I must have my broth

That is a simple, basic fact of my life.

It all began with roasting my first turkey. After stashing the leftovers in the fridge and doing the dishes, I faced the roasting pan. It was full of the excess pan juices I hadn't used in making gravy, there were a lot of little bits of the meat that had been too fiddly to pull off the carcass and the roasting pan was too big to fit in my tiny apartment sink. So my solution to all of this was to fill the pan with water, throw in whatever spare carrots, celery, onions or parsley I had lying around, put it over 2 stove burners and simmer until broth happened.

I loved broth. My favorite comfort food all through college and graduate school was to cook a box of orzo, pastina, stelline or alphabets in broth so that the pasta cooked through just as it absorbed all the broth. I knew nothing about broth being a healthy food, and in fact, felt vaguely guilty when I ate a meal that consisted primarily of white flour. But I knew a bowl of teeny tiny pasta cooked in broth and covered with Parmesan made me feel good from my taste buds all the way down to my socks.

In my thirties, I became annoyed by the fact that whenever I was sick enough to want chicken soup, I was too sick to make chicken soup, and the stuff in grocery stores was so salty, it burnt my sore throat. This was a big impetus towards my decision to get a pressure canner, so I could have a good shelf-stable chicken soup on hand all the time.

Rather quickly, I expanded beyond soup, just cooking and canning any bone I came across into quart after quart of glorious broth to line my shelves. I could always make great soup fast if I had real broth to make it yummy.

Today, I freeze my broth in quart-sized plastic containers. I simply go through broth so rapidly that it doesn't seem worthwhile to can it. I keep beef, chicken and ham on hand at all times and most of the time have turkey broth as well. I make small batches in the pressure cooker or crockpot whenever I have a few bones. And when I notice I'm down to only 3 or 4 quarts of a particular type, I specifically plan to buy bones and make a few gallons to freeze.

I must have my broth, not purchased broth.

I know things today that I did not know when I simmered my first turkey carcass. I know the reason my broth is so good and everything sold in a can or aseptic packaging and labeled "broth" is mediocre is because theirs is made with just meat scraps. They don't get that thick layer on the bottom from the minerals leeching from bones. They don't get all the tendons and cartilage melting to provide both that delicious mouth-feel and the ability to gel when refrigerated. And they don't get that top layer of fat from pan drippings or melted from the layer of fat beneath the skin of nearly all animals.

And Better than Bouillion? Not that I've never used bouillon cubes, but let's get real here, they're just loads of salt and MSG with almost no meat flavor at all. I wouldn't brag that anything I made was better than that stuff; dirt is almost better than bouillon. I need much, much better than that: real stock made from gently simmering a pile of bones for a long time to make that thick, fatty, utterly scrumptious stuff.

I never knew why purchased broths and bouillons were this sad thin, stuff with barely more taste than water, I just knew it was worth it for me to boil a ham bone and make that culinary magic that is so rich and profoundly satisfying.

Broth is not just for soups and stews.

I think this is the one thing people who don't cook should really consider doing - if you cook nothing else. You just can't get anything like homemade broth anywhere.

In winter, a cup of hot broth with a bit of sea salt, optionally topped with some coconut milk, is just about as decadent as you can get. When you come in from shoveling snow, it satisfies better than cocoa.

Even if ramen is a staple in your cooking repertoire, cooking it in real broth instead of those little packets of salt and MSG, will make it worth eating.

For those who do cook, boiling your potatoes in broth before mashing adds an incredible richness. Rice, and indeed all grains, can be yummily cooked in broth. Beans can be utterly awesome cooked in broth. Vegetables are at a whole 'nother level simmered in broth.

a few tips about broth-making

  • The basic recipe is take a pot of bones, add a "glug" of vinegar, cover with water, bring to a boil, simmer for a long time, then strain the solids out. That's it. You never have to get more complicated than that.
  • You can make broth in a stockpot, a crockpot or a pressure cooker. It depends on whether you're making a really big batch, or want it to go overnight without babysitting, or want it fast. Really, it's up to you what fits into your life.
  • How long it takes depends on which method you're using, but poultry broths generally need less cooking than bones from mammals.
  • When I realized the veggies added to broth wound up flavorless, I started saving scraps instead of using good vegetables. I keep a container in my freezer and add the outer leaves of cabbage, carrot tops and peelings and onion skins to it (potato peels add a flavor I don't like though). I can add this stuff to a pot of broth and strain it off and not feel like I've "wasted" good carrots. Hubby says I "make food from garbage".
  • If you are going to save the meat from broth making, like with simmering a chicken, don't add vegetables or vegetable scraps. Sorting through wet meat, bones and gristle is bad enough without bits of soggy vegetables stuck to everything.
  • You can make vegetable broth first, then use that broth to make meat broth. If you will be sorting through things, this is an easier method.
  • Easier still is never putting anything in the pot that you want to save, so you can throw it all out. Yes, boiling a pot of chicken necks and bones yields a good bit of meat, but that meat costs a lot in your time. Since I've become disabled, I don't try to save meat anymore as my energy has become more valuable than the little bit of meat I get from it.
  • You can make broth from any bones. If you had pork chops for dinner, and don't feel like the 3 or 4 bones are worth brothing up, freeze them until you have enough. You'll eat pork chops again someday. Does this sound unsanitary to you cause the bones have been on plates? You live with these people, you have their germs anyway and you're going to cook them to death anyway. If this skeeves you out, don't do it.
  • Make broth!

I could write a much longer post about the incredible health benefits of broth, but that's been done and done and done. My points here are that it's dead cheap, can be done very easily even for non-cooks and adds gourmet flavor to even crappy food.

You should make broth. And whether you do or not...

I must have my broth.

Image credit: Adapted from Broth from meat and vegetables by Hannes Grobe (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.