PART 1 – The Basic Bone Broth
Meat stock, AKA ‘bone broth’ is one of the most effective healing foods that you can make.
It contains the concentrated essence of the ingredients used, and being liquid, is extremely easy to digest. It is also very simple to make. Not to mention the fact that it tastes delicious! Bones and Bone Marrow relate to Jing (Essence), the deepest of our energies, and stock made with bones is a powerful Jing tonic.
All meat also tonifies Qi and Blood, so meat stocks make really great all round tonics for health maintenance and treatment of illness. Adding vegetables and herbs can further enhance the therapeutic effects.
Stocks are great for anyone who has what Chinese medicine calls a ‘deficiency pattern‘ – that is, people who are tired, weak, frail, debilitated, or suffering from chronic illness. They can also be used regularly by those who are well in order to maintain health. In my opinion, regular use of meat stocks is a profound way of strengthening Qi, Blood and Jing, and of enormous benefit to overall health.
You can use bones that you’d otherwise discard once you’ve eaten the meat, for instance the carcass of a roast chicken. Most butchers will also be happy to give you a bag of bones (they’d only throw them away) or sell them to you for a small fee. This is a great way of getting more flavour and goodness out of what is otherwise a waste product. If you don’t have enough bones to use at once, put them in a bag in the freezer until you have some more.
How To Make Bone Broth:
Simply take the bones along with any attached meat, and put them in a very large pan, with plenty of water (make sure the bones are well covered.) You might want to remove any skin which will just make it very fatty, but there’s no need to be too fussy as you’ll skim the fat off at the end.
Add any vegetables you like, and simmer for as long as possible, at least 6 hours, but much longer if you can – all day would be great! Keep the lid on so that the water doesn’t evaporate away.
Good vegetables to add include carrots, celery and onion. These 3 make a good basic stock, with any meat you choose. The peelings, ends and trimmings of other veg can also go in (for instance, pea pods, carrot tops, the outer leaves of cauliflower, the ends of string or runner beans and broccoli stems.) The more you add, the more flavour and goodness you get. The only things I wouldn’t add are very strongly flavoured vegetables such as parsnip and beetroot, or potatoes, which are a bit too starchy.
For the best therapeutic effects, it’s best to break the bones before you put them in the pan, although personally I only like to do this if I’m using organic bones. Breaking the bones reveals the marrow to the liquid, which enhances the Jing strengthening effect. There’s no special technique to breaking them, just take a large knife, cleaver or meat tenderiser to them.
Smaller bones are easy to break, but you may not be able to manage the bigger ones (A friend of mine recently had to resort to using an axe on an enormous beef bone!) It’s also good to add a splash of vinegar, this will help to draw out calcium from the bones. Only a little is needed, and you won’t taste it in the finished broth.
(You can also add either Western or Chinese herbs. For more on this, see parts 2 and 3 of this blog post below)
Cooking time: Cook on a very low heat for AT LEAST 6 hours for chicken, or AT LEAST 12 hours for beef, lamb or pork. These should be considered absolute minimums – the broth improves for longer cooking (the exception being veggie or fish broths, which only need an hour or so, and shouldn’t be overcooked). 24 hours is not excessive for a meat stock. The easiest way to achieve this long slow cooking is in a slow cooker. I do mine overnight.
Once your stock is cooked, turn off the heat and allow it to cool, then strain off the liquid, discarding all the solids. There will be a layer of fat floating on the surface – use a spoon to skim most of this off. This can be a fiddly job, but it’s much easier if you chill the liquid in the fridge first so the fat hardens.
The finished stock should be rich tasting and delicious – if its a little thin or bland you may have used too much water, or not cooked it for long enough. You could also try adding more veg next time.
A good broth will become gelatinous (jelly-like) when cool. Don’t worry, this is gelatin, not fat! It’s a good thing, with plenty of health benefits. As soon as you heat up the stock it will thin out again.
The gelatin comes more from the cartilage and ‘grisly bits’ than it does from the bones, and varies from animal to animal. Pork bones are high in gelatin, but chicken has very little.
To up the gelatin content of a chicken broth, I recommend adding a small piece of pork bone, or a couple of chicken’s feet – You can get these from most Chinese or Oriental supermarkets. Keep a bag of them in your freezer and you can pop a couple in every time you make a chicken stock – they really help.
Finished broth freezes very well – I pack mine up into plastic containers of about 1 to 2 pints each so that they’re ready to use when I need them.
How To Use Bone Broth:
You can use the broth to make soups, stews or casseroles, or any time that you’re going to use water in a recipe. You can also cook rice or other grains in meat stock – they taste great!
If you’re looking for the healing effects, just drink it as it is, one cup of hot stock per day. This is especially effective for very weak or frail people or those who are having trouble eating, as a way of building up strength without putting any strain on the digestive system.
The energetic effects of stock roughly match those of the meat it is made with. Chicken is the most versatile both in terms of therapeutic effect and also flavour. It is an exceptional Qi tonic. In Chinese Medicine terms Beef stock is a particularly good Blood tonic, and Lamb stock would be the most heating – a good Yang tonic. Pork or Fish stock would be less heating, and more of a tonic for the Yin.
A Suggested Basic Chicken Bone Broth Recipe
Carcass of 1 chicken, bones broken
2 chickens feet or a small pork bone
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
A dash of vinegar
Simmer for minimum 6 hours, 12 is better, or overnight.
Part 2 – Adding Herbs To The Broth
Want to take your broth to the next level? It’s time to add some herbs – both Western and Chinese herbs are great here, and you can choose your herbs not just on the basis of flavour, but also with specific healing effects in mind.
For Western herbs, a combination of bay leaves, fresh thyme and parsley add a lovely flavour.
Energetically, these 3 together do roughly the same as the combination of Chinese herbs suggested below – they tonify Qi and Blood, circulate Qi and clear Phlegm.
You’ll probably want to avoid rosemary, basil or other very strong herbs that could take over the taste of the finished broth, unless you have a specific use in mind that will work with those flavours.
Basic Chinese Broth Herbs
Chinese herbs are great to add to broths, and you can really get intricate with this if you want to (see part 3 – coming soon). The Chinese have a long history of using herbs in stocks and soups for healing purposes, and it’s a really great way to boost the tonic effect of your broth.
Here’s where to start – with the Holy Trinity of Broth Herbs:
- Chinese Red Dates, AKA Jujube (hong zao) – around 6-8 dates
- Fresh ginger (sheng jiang) – 2-4 slices
- Dried tangerine peel (chen pi) – Around 10-15g
These 3 go in virtually every broth I make, because they taste amazing, and they work very well together from a therapeutic standpoint.
The Chinese dates are a strengthening Qi and Blood tonic. The fresh ginger brings warmth and movement to the dish, helping to prevent it being too heavy. The dried tangerine peel clears Phlegm and moves stagnant Qi.
Fresh ginger and Chinese dates are often used together in Chinese cooking, and also in Chinese herbal formulas. As a pair they are said to ‘harmonise the constructive and defensive’ – A way of saying that they work together to nourish the inside, as well as bolster and consolidate the outside. The sweetness of the dates generates fluids and tonifies at a deep level, and the pungency of the ginger prevents any cloying or stagnation, and keeps everything moving.
All 3 have a particular effect on the digestive system, so when used together they strengthen and regulate the digestion, and make the whole broth (and anything cooked with it) more digestible.
Part 3 – Chinese Herbs In Broth For Healing Effects
This bit gets a bit technical, so if you don’t know your Qi Stagnation from your Yang Deficiency or your Fu Ling from your Fu Zi, you might want to skip this section…
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You can use Chinese herbs in your broth to make it even more powerful – the trick is choosing those that are both safe to use, and taste good (or at least, neutral) There are plenty of recipes that call for herbs such as Shu Di or Bai Zhu, both of which taste pretty dreadful. For me, if I need to take those herbs I’d rather do so as a herbal formula ‘tea’ and have my broth separately, rather than ruin the flavour.
Dang gui is also commonly used, and while it’s a herb with a very powerful effect, it also has a very powerful taste, and personally, I can’t stand it! Some people like the taste, so if that’s you, feel free to use it. It’s a great Blood tonic. You can use it with fresh ginger and chicken broth to make the traditional post-partum soup given to new mothers to restore their strength after childbirth.
So here are some herbs that DO work well in broths, broken down by basic energetics.
Start with the ‘holy trinity’ mentioned above, and then add 2 or 3 from one of the following lists. Around 10g of each is about right.
To strengthen the Spleen, treat Dampness and Phlegm and improve digestion: Gu Ya (Millet Sprouts), Mai Ya (Barley Sprouts), Fu Ling (poria), Yi Yi Ren (Job’s tears)
As a Yang tonic: Hua Jiao (Szechuan peppercorns), Gou qi zi (goji berries), Du Zhong (Eucommia Bark), Tu Si Zi (Cuscutta Seed) – Use lamb bones for best effect
As a Yin Tonic: Shan Yao (Chinese yam), Bai He (Lily Bulb), Kun Bu (Seaweed), Gou qi zi (goji berries) – Use pork or duck
As a Blood Tonic: Gou qi zi (goji berries), Longan fruit (Long Yan Rou), Kun Bu (Seaweed) – Use beef or chicken