often wax poetic about broth, and now many paleo foodies are getting on the bone broth bandwagon. And you? Do you think you’d brave the nasty bits to get to the end result of bone broth, a delicious nutritional powerhouse?
2-3 lbs. beef marrow bones, oxtail, shanks, etc.
1 roast chicken carcass, with necks, chicken backs, feet, etc.
3 large carrots, washed + chopped
4 stalks celery, washed + chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. whole black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. real sea salt (rich in minerals!)
1 dash Red Boat Fish Sauce
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Fresh or dried parsley, if you have it
Additional vegetables, as desired
Enough filtered water to cover
Chop vegetables and place half in the bottom of the slow cooker. Arrange bones over the bottom layer and top with remaining vegetables, spices and seasonings. Cover with water, put the lid on, and let simmer on low for 24-48 hours.
A note on bones: when using beef parts, take 10 minutes or so to roast the meaty bones, like the shanks or marrow bones. If using oxtail, this isn’t necessary, nor is it necessary to cook again when using a chicken carcass.
Once broth has simmered for at least 24 hours and is fragrant and golden, remove from slow-cooker to cool. Pour contents of slow-cooker through a large sieve into a large bowl, letting all of the valuable juices drain from bones and vegetables. Discard. Place bowl-ful of broth in the refrigerator for a couple of hours until the fat solidifies and rises to the top. Using a spoon, skim off the fat and discard. Bottle the broth in airtight containers and keep in the fridge or freezer.