A lamentable outcome of our modern meat processing techniques and our hurry-up, throwaway lifestyle has been a decline in the use of meat, chicken and fish stocks. In days gone by, when the butcher sold meat on the bone rather than as individual filets and whole chickens rather than boneless breasts, our thrifty ancestors made use of every part of the animal by preparing stock, broth or bouillon from the bony portions.
Meat and fish stocks are used almost universally in traditional cuisines—French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, African, South American, Middle Eastern and Russian; but the use of homemade meat broths to produce nourishing and flavorful soups and sauces has almost completely disappeared from the American culinary tradition.
Properly prepared, meat stocks are extremely nutritious, containing the minerals of bone, cartilage, marrow and vegetables as electrolytes, a form that is easy to assimilate. Acidic wine or vinegar added during cooking helps to draw minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium and potassium, into the broth. Dr. Francis Pottenger, author of the famous cat studies as well as articles on the benefits of gelatin in broth, taught that the stockpot was the most important piece of equipment to have in one’s kitchen.
It was Dr. Pottenger who pointed out that stock is also of great value because it supplies hydrophilic colloids to the diet. Raw food compounds are colloidal and tend to be hydrophilic, meaning that they attract liquids. Thus when we eat a salad or some other raw food, the hydrophilic colloids attract digestive juices for rapid and effective digestion. Colloids that have been heated are generally hydrophobic—they repel liquids, making cooked foods harder to digest. However, the proteinaceous gelatin in meat broths has the unusual property of attracting liquids—it is hydrophilic—even after it has been heated. The same property by which gelatin attracts water to form desserts, like Jello, allows it to attract digestive juices to the surface of cooked food particles.
The public is generally unaware of the large amount of research on the beneficial effects of gelatin taken with food. Gelatin acts first and foremost as an aid to digestion and has been used successfully in the treatment of many intestinal disorders, including hyperacidity, colitis and Crohn’s disease. Although gelatin is by no means a complete protein, containing only the amino acids arginine and glycine in large amounts, it acts as a protein sparer, allowing the body to more fully utilize the complete proteins that are taken in. Thus, gelatin-rich broths are a must for those who cannot afford large amounts of meat in their diets. Gelatin also seems to be of use in the treatment of many chronic disorders, including anemia and other diseases of the blood, diabetes, muscular dystrophy and even cancer.
Other important ingredients that go into broth are the components of cartilage, which recently have been used with remarkable results in the treatment of cancer and bone disorders, and of collagen, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments.
In folk wisdom, rich chicken broth—the famous Jewish penicillin—is a valued remedy for the flu. The 12th-century physician Moses Maimonides prescribed chicken broth as a treatment for colds and asthma. Modern research has confirmed that broth helps prevent and mitigate infectious diseases. The wise food provider, who uses gelatin-rich broth on a daily or frequent basis, provides continuous protection from many health problems.
Another traditional belief is that fish head broth contributes to virility. Fish stock, made from the carcasses and heads of fish, is especially rich in minerals including all-important iodine. Even more important, stock made from the heads, and therefore the thyroid glands of the fish, supplies thyroid hormone and other substances that nourish the thyroid gland. Four thousand years ago, Chinese doctors rejuvenated aging patients with a soup made from the thyroid glands of animals. According to ancient texts, this treatment helped patients feel younger, gave them more energy and often restored mental abilities. During the reign of Queen Victoria, prominent London physicians prescribed special raw thyroid sandwiches to failing patients. Very few of us could eat such fare with relish, but soups and sauces made from fish broth are absolutely delicious—a remedy that no convalescent could refuse. According to some researchers, at least 40% of all Americans suffer from a deficiency of the thyroid gland with its accompanying symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, frequent colds and flu, inability to concentrate, depression and a host of more serious complications like heart disease and cancer. We would do well do imitate our brothers from the Mediterranean and Asian regions by including fish broth in the diet as often as possible.
The wonderful thing about fish and meat stocks is that, along with conferring many health benefits, they also add immeasurably to the flavor of our food. In European cuisines, rich stocks form the basis of those exquisite, clear, thick, smooth, satisfying and beautifully flavored sauces that seem to be produced by magic. The magic is in the stock, made from scratch with as much care and attention to detail as the final dish. Those who have had the privilege of visiting the kitchens of fine restaurants in France have observed pots of pale broth simmering on the back burners of huge cookstoves. When this insipid-looking liquid is enriched with herbs or wine and reduced by boiling down, the effects of the gelatin and flavors of meat and bone become concentrated. The result is a wonderful sauce, both nutritious and delicious. It is worth taking time and putting effort into making meat stocks on a regular basis. Your family will gain innumerable health benefits, and you will earn a reputation of an excellent cook.
The test of whether your stock contains liberal amounts of gelatin is carried out by chilling the broth. It should thicken, even to the point of jelling completely, when refrigerated. If your broth is still runny when chilled, you may add a little powdered gelatin (see Sources) to thicken it. Bear in mind, however, that some people have reactions to commercially prepared gelatin, which will contain small amounts of free glutamic acid, similar to MSG. Your stock will also thicken more when it is reduced by boiling down.
Stock can be made in bulk and stored until needed. Clear stock will keep about five days in the refrigerator, longer if reboiled, and several months in the freezer. You may find it useful to store stock in pint-sized or quart-sized containers in order to have appropriate amounts on hand for sauces and stews. If space is at a premium in your freezer, you can reduce the stock by boiling down for several hours until it becomes very concentrated and syrupy. This reduced, concentrated stock—called fumée or demi-glace—can be stored in small containers or zip-lock bags. Frozen fumée in zip-lock bags is easily thawed by putting the bags under hot running water. Add water to thawed fumée to turn it back into stock. Be sure to mark the kind of stock or fumée you are storing with little stick-on labels—they all look alike when frozen.
Copyright: From: Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD. Copyright © 1999. All Rights Reserved.