Potions in Action: Bone Broth

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“When shall we three meet again?” croaked chicken feet, bone, and veg.  The veg is not pictured.  And I actually took this photo.

A few people in my acquaintance have jokingly called me a kitchen witch on occasion, and I’ve laughed right along with the joke.  I am a great cook and a passable witch, don’t get me wrong, but nearly all of my magic gets done in circle, not the kitchen.  I mean, when you work skyclad, it’s usually not a great idea to get too near bubbling pots.

That being said, I never feel more like a witch than when I’m tinkering away at something in the kitchen, particularly if that something needs a little boost from nature–like scalding milk for yogurt or cheese, steeping tea for kombucha, punching down risen bread dough, or fermenting mead.  Or if I am making a decadent bone broth.  Because, come on, I’m literally using toe of chicken.

I’ve been whipping out bone broths on the regular for a few years now, and I am really surprised at how good I’ve gotten at them.  These days, especially once October hits, I drink at least a mug of it a day.  If I feel a cold settling in, I add lime juice, Sriracha, fish sauce, and a dollop of sesame seed oil.  I have a theory that the extra vitamin C from the lime helps prevent and can lessen the severity of a cold, and the Sriracha is an effective decongestant.  The other ingredients just make things taste great, though I suppose the fish sauce imparts some marine minerals to the brew.  To be honest, I drink this even when I’m not coming down with a cold–it’s my favorite soup, especially when I boil potstickers in it and add cilantro, beansprouts, and other odds and ends.

If I want a good Western-style chicken bone broth, I basically just take a couple chicken carcasses that I’ve picked clean of most of the meat and throw them into a 12-quart pot with enough vegetables to fill the pot about 3/4 full.  I always use at least two carcasses, typically from rotisserie chickens these days because a) my work hours are insane and b) Costco is literally around the corner from my house.  I also always use at least two large onions, which I typically French with their skins on (all the better to get more surface area for the water to get into), and a lot of celery, which I typically roughly chop.  Usually the celery is saved hearts from 3-4 bunches that I freeze, but sometimes I buy a fresh bunch and use that.  I also use a ton of carrots.  Typically these are older baby carrots from a half-forgotten bag.  I’ve never really measured, I just use what I have.  I also usually put a whole head of garlic in–sometimes two.  If I just have cloves frozen, I throw in a handful of those.  If I have fresh heads, I remove a fair bit of the papery skin, then slice them in half across the middle to expose all the cloves and give a surface that water doesn’t have to fight to permeate.  I also invariably throw in a handful of peppercorns.

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Most of my bone broths have looked like this.  You definitely can’t see through them–a consommé this is not!  I stole this image from loveurbelly.

I’ve also thrown in parsnips, apples, and handfuls of parsley and sometimes other fresh herbs like thyme.  The apples are quite lovely; I just make sure to quarter them first.  If I want things super gelatinous, I also add chicken feet, which I pick up at a local Asian grocery here in Indianapolis.  I’ve also just thrown in some unflavored gelatin just before finishing, which is nice though sometimes makes things a little sticker than I would like.

Whatever I throw in the pot, I make sure to cover it with water and let it simmer on the stove all day long, taking care that it doesn’t ever turn into a boil.  After six hours, I taste test here and there, adding a pinch of salt to the bit that I taste–I find the salt helps me gauge when it’s done as I may be likely to misjudge it as too bland without when it is, in fact, perfectly fine.  When I think it’s done, I cut the heat and let it stand for a couple hours to chill off enough to pour safely, then pour it through a couple of strainers into another pot or a Cambro bucket, which then gets popped in the fridge overnight.  The next morning, I pick off whatever fat has accumulated on the surface and ladle into smaller containers for freezing.  I season with salt whenever I finally drink it, as I’m apt to use it in other recipes too and frequently like to monitor the salt in the final dish.

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Chicken pho, or pho ga.  I brazenly stole this image from the Splendid Table.

If I want to make a more pho-like broth, I use a smaller pot because there is significantly less veg involved.  For this, I think the chicken feet are a must–I really want this broth to be really gelatinous.  I still use two chicken carcasses.  I also use two large onions, though I roast them up in the oven after I slice them until they are wilted and a little charred.  I also roast a whole hand of ginger with them, which I slice in half long-wise.  To the pot, I add about a tablespoon of whole coriander, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, 3-4 heads of star anise (I typically use broken pods, so I guesstimate what it would be for whole heads), a cinnamon stick (at least 3 inches long), four whole cloves, two tablespoons sugar (I use palm or light brown sugar), and about 1/4 cup fish sauce.  I again cover everything with water and simmer at least 6 hours.

I really do love the alchemical workings of a simmering bone broth, and prefer to cook it in this way whenever possible…but sometimes I need to not be in my house all day, or sometimes it’s just too hot to have something simmering for hours, or any other of a million reasons I give myself.  When this happens, I break out the pressure cooker.  I have an Instant-Pot, which is a total game changer for me.  I find that 90 minutes at high pressure gives an excellent broth, no matter what.  If I can, I like to let the pot come back to normal pressure naturally, but I’ve also done quick release and it’s been just fine.

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Potion bottles from a far more talented artist than me.

So how do I get off calling bone broth a potion?  Well, the basic definition of a potion is a liquid with healing, magical, or poisonous properties…what else could a bone broth be?  And, frankly, you can tinker with the veg and herbs ad infinitum in order to fine tune what you’d like your potion to do.  Want to amplify the healing?  Thrown in more onion and garlic and add some apple and fennel.  Need some protection?  Add clove, anise, and parsley to the mix.

Amusingly, I looked up most of the ingredients I mentioned in Cunningham’s Magical Herbs and found that the basic ingredients of a classic western chicken stock–onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and parsley–only share one correspondence between them: lust.  I gotta say, if a nice man came up to me with a bowl of homemade chicken soup when I was feeling down, I probably would jump his bones…so maybe there’s something to that.

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2 thoughts on “Potions in Action: Bone Broth

  1. Thank you for posting this. I am literally sitting here eating rotisserie chicken, and was wondering what else to do with the carcass instead of just tossing it.

    • Yes! Boil it up!

      I literally just finished a batch of the pho ga exactly how I wrote it up here (it was what prompted me to finish up this draft that’s been languishing for a year), and it is delicious. I think it might just be the best batch of bone broth I’ve ever done, and I can’t stop drinking it. I don’t even want to put stuff in it!

      For what it’s worth, I adapted this recipe for pho from Serious Eats. I couldn’t see shelling out for 7 POUNDS of beef product when I had chicken carcasses in the freezer. It was a very, very good choice.

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