Beef Bone Broth: Why and How
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About two weeks ago I randomly clicked on a Paleo blog post passed along by a friend on Facebook. (I'm not Paleo. Perhaps the picture caught my eye.) An hour later, I was engrossed in information and recipes for making chicken stock and beef stock. Aside from the fact that the pictures made me crave a good soup, what I didn't know was that bone broth contains numerous health benefits.
Perhaps it helped that here in North Carolina we were experiencing the first major snow in a couple of decades. My children hadn't been in school (or in the house) for three days, and I hadn't been outside. I got a serious itch to get out my crockpot and try this out.
It's In the Marrow
A simple Google search ("beef bone broth") will take you to dozens of sites hailing the health benefits of homemade stock. Aside from the obvious (lower sodium, no MSG, no preservatives, no additives, all natural ingredients, etc.) I'm not sure I was fully aware of this sort of secret super-food. In fact, there are people out there who drink a cup of beef bone brother with cultish religious regularity every night before bed, and swear they cannot live without it.
(Though, once I tasted my broth, I might be joining them.)
So what is it that is so healthy about the stuff? Well, for starters, because it is a liquid, it is easily digestible. In fact, it is actually said that the gelatin it contains is healing to the lining of the gut. Most of the healing properties come straight from the marrow and broken down joint ligaments, which makes many of the health benefits make sense. It is chock-full of amino acids that fight inflammation and reduce joint pain. It promotes strong healthy bones and healthy nail and hair growth. And of course, everyone knows a good broth helps fight and prevent infection such as colds and flu. (Think about it. Chicken soup as your go-to comfort food when sick?)
Where To Get Bones
- Local Butcher
- Frozen Section of Meat Department
- Independent or International Markets
- Farmer's Markets
- Friends Who Buy Whole Animals
- Save and Stock from Your Own Roasts and Bone-In Cuts
Of course, as I sat here reading, my first thought was, "Where the heck do I find enough bones for this?" Many people in the habit of making their own broth simply save bones from every single time they cook and eat meat. We eat a lot of chicken and I've definitely thrown away my share of bones. But beef roasts and beef bones aren't quite as abundant in this house.
It used to be that you could buy "soup bones" by the bagful at local butcher shops for next to nothing. Heck, apparently many butchers used to just give them away for free. But likely due to the growing interest in the bone broth craze, butchers have caught on that aspiring hippies like me are willing to pay premium prices for what used to be a bag of garbage. Awesome.
At my local grocery store in the frozen meat section, I found a 2 pound bag of beef soup bones for $2.50. It seemed high, but in my excitement I splurged. I then went online and consulted friends for ideas of where to find this stuff a little cheaper. To my delight and surprise, two friends immediately responded to me with emails. Both regularly order grass fed beef by the quarter-of-a-cow and are given the soup bones with their order.
It turns out, I have several friends who have these bones in the freezer and have been wondering what to do with them. (Don't throw them away! Call me!)
So now I've got a freezer full of bones. I actually had made a beef chuck roast that week and diligently saved the bone (all roasted and delicious with a few tendrils of meat still stuck on). Additionally, I've begun the process of collecting and freezing chicken bones and will attempt chicken stock as soon as I have enough to fill a crockpot. Look at me, going all sustainable living and shit.
So have I convinced you to try this yet? Listen, here's what I did. It is a process, I'll admit that, but no part of it required any special cooking skills and really no special equipment. In fact, if you don't own a crockpot you can do all of this on the stovetop. (But if you don't own a crockpot I'm not sure why you are even reading anything about cooking, you freak of cooking nature.)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 head of garlic, peeled and smashed
- 2 lbs beef soup bones, (roast in oven if desired)
- 2T apple cider vinegar
- various spices
- Chop all the vegetables. There is really no need to peel them first, as you will not be eating them when you are done. *Trust me, they will be completely devoid of all flavor at the end of this thing.
- While chopping the veggies you can choose to roast your bones in a 400 degree oven. I don't know if it helped, but I did it and my broth was good.
- Fill your crockpot with the chopped veggies.
- Lay the bones on top. *If you have a small crockpot like me, fit as many as possible and squish them down.
- Drizzle the apple cider vinegar on top of the bones. *Apparently this is the magic ingredient that draws all the goodness out.
- Cover the entire thing with water. *For me, this was about 4 cups.
- Douse the top with various spices (bay leaves, oregano, rosemary, whatever you have and like). *NOTE: do not add salt. You will season the broth with salt later, to taste.
- Set your crockpot to high for an hour. Then, turn it down to low and let the broth cook for 24 hours *or more, seriously, some people let this stuff go for days.
- Strain the broth and throw away all the bones and veggies. *Some people puree the veggies and use them. I ate a few. They were completely flavorless so I chucked them.
- Let the broth completely cool on the kitchen counter before refrigerating it. Then, put it in the refrigerator overnight. This will cause the fat to rise to the top.
- Skim the fat off. *Again, some people save this stuff and cook with it. I threw it away.
- Drink some now, make a soup, or freeze in useable sized portions. When you are ready to use it, add salt to taste. I found it took about 1/2t. per cup.
I happened to have some sautéed onions and cabbage leftover from dinner the night before. I put them in a cup and covered them with almost boiling broth. The result was magical. It was like the best cup of French Onion soup I'd ever tasted.
They say that if you do it right, your beef broth with solidify in the fridge and resemble meat jello. (Yum.) This is from the gelatin in the marrow and it's a good thing. Don't worry, it liquifies again when heated. My broth did not solidify. I'm sure my bones weren't gelatinous enough. Nevertheless, the flavor was amazing and I still consider this first try a success.