Monday, February 15, 2010

Chicken Broth - Tradition with Cooking

I like to think of chicken broth as "super food". This extremely nutritious food is the base to many dishes. It's worth it to make extra and stick it in the freezer so you always have some on hand.

Most of us have heard about eating chicken soup or broth when we're sick. That's not just an old-wives tale, there is actually something to it. Sally Fallon Morell writes of the benefits of broth in her article Broth is Beautiful:

"Science validates what our grandmothers knew. Rich homemade chicken broths help cure colds. Stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily—not just calcium but also magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons--stuff like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain."

If broth making becomes a part of your normal cooking routine, which I truly hope it will, I'd highly recommend finding a farmer you can purchase your meat directly from. Build a relationship with them and ask them how they feed and take care of their animals throughout the year. In cold weather climates like Minnesota, feed and care can drastically change during the winter. Also, when you purchase directly from the farmer you have a much better selection of cuts of meat and you are able to purchase those now-rare items like chicken feet, necks, and backs. Chicken necks, backs and feet make fabulous broth and can be much cheaper to purchase than a whole chicken. Not too long ago, we would never have wasted any section of the animal, now we only see the popular and prime cuts of meat at our local stores while the rest of the animal goes by the way-side. It's sad, plus you lose all the nutritious benefits from these harder-to-find items. I have been going to the same farmer, Farm on Wheels, for my meat for about 4 years now. I'm able to get organic, grass fed meat all year, because they're at the year-round St. Paul Farmers Market. What is also great is they know their facts and have been very helpful in giving me helpful hints and ideas on how to prepare different cuts of meat and ways to make broth.

One helpful hint that was passed on to me by Linda Noble of Farm on Wheels is save your bones! For instance, if you make a roast chicken, save the carcass, stick it in the freezer until you are making your next batch of broth. Also, if you make broth with a whole chicken, save the bones and throw them into your next batch of broth. I'd only make broth from the same bones twice. If you cook your broth for long enough (12 to 24 hours) you'll probably want to pitch the bones as they will have most likely deteriorated and most, if not all the minerals will be gone from them.

If you are on a tight budget, but are still wanting to make wholesome food from scratch, knowing tips like these can really help. My rule of thumb is don't let anything go to waste if you don't have to. Learn to be creative in the kitchen and your dollar will go much farther.

What You'll Need

  • 1 whole organic, free-range chicken (2-4 lbs) and/or a combination of chicken necks, backs, feet, gizzards and left-over bones
  • 4 quarts cold filtered water
  • 2-3 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 large organic onion chopped in large chunks
  • 2-4 peeled organic carrots chopped in large chunks
  • 3-5 organic celery stalks chopped in large chunks
  • 1 bunch of fresh organic parsley
  • Large stock pot - six quarts or larger
  • spoon for skimming
  • Mesh strainer or regular strainer lined with cheese cloth
  • Large bowl
  • Containers for storing broth

Getting Started

Put all your ingredients into your stock pot, cover with lid and allow to sit for 30 - 60 minutes. Then bring you water to a boil and skim off any scum that rises to the top.

Cover your pot and turn the heat down so your broth just barely simmers. Keep broth at a low simmer for a minimum of 6 hours and preferably all day or up to 24 hours. It's amazing the difference you'll get in your broth the longer it cooks. I almost always let my broth simmer for 24 hours.

Note, if you are noticing your liquid disappearing too much, add some more water and turn your stove down lower.

Once the broth is done, I like to let it cool for an hour or so in the pot. This really just keeps me from accidentally burning myself during the next step.

Place strainer into or over a large bowl. Slowly pour your broth through the strainer. Depending how large your bowl and strainer are, you may have to stop and empty your bowl a couple of times.

Allow your broth to completely cool then place in the refrigerator until chilled. If it's winter and you live in a Northern climate, stick it outside to chill, just don't forget about it or it will freeze (I've done that before). Once chilled, you should see a layer of hardened fat on the top of the broth, remove this fat layer and then portion the broth out into your storage containers. Refrigerate what you'll be using within the next couple of days and freeze the rest.

I keep my broth in glass containers in the fridge and plastic containers for the freezer. Freezing broth in glass can be done, but you need to leave plenty of clearance room, at least an inch, for the freezing broth to expand, also be very careful the glass containers don't clang against one another, they can easily be broken.

One final note, don't throw away the left over bones and vegetables quite yet. Check our my recipe for homemade dog treats. They're super easy to make and your dog will LOVE them!

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