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Take stock of a healthful bone broth

  • LOS ANGELES TIMES

    A gallon of golden chicken stock can be the base of soups, stews or gravies.

Ever heard of bone broth? At least as a term, bone broth is relatively new, popularized — even hipsterized — by the rise of the Paleo diet, which focuses on the consumption of meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, or the kinds of foods that may have formed our diet during the Paleolithic era. The broth, usually homemade but increasingly available at shops and through special order, boasts a thick texture with a pronounced flavor, and it’s the latest darling of the health-food world.

Proponents of bone broth, touted as a new superfood by some, the next miracle elixir by others, insist that it combats everything from rough skin to arthritis, intestinal problems and even hormonal imbalances. Brothing might just be the new juicing.

So what is it? Essentially, nothing more than a pot of bones and water, maybe vegetables and herbs as well, slowly simmered for hours until all the flavors and nutrients are extracted. Which, of course, sounds an awful lot like stock, that lowly kitchen staple.

“‘Bone broth’ is a marketing device,” says Michael Ruhlman, award-winning food writer, cookbook author (among others, he co-wrote Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry Cookbook”) and cooking authority. “There’s no difference between bone broth and stock, and I’d like to talk to anyone who says otherwise, period.”

The label may be new, but bone-based stock is one of the building blocks of classic French and other cuisines, as well as a basic kitchen utility, born of a desire to use every trimming and kitchen scrap, from leftover bones to wilted parsley stems.

A great pot of whatever you want to call this stuff is easy to make at home. Just be sure to give yourself plenty of time.

Bones define the type of stock (beef, veal, chicken, fish) and determine its flavor and thickness, and you’ll want 5 to 6 pounds for about every gallon of stock you make.

You can use almost any bones, but certain types are prized. Those high in cartilage, such as knuckle bones, make terrific stock, as the collagen in the cartilage thickens the liquid, providing body as well as flavor. Neck and back bones, as well as feet, are also very good for this. As collagen is heated, it transforms into gelatin (think Jell-O); release enough gelatin into a stock and it will solidify when chilled. If possible, cut up the bones so the pieces are no bigger than a few inches each; this will allow their components to break down more quickly and easily.

Bones lend texture and definition to the stock, but it’s meat that contributes real flavor, particularly tougher meats that are high in connective tissue, another source of collagen.

Save meaty knuckle bones or leftover chicken carcasses (raw is best, but the picked-over bones from a roast chicken work well too), as well as trimmings from a roast or a braise. For richer flavor, roast the bones first and add aromatic vegetables and herbs.

Keep in mind that prolonged cooking will also result in evaporation, concentrating the flavor of the stock. Because of this, avoid seasoning the stock until you have finished cooking it; otherwise, the seasoning may be too much.

Use your stock as a base for soups and stews, gravies and sauces. Or just enjoy it by the glass.

“I don’t like the term bone broth, but I love the trend,” says Ruhlman. “I love that people are enjoying something so healthy and nutritious.”

I think we can all drink to that.

Basic Brown Beef or Veal Stock

  • 4 pounds meaty beef or veal bones, such as soup bones
  • Olive oil
  • 8 ounces coarsely chopped onion (about 1 large onion)
  • 4 ounces coarsely chopped carrot (about 3 carrots)
  • 4 ounces coarsely chopped celery (about 4 stalks)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 leek leaf
  • 3 to 4 sprigs thyme
  • 3 to 4 sprigs parsley
  • About 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, if desired
  • 1 gallon water

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place bones in heavy roasting pan and roast until darkened and aromatic, about 30 minutes. Remove bones to large, heavy stock pot.

Move roasting pan to stove top. Depending on how much fat is in the roasting pan, add just enough oil to brown vegetables. Heat over medium-high, then add onion, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and browned, 10 to 12 minutes.

Reduce heat and stir in tomato paste, coating vegetables. Cook until paste begins to darken and forms a film on bottom of roasting pan, being careful not to burn. Turn off heat, carefully add wine (it will steam), and stir, scraping any bits from base of pan.

Add contents of pan to stock pot. (If some bits remain stuck to pan, loosen with a little water, then scrape into pot). Add leek leaf, thyme, parsley, peppercorns and garlic cloves, if using. Add water.

Bring mixture to boil over high heat, then reduce heat to very gentle simmer. Gently simmer 4 to 7 hours, adding water, if needed, to keep bones covered. Skim surface as needed, discarding foam, impurities and fat that rise to surface.

Strain stock through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth (save bones to make a remouillage, or second stock, if desired), discarding solids. Cool, then refrigerate until needed (remove any fat that solidifies at top of stock before using). Makes 2 to 3 quarts.

Basic Fish Stock

  • 4 pounds fish bones and trimmings, from lean fish
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 8 ounces finely chopped onion (about 1 large onion)
  • 4 ounces finely chopped carrot (about 3 carrots)
  • 4 ounces finely chopped celery (about 4 stalks)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 leek leaf
  • 3 to 4 sprigs thyme
  • 3 to 4 sprigs parsley
  • About 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 gallon water

Wash fish bones. If using heads, make sure to cut out and discard gills.

Place butter in large, heavy stock pot. Add onion, carrots and celery, then lay bones and trimmings on top. Heat over very low heat until butter melts, then cook, stirring gently, until vegetables are softened and bones are opaque, about 5 minutes.

Add wine and bring to simmer, scraping any bits stuck to bottom of pan. Stir in leek leaf, thyme, parsley and peppercorns, then water.

Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to a very gentle simmer. Very gently simmer 45 minutes, adding water if needed to keep bones submerged. Skim surface as needed, discarding foam, impurities and fat that rise to surface.

Strain through fine sieve lined with cheesecloth, discarding solids. Cool, then refrigerate until needed (be sure to remove and discard any fat that solidifies at the top before using). Makes a generous 3 quarts.

Basic Chicken Stock

  • 4 pounds chicken bones (preferably neck or feet) and trimmings
  • 8 ounces chopped onion (about 1 large onion)
  • 4 ounces chopped carrot (about 3 carrots)
  • 4 ounces chopped celery (about 4 stalks)
  • 1 leek leaf
  • 3 to 4 sprigs thyme
  • 3 to 4 sprigs parsley
  • About 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, if desired
  • 1 gallon water

Place bones in large, heavy stock pot. Add onions, carrots and celery, along with leek leaf, thyme, parsley, peppercorns and garlic, if using. Add water.

Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a very gentle simmer. Simmer 3 to 5 hours, adding water if needed to keep bones submerged. Skim sufface as needed, discarding foam, impurities and fat that rise to surface.

Strain through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth, discarding solids. Cool, then refrigerate until needed (be sure to remove and discard any fat that solidifies at top of stock before using). Makes about 3 quarts.

Nutritional information unavailable.

The right pot

Simple as it may seem, the stock pot is one of the most essential tools of the kitchen. Whether you’re cooking a pot of soup or stew, steaming lobsters, canning or just simmering a batch of, well, stock, you want a pot that’s up to the task.

Unlike smaller pots and saucepans, a stock pot should have a wide base, giving you ample room to saute larger quantities of vegetables or meat. And the pan itself should be thick, able to conduct heat well and fitted with sturdy handles so you can move it easily. A good stock pot should also come with a tight-fitting lid.

Finally, look for a pot that will hold at least 8 to 12 quarts, large enough to handle the big jobs in the kitchen, so you don’t have to split your work among two or three smaller containers.

Stock pots vary in price, depending on their size and material. Although aluminum is often cheaper than other materials and conducts heat well, look for a pot that is made of, or at least layered with, stainless steel or another nonreactive material that will prevent acidic foods and ingredients (read: tomatoes) from picking up metallic flavors from the pot.

Stock pots can be found at specialty cooking and department stores, as well as online. Prices range from $15 to $400, but they can go higher.

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