Man , I love a mean broth. But what is a broth? Is it the same thing as a stock? How is it better for my budget? Do you use vegetables, bones or meat? And why is it healthy?
You can feel the chill in the air already. The icy evening winds whipping at your buttoned up coat. These are always the moments when I feel nostalgic. This time my memories take me back to my papa’s lamb broth, served with fresh julienne ginger, soft lamb slivers poached in the broth and served with steamed rice and a dipping sauce with chilli bean paste.
This was such a simple, nutrient-rich and humble dish, I remember watching my papa slice the lamb bits off the bone. He’d sharpen the knife on the wet stone before, carefully slicing thin pieces, with such practiced technique. The bone and bits of leftover meat and fat went straight into a pot of boiling hot water, and he used the simmering water to quickly and gently poach the lamb.
Comfort food — I wanted to replicate this and maybe up the ante a bit.
This memory became the introduction to my current broth-making addiction. But what exactly is a broth? Broths don’t seem to be as commercially available or even spoken-of much in South Africa, but it’s basically a young stock enjoyed as soup base and that’s something anyone can love in winter. There are several debates on this topic, and after thorough research … this is what I found to be the difference between a stock and a broth.
Stock vs Broth (body vs flavour)
A broth doesn’t necessarily contain bones, and it doesn’t require hours to make. It’s an elixir of concentrated vegetables and meat (which is what makes it so rich and hearty), bones can always be added to extract more flavour. Stock, on the other hand, is made up of water, bones with connective tissue and vegetables, boiled together over several hours. This gentle heating process extracts gelatin from the bones and gives the stock a gelatinous (jelly-like) consistency when it’s cooled. A large amount of bones gives a stock a lovely body, but less flavour than a broth that uses bits of meat.
Why make broth this winter?
Your body will thank you
Bone broth is a fine source of natural minerals and contains just the right ingredients to improve your digestion and boost your immune system (think about it, it’s chicken soup for the soul and best when you’re sick). It’s high in calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus content, which is great for bone and teeth health.
In addition, it supports joints, hair, skin and nails, owing to its high collagen content. This pretty much makes it the perfect winter drink. But let’s not simply drink it.
Your budget will also thank you
Now in South Africa, you can’t deny that our economic situation isn’t affecting our lifestyles with the increase of food prices. Enter the rise of Asian-style cooking.
This method of cooking originates from humble backgrounds of making do with what resources you have available to you. Think of it as sustainable cooking, the perfect opportunity to bring out all your bits and pieces of left over vegetables (only if their flavours pair well together, of course).
When preparing vegetables I usually chop off the hard ends and keep it in the fridge for broth-making day once a week, and keep a good 2 kg or more of bones in the freezer. Just pop into your local butchery or supermarket and ask for the bones, they keep them around the back — you’ll be amazed how affordable they are. Last I checked, beef bones are around R13 per kg. Or keep the bones the next time you debone meat.
Your basics in broth making
What goes in it?
Your most common vegetable base is ‘mirepoix’ (pronounced meer-pwah), which is a combination of chopped carrots, celery and onions. Together, they’re used to add flavour and aroma to stocks, sauces, soups and other dishes. I also like to add these veggies: leek, Chinese napa cabbage, turnip, fresh fennel, ginger, garlic, cloves, peppercorns and a bunch of thyme, bay leaves and Italian parsley.
How do I prep it?
There are no real tricks to making a broth, just ways to make it so much better. You could just pop the raw bones into the water, but I prefer to braise bones with the bits of meat before letting them boil away, I find this caramelises the flavour, takes away the sharpness of the raw bones and gives the broth a deeper, richer colour. I also like to braise some aromatics like garlic and leek and char earthy, pungent ingredients like ginger and fennel.
For how long?
The earliest I’d drain a broth is probably when the vegetables and bones with bits of meat have been simmering for an hour. But the longer you leave it – the more complex the flavour. My usual broths go between three to six hours.
How do I strain it?
Once you’re ready to pour the broth out, you’ll need to strain it through a sieve — that’s only if your broth hasn’t been simmering away for so long that your vegetables have turned to mush. I would recommend getting some muslin cloth, also known as cheese cloth — it’s one of the items that help make a broth super clear with no tidbits of vegetables floating around.
The best ways to enjoy your broth
The beauty in broth is of course its versatility. These are my favourite ways of putting my weekly broth making to dinner and lunch time use:
- Use the broth to blanche and serve with vegetables.
- Add cooked noodles or grains like barely, rice.
- Use the broth to cook pieces of meat like a Vietnamese pho.
- Serve the broth as a clear soup in a double shot size as a drink with a meal.
I genuinely hope this breakdown in broth-making has inspired you to take on a more sustainable approach to your cooking and that, in the long run, your meals will be quicker to prepare, more nourishing for the body and kinder to those pinched grocery budgets.