Friday, February 3, 2012

Dem bones, dem bones, dem soup bones...

I've been thinking a lot about bones lately... not bones as detritus, but the magical gifts they hold with their exceptional nutritional value, decorative use, and historical use as tools.

Bone House Fence and Gate Bone Details

There's even a Bone House (thanks to the tip from Gaias Daughter) using bones as architectural details! Regardless of their decorative appeal and usage as tools, bones also hold significant nutritional value.

Too many people throw away the bones from whatever meat they ate, whether the chicken carcass, their steak bone, or the pork chop bone. Yet those bones actually hold more nutrition than the meat eaten off those bones!
Nutrient-dense stock is chock full of minerals that every body needs, not the least of which is calcium, but also magnesium, phosphorus, and trace minerals. Our bodies easily absorb the minerals and amino acids from good stock or broth used in soups, stews and sauces. They also help us to efficiently utilize protein. Nutrient-dense stock has been indicated in helping to heal rheumatoid arthritis, gastritis, colitis, Crohn's disease, allergies, and other digestive and bone disorders. 

The silky-smooth, wobbly gelatinous stock from bones has been an essential ingredient in savory foods, preferred by cooks all over the world for centuries. (You don't really want to know how they hydrolyse the bones to make the commercial broths sold in grocery stores.)

It takes very little except time to release those goodies from the bones: cover with water, add a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice or vinegar; cover and let sit for an hour for the acids in the vinegar to start work on the bones, then simmer long and slow. The vinegar or lemon juice taste will cook off, and leave the bone minerals behind in the broth. I use about 6-8 quarts of water to 2 or more pounds of bones, simmered down to about half the volume when finished. Bones from younger animals give up their goodies quicker... like a fryer chicken vs an old stewing hen, although the old hen will have more collagen and flavor. 

The other great thing bones give us is the gelatin that cooks out of the joints and connective tissue (collagen) with long, slow cooking. This gelatin contains chondriton and glucosamine, which help lubricate our joints, and build strong bones. Keep in mind, though, that overcooking (like more than 12 hours) will break down all that lovely gelatin. I enhance the gelatin content when I am cooking bones by adding chicken feet if I have them, or pig trotters, and often make Fergus Henderson's Trotter Gear just to have some little jars in the freezer to give body and a nutritional boost to a sauce, soup or stew. 

Marrow Bones, photo by Allerina & Glen MacLarty

Roasted Marrow Bones, photo by rvacapinta

I participate in a chatty thread (on a gardening site) that discuss foods and recipes, and recently we talked about the dearth of marrow bones in this country. Some thoughts included ➀ many younger Americans don't know what to do with marrow bones, ➁ there's a big ag market for bone meal, and ➂ we now buy more boneless rather than bone-in cuts than previous generations. We all agreed it is hard to find marrow bones in most markets.

I don't think I've ever had the pleasure of scooping marrow out of a roasted bone; it isn't part of my culture like it is across the pond. Who knew there are marrow spoons??

As far as where the bones from the slaughter houses go, I can attest to both #1 and #2 above. I know the tri-county meat packing house near here sells the bones, as well as the offal, hides, horns, hoofs and other scraps. I'm sure the soft tissue waste goes into pet foods, and I'm inclined to think the other stuff is sold to make commercial gelatin and bone meal. I don't even like to think about it!

On the healthy side, whatever kind of bones you have, you are missing a very nutritious addition to your diet if you don't cook them down for yummy homemade stock!


  1. We all have heard of using everything but the squeal of the pig. I cannot imagine NOT making stock out of the bones of every critter I raise, buy, catch, or steal.

    Lamb stock as a base for rice is positively scrumptious. What else can you do with 4 or 5 year old laying hens. Darn sure not going to make a fried chicken dinner! Even the dog is not interested...maybe because he recognizes an old friend, LOL.

    Mostly it is a matter of being self reliant and frugal for me. I spent my time and money raising high quality critters for the table, darn sure I want to get the last possible return on my investment.


  2. Winston, thanks for the reminder about lamb stock. I have none in the pantry but I DO have some lamb shanks in the freezer!

    I saw chicken feet in the Asian grocery today (100 miles away) but opted for trotters instead since my last batches of chic stock had feet cooked in them. I needed the trotters since I'm almost out of Trotter Gear!

  3. I remember eating the marrow out of the bones of round steak when I was a kid. (My mom would cook round steak w/the bone in it similar to a roast in the oven w/veggies.) Since the bone was "open", it was easy to get it out and it tasted really good! When we were really little we'd have to have some kind of "draw" to see which one of us 4 kids would get it!

    Leah's Mom (aka - Sue)

  4. do you ever use ACV instead of lemon juice??

  5. Actually the bag of pork bones I just cooked for stock were soaked in a cup of straight ACV for 24 hours, then rinsed before roasting. Amazing, and NO vinegar taste. I plan a detailed post on that technique for pork soon.


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