When Michelle Tam was growing up in Menlo Park, Calif., in the 1980s, her family sipped broth with dinner every night.
“We were full-on Cantonese,” Tam said, explaining that a light soup with herbs and perhaps a vegetable or two is an integral part of many traditional Chinese meals, acting as a digestive, a palate cleanser and a drink. “My mom used to make me go to the butcher and ask for the bones to make broth, which was totally embarrassing.”
Today, Tam writes and illustrates the popular Nom Nom Paleo blog, one of many sources devoted to Paleo eating, the diet du jour that is an exercise in eating “like our ancestors,” as adherents describe it, by which they mean the hunter-gatherers of the late Stone Age.
One of the cornerstones of the diet is “bone broth,” the clear, concentrated meaty elixir that home cooks and chefs have known more or less forever as stock. Those ancestors probably made theirs by dropping fire-heated rocks into the stomachs of whatever animals they managed to kill. The subsequent invention of the pot made soups, stocks and broths staples in virtually every corner of the culinary world.
Recently, this prehistoric food has improbably become a trend beverage, ranking with green juice and coconut water as the next magic potion in the eternal quest for perfect health. Like other health foods that have taken off in recent years – yogurt, quinoa – broth combines mystical connections to the ancient world and demonstrable nutrition benefits in the modern one.
“I would never have thought I’d be the person who makes homemade stock,” said Tam, who now saves bones from grass-fed beef and frequently produces batches of stock in her pressure cooker.
The difference between stock and broth is elusive in the bowl but clearer in the kitchen. Many people use the terms interchangeably, but strictly speaking, both broth and stock include bones and meat, but stock has a higher proportion of bones to meat. And to those who have taken up “broth-ing,” it is the content of the bones – including collagen, amino acids and minerals – that is the source of its health benefits. Extracting the nutrients from bones is accomplished through long cooking and by adding some acid to the pot, like vinegar, wine or a bit of tomato paste, which loosens and dissolves the tough bits.
Nourishing bone broth has even begun to replace espresso and chai in the to-go cups of the millions of Americans who have at least attempted the Paleo diet. (Coffee and tea, along with dairy products, legumes and grains, are forbidden.)
“When you talk to chefs about this, everyone’s head is exploding,” said chef Marco Canora, who has just opened Brodo, a storefront window in the East Village attached to his restaurant, Hearth, where three flavorful broths are dispensed in paper cups. Like an espresso drink, the broths at Brodo can be customized, with add-ins like grated fresh turmeric, house-made chili oil and bone marrow from grass-fed cattle, which transforms plainly delicious broth into a richly satisfying snack.
“Every chef knows how to make stock, everyone uses it as an ingredient, but it would never occur to anyone that you could sell it,” he said.
But right now, it seems, you can.
Beef Bone Broth
1½ pounds bone-in beef short rib
2½ pounds beef shank or oxtail
2 pounds beef knuckle bones or neck bones, or a combination of both (or add 1 more pound beef shank or oxtail)
2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
3 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 onions, halved and peeled
1 (14½-ounce) can toma toes (they can be whole, peeled or diced)
1 head garlic, excess skins removed, top chopped off to expose the cloves
2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ bunch fresh thyme
¼ ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place meat and bones in a roasting pan or on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, turning to coat, then brush all over with tomato paste. Roast until browned, 30 to 35 minutes. (They don’t need to cook all the way through but to just develop some color.)
Put roasted meat and bones in a 12-quart stockpot and add vinegar and enough cold water to cover by 3 inches (about 6 quarts). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer, uncovered, for 2 to 3 hours. While simmering, occasionally skim fat and foam from the top using a ladle.
Add all the remaining ingredients. Continue to simmer, uncovered, for at least 3 hours. If using knucklebones, simmer overnight, 9 to 15 hours, so the knucklebones have sufficient time to break down.
Remove meat and bones with a slotted spoon or tongs; reserve meat for another use (such as soup). Pour broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl or containers. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate up to a week, or freeze indefinitely.
Makes about 3 quarts.
– Adapted from Marco Canora
Japanese Beef and Rice Soup
7 cups beef bone broth (see recipe)
10 to 12 ounces shredded cooked beef short ribs (from making broth, or use 1 pound shred ded braised beef)
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
3½ ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly sliced (about 1½ cups)
1 cup cooked brown rice
½ cup nori crinkles (or slice up toasted nori sheets into ½-inch squares)
2 tablespoons tamari
Juice of ½ lemon
1 bunch scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
Bring broth to a boil over high heat. Stir in meat, ginger, shiitakes, rice, nori, tamari and lemon juice; cook 2 minutes. Stir in scallions. Ladle into bowls and serve.
Makes about 8 cups.
– Adapted from “A Good Food Day” by Marco Canora