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Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

 

My mom traveled to the crazy garment district in New York for her work when I was a copyboy at the New York Times, five blocks north. I remember once she took me to lunch and ordered a Bull Shot. When I asked, she told me beef broth and vodka. Which sounded whack. But tasted nourishing on that winter day.

Julia Moskin’s excellent piece in the Times on stock and broth made me think of that day. At last, stock/broth is being appreciated in its own right. (But it’s not a “trend beverage” as Moskin calls it—I guess she had to justify a story on one of the oldest, most fundamental preparations in the kitchen; “trend beverage,” Jesus. But I’ll take it, and thank you Julia!).

Yes, it is delicious sipped from a mug! You can feel how nourishing it is. Immediately, your body soaks it up.

And it’s made from the stuff we throw away! Bones with meat and cartilage attached.

Many great cooks are quoted, such as Marco Canora of Brodo (have a look at his new book, A Good Food Day), and many fine tips are offered, along with a long-seeming recipe for “Beef Bone Broth.” Just as long-seeming as my veal stock recipe in the Gourmet Cookbook. Both are too long!

Here, are my stock convictions:

Broth and stock are the same, as Moskin, notes; the word broth should be used to denote a stock made with a lot of meat that’s especially nourishing. Stock is often bone heavy.

Bones don’t add a lot of flavor, but they are composed of connective tissue, which gives body to a stock (a stock cooked too long with too many bones actually tastes unpleasantly boney); cartilage gives tons of body (from the gelatin), so the more joints you use, the better. Meat is where most of the flavor comes from, so don’t skimp on that. (And yes, I do save the chicken bones and beef ribs the family has been gnawing on; I’d do that even if someone has something catchy; the cooking will take care of any bugs.)

Along with meat, bones, and cartilage, add sweet vegetables, such as onion and carrot.

I always put tomato paste in for sweetness (and color). Moskin claims that you should add acid (Canora’s recipe includes 2 ounces vinegar), “which loosens and dissolves the tough bits.” I’m dubious. I wish she’d noted her source on this.

Bay, garlic, thyme, parsley, tomato paste, cracked peppercorns are always welcome (I’ve found that whole peppercorns don’t add nearly the flavor cracked ones do).

We were taught in culinary school to skim off the fat. The late great Judy Rodgers told me that was ridiculous, and I think she’s right. Fat is flavor, but it can cloud the stock.

My most important belief: cook below a simmer, meaning the water isn’t bubbling at all (but the pot is too hot to hold your hand to). This results in a clear, clean broth. But it takes more time. If you’re short on time, boil the shit out of it, but it will be opaque (and add the vegetables only for the last half hour or they’ll fragment, soak up the broth and be dumped out of your strainer into the garbage).

That said, you can make great stock in a pressure cooker in a couple hours, especially chicken; use the low setting and let it cool on its own before opening for best clarity.

Chicken stock takes half the time beef and veal do. Veal bones can be reused for a weaker stock that can be added to other stock.

Last, don’t make too much. Americans have this idea that when you make stock it involves giant pots and hours cleaning. Don’t do it (unless you want to make a lot). I usually make stock in a 2-quart pan. (And if I’m in NYC, I buy the delicious stock they sell at Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in the Chelsea Market.)

How to Make Awesome Broth at Home, a Non-Recipe Recipe:

Fill a pot with leftover roasted bones and meat (adding extra meat if you want—even ground beef, or a hamburger works for beef stock). Cover it all with 2 inches of water. Put it on a low burner for 6 hours, or in a 200°F oven for 8 hours or overnight. During the last hour, add onion and carrot (can’t overdo it here), and any of the other aromatic ingredients mentioned above, whatever you have on hand. Strain.

That really is all there is to it.

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© 2015 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2015 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.