Why making stock is one of the first essential steps back to traditional cooking and eating.
Taking stock: the single most important ingredient missing from the modern diet?
How many people do you know that keep a traditional stockpot? Do you? I am not referring so much to an actual large pot with a close fitting lid, although that is certainly helpful, but rather to the mind-set of maintaining the production and use of traditional stock and broth in your house.
If you have homemade stock in your fridge, cooking is easy, delicious and healthful. Every soup, stew, casserole , gravy or sauce tastes instantly fantastic. Homemade really is best, in stock perhaps even more so that anything else. Stock cubes impart nothing except for seasoning and nearly all liquid stocks are just that, liquid when they should be jelly, as the vital ingredient in stock is gelatine.
Virtually every culture in the world has used animal or fish bones and carcasses and vegetables and herbs to create stocks. Traditionally nothing was wasted, and I believe this is a mark of respect to the living being or to the effort that has gone into producing your ingredients that you try and throw nothing away. From a nutritional point of view, the expensive cuts of protein or exotic vegetables are also the least beneficial. It’s the stuff that most of us now throw away (or don’t buy in the first place) that is richest in medicine-like qualities. This is the stuff that is used in traditional stock making, with a resultant product that is wonderful both for taste and health. Vegetable stocks don’t contain the primary ingredients of a meat or fish stock of course, and I will discuss ways of working with this limitation.
Gelatine is a translucent, colorless, brittle (when dry), nearly tasteless solid substance, derived from the collagen inside animals’ skin and bones. Gelatin is an irreversibly hydrolysed form of collagen and a hydrophilic colloidal. Non-animal based gelatine is made from seaweed.
- An article (Medical News Today) quotes a number of Russian researchers discussing specific peptides found in gelatin in relation to gastric ulcer: “gelatin peptides reinforce resistance of the stomach mucous tunic to ethanol and stress action, decreasing the ulcer area by twice.”
- Gelatin may have a beneficial effect on general joint health. A study at Ball State University found that gelatin supplementation relieved knee joint pain and stiffness in athletes (Newscenter).
- As Pottenger (1938) says:“Hydrophilic colloids form the substratum of all living protoplasm. They possess the property of readily taking up and giving off the substances essential to cell life.”
- Pottenger also pioneered the use of gelatin-rich meat bone broth for the treatment of disease and the maintenance of good health. His seminal article “Hydrophilic Colloid Diet,” stated the case for traditional stock, rich in minerals and hydrophilic gelatin, as an aid to digestion and a source of minerals in easily assimilated form.
- Discussing Pottenger’s findings Fallon (2007) notes “Raw foods compounds are colloidal and tend to be hydrophilic, meaning they attract liquids.” This includes digestive secretions, enabling rapid digestion. Colloids that have been heated or cooked mostly become hydrophobic (they repel liquids), meaning that cooked foods can be harder to digest. However, Chinese medicine advises that excess consumption of uncooked food can damage the Qi of the Middle Jiao, so adding gelatine to cooked food achieves optimal digestion whilst protecting the mucosal membranes (Fallon cites gelatine can be beneficial for diseases such as Chron’s disease).
- Other researchers are now making strong correlations between these properties and connective tissue: “the colloidal nature of connective tissue means that hydrodynamics is a crucial element in the results of tissue stretching, both in reducing edema and in increasing the water supply to underserved proteins, so increasing the extensibility of the tissue” (Chaitow et al 2011).
Gelatine in Chinese medicine
Chen and Chen (2001) note:
“The use of E Jiao started in approximately the Tang Dynasty. Gelatin from many animals was used, including cattle, pigs, horses, donkeys and camel. Cattle gelatine has weaker tonic properties but stronger blood-invigorating and toxin-eliminating action. Pig gelatine has similar blood-tonic and haemostatic functions (to E jiao).”
E Jiao: Blood Tonifying
Nourishes and moisten Yin – asthma, upper Xiao Ke disease, irritability and insomnia after febrile disease, dry lung coughs due to yin deficiency or consumption
Tonifies Blood – dizziness, sallow complexion, palpitations, irregular periods, gestational and postpartum disorders
Gui ban/Bie jia jiao: Yin Tonifying
Nourishes Kidney – infertility, hot flushes, back pain
Tonifies Blood; Stops bleeding due to empty heat
Lu jiao jiao: Yang Tonifying
Tonifies Liver and Kidneys; Strengthens Essence and Blood; Stops bleeding
Uterine Bleeding; impotence; malnutrition and delayed physical growth in children; chronic slow healing Yin sores and boils
The main thing extracted in the stock making process is collagen and marrow and the main thing created is gelatine. So we can see that the primary focus of gelatine is on the Yin fluids and Jing essence, which makes sense as gelatine is condensed physical form.
Soft connective tissue is hydrolysed into gelatine in an alchemical process created through water and heat, with the addition of something of an acid pH such as alcohol, vinegar or citrus. Soft connective tissue and fascia is found most richly in tissues such as extremities, around bones and joints and skin. In other words the stuff that is thrown away or does not come with a in polystyrene shrink-wrapped chicken breast. Protein (i.e. muscle or organs) on it’s own makes poor stock or broth and will not form a jelly. Also note that stock does not contain much fat (not that that is a good thing in itself) as the fat separates during the stock making process and rises to the surface to be removed.
What do we mean by connective tissue?
The study of soft connective tissue, or fascia, is a new and exciting field within medicine (people interested in this field light-heartedly call themselves fascianados) and ongoing research continues to reveal extraordinary and hitherto unknown or ignored properties of connective tissue. Amongst other things, what we refer to as the acupuncture channels are certainly at least partially contained within/made up of the fascia (too many references to quote here, but look at the papers on www.fasciaresearch.com and in particular Helen Langevin’s work). So, we could say that stock is melted meridians held in a gel solution. This sol-to-gel transformation is also called thixotropy (Juhan, 1987), although the thixotropy/colloidal nature of fascia remains under examination (Chaitow et al, 2011).
When living fascia is examined microscopically, free fluid can be seen rolling around in and on it. This is made up of a polysaccharide substance known as Glycosaminoglycans (GAG’s, Interstitial fluid). The main function of GAG’s is the repair and support of the Collagen and Elastin soft connective tissue and it maintains the turgidity, or bounce, between the cellular spaces.
Collagen substances include:
Chondroitin sulfate is a sulfated GAG. Glucosamine is part of the structure of the polysaccharides chitosan and chitin, which compose the exoskeletons of crustaceans and other arthropods, cell walls in fungi and many higher organisms.
“Indeed, stock is everything in cooking…without it nothing can be done.”
Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935)
The main types of stock for home use include:
- Chicken, poultry and small game
- Beef and hooved game
You can either get the necessary bones from your butcher or save them up from food you cook yourself. I do a combination of both, keeping one bag in the freezer for each stock base, and putting all skin, bones, shells and remaining meat into the relevant bag until I have enough. I also get bags of bones from my butchers or farmers market suppliers. The more cartilaginous the tissue or the richer in marrow the better the stock, so feet, knuckles, shin bones, fish heads (but not oily fish) or pork trotters are particularly prized. Shells (think Mu li etc) and crustacean carapace from prawns, lobsters etc are also very useful (remember Chan tui?). Pork produces the thickest gelatine, so a pork bone or two can be added to any meat stock. If you are in the country or buy your ingredients at a farmers market, get to know your suppliers. With poultry, ask for the heads, feet and giblets, if you have a venison supplier, see if he will bring you in the feet and a section of horn as well (Lu jiao).
You can also freeze or save any herb stems from green herbs such as parsley, coriander, dill etc which are left over from using the herb leaves in other dishes.
The other vital ingredient for good stock or broth is time…
Basic method for all stocks:
For ‘white stock’ crack open bones if possible and add to your pot. To make ‘brown stock’ roast raw bones in a hot oven for a short while to get some colour on them and then add to a large pot, pour off the fat and then deglaze the roasting dish with water or wine before adding this jus to the stockpot. Bones reserved from roasts are already browned of course. Brown stocks have a stronger and more intense flavour, so you may want to choose white stock for some delicate dishes. There is also something called clarified stock, which is clear like a consommé, but as this removes much of the gelatine in the process I do not recommend it for health purposes.
Add enough cold water (just as you should do when making a decoction) to cover and a good splash of wine or cider vinegar (this helps make collagen and calcium available, did you ever do the eggshell and vinegar experiment at school?), and allow to stand for 30-60 minutes. Bring slowly to a boil and then turn down to the lowest heat immediately (the godfather of modern classical cooking, Auguste Escoffier (1975) warns us that we should never allow a stock to boil) and cover. Spoon off any foam that forms on top in the first 30 minutes.
Now add veg, no need to peel and just rough chop: an onion, some leeks, celery stalks, and a couple of carrots, perhaps a potato and herbs such as bay leaves (break the spine), thyme and whole black peppercorns. Simmer on lowest heat (use a heat disperser on your cooker if needed) for at least 6 hours and as long as 72 hours. The thicker the bones the more cooking is needed (i.e. chicken can be done in 6-12 hours).
After which time the liquid is strained off and if you want to get every last drop, new water can be added (hot this time and only half cover) and now just cook for another hour or so and strain again. Note that the first long cook does not need to be in one stint, and you can turn off the stock and come back to it.
Add a large handful or bunch of fresh green herbs (parsley in particular) to the strained hot stock, simmer for 10 minutes and then re strain (you can also just throw it in for the last ten minutes if this is a stage too far). This adds important levels of potassium and other minerals.
You can also add specific flavours according to the type of stock:
- Beef – a strip of kombu seaweed, rosemary
- Chicken – tarragon, lemon, dried mushroom
- Pork – juniper berries, mace, extra bay
- Fish – star anise, dill, fennel
- Vegetables – dried porcini mushrooms, miso (add at the end)
Never add salt to stock, season whatever you are using it in after tasting.
Garlic can be added to most stocks, and the long cooking time means that the smell and taste is moderated.
For vegetable stock:
This is the best I have been able to come up with in terms of mimicking the taste qualities and effects of bone broth using only vegetable ingredients, but we should be clear that this is barely a shadow of a meat stock and will not form a jelly in the same way.
It’s usually best to avoid cruciferous vegetables like cabbage or broccoli as although they are rich in minerals the sulphurous taste can overpower the other ingredients. Green vegetables like celery or leeks should only be simmered for an hour or so, otherwise they may go bitter. You can add most vegetable peelings to stock, as much of the vitamin and mineral content is found there, and slightly wilted veg is fine, bit obviously not stuff that has actually gone off.
Basic ingredients are carrots, onions, leeks, celery, fennel, parsnip, perhaps some asparagus and maybe a cauliflower. Mushrooms add depth of flavour, and you can add a combination of dried such as porcini and fresh chestnut, shiitake, etc. Herbs should be generous and include lots of bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, black pepper and perhaps fennel seed, a little licorice root, some angelica (Dang gui), a couple of Chinese dates (Da zao). You can add some fresh ginger if you like but bear in mind that has is a strong and distinctive taste. Dried kombu or nori can be added for the last 10 minutes for mineralization, along with a handful of fresh parsley.
Simmer for 30-60 minutes and no longer. You can melt agar agar into the finished stock if you want a jelly stock.
Finishing and storing stock:
Strain your cooked stock through a large colander. I like to then strain it again through muslin or a fine sieve, but this is not essential. Put it into a bowl or Tupperware, allow to cool and then rest in the fridge overnight. The next day you will have a jelly stock, with pork the most solid and chicken a light jelly. The fat will solidify on the surface and can be peeled or lifted off and reserved for cooking, although it will not be as good as fat you have rendered down whole (as lard and chicken fat for the best pastry, beef dripping for frying, goose/duck fat for potatoes etc). Alternatively you can leave a layer of fat on top of your stock and this will prevent it going off as long as this layer is not broken.
Jelly stock will last at several weeks in the fridge. If a few mold spots form on the surface just wipe them off, no problem. Store half of the stock in the freezer until needed if you do not think you will get through it quickly enough.
Your finished stock can also be heated gently again to reduce by half of more to create a super concentrated jelly (a fumet or demi-glace in culinary parlance) to use in sauces or to save space in the freezer.
About the author:
Stefan is an expert healthcare professional specialising in Oriental Medicine, dietary therapy, breath coaching and meditation training. He also has a particular interest in fascia and its relationship to bodywork. He is founder of New Medicine Group, a team of experts in London’s Harley Street that specialise in treating patients with complex and chronic conditions. He has been cooking for 40 years and won the TV series Restaurant in Your Living room in 2010 with his wife Bonny and their ‘food as medicine’ concept. He is currently completing a series of cookbooks and developing a television concept.
He can be contacted at email@example.com
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I have recently gone back to making stock from bones, but have been trying to simmer it for just a couple of hours and remember to turn it off, not leave it for a long time, in order to minimise Advanced Glycation Endproducts from prolonged cooking. I notice you recommend six hours or so to get maximum benefit from the ingredients – but what about the AGE problem? Is the answer that not too many form if you can keep the liquid down to a simmer?
Hi Sarah – AGE’s seem to be a potential issue more for dry cooking. As stick involves a lot of liquid by definition, and at a low heat, this should be ok.