March 30, 2013

My chicken feet and bone broth. . .

This post is also for Kristi and for anyone else interested in what exactly is in this broth I think is miraculous.  To give credit where credit is due, the original recipe for it is from Rubin and Brasco's book "Restoring Your Digestive Health".  I started out following the original recipe, but over time, I've developed my own method so that's what I'll share.  

For the most part, I wing this one now too.  If you don't feel comfortable winging it, buy the book and follow their specific instructions.  :)

a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
1 whole chicken or carcass - I use what happens to be available at Greenmarket (a.k.a. our local farmers market), what I have on hand, and/or what I simply feel like using given the situation of the day
chicken organs (if available)
2-4 chicken feet (if using a carcass, I'll use 4; if using a whole chicken, I'll use 3; I'll only use 2 if my stash is running low)
several spoonfuls of coconut oil 
4-5 inch long piece of ginger root
2-3 onions
the equivalent of ~6 medium sized carrots
5-6 big cloves of garlic
1 bunch of celery
2 zucchini squash

NOTE:  I believe very deeply in eating organic foods as much as possible.  All of the ingredients I use besides the apple cider vinegar and ginger root are organic. I also believe very deeply that if one is going to eat animals and animal products, that every attempt should be made to ensure the animals that had their lives taken were at least treated humanely while alive.  As an aside, I also believe that those animals are healthier and, in turn, better for OUR health if we are going to eat them.


I've learned that roasting the chicken first adds a very nice flavor to the broth.  A huge bonus is that we can eat the chicken for a meal, and there's still plenty left to make great broth.  At first, I followed the recipe instructions and was putting a whole, raw chicken into the soup pot, but it just seemed like a very inefficient use of the chicken.  I buy my chickens at the Greenmarket.  They're not given drugs, they're free-range, they're well-fed, they're treated humanely, they're healthy.  The roasting chickens also happen to be quite expensive.  Roasting chickens are the best because you get a great meal out of the chicken, but the farmer will sometimes have available inexpensive stewing chickens (meat would be too tough to eat) and/or inexpensive carcasses that can be used for making the broth.  I don't think a purchased carcass gives the broth the same flavor as a whole stewing chicken or the carcass that's left over from a roasted chicken (maybe too many bones missing??), but I try to keep a couple carcasses on hand in the freezer because they're easy to use and they don't take up too much room.

So. . . I will roast a roasting or stewing chicken at 375F until it's done.  If it's a roasting chicken, we eat the meat we want as part of a meal and then use whatever is left for the broth.  If it's a stewing chicken, I use the entire bird for the broth.  I typically don't roast a purchased carcass first, but that's because if I'm using one of them it's typically because I'm short on time anyway.  Ideally, I think I'd roast that first too though.

To prepare the chicken feet, I bring a pot of water to a boil, and then I boil the feet for about 5 minutes.  I'm not sure what that actually does, but I've read in several places to do it, so I do.  I assume it kills any germs that may be in the foot crevices since I'm guessing chickens don't spend a lot of time making sure to avoid stepping in their own and their buddies' poop.  It also seems to release any stray feathers or other things you probably don't want in your broth.  I've also read about cutting off the toes at the first knuckle and removing the skin.  Initially, I did those things, but I don't anymore.  I've learned that after a couple hours of cooking, the feet become so tender that all you need to do is use any old utensil to press the toes against the side of the pot and break them apart.  I also don't really know why you'd need to skin them.  It seems to me that the skin must offer even more collagen that we want in the final broth, and again, after a couple hours of cooking, it easily falls right off.  And besides all of that, the process of cutting off all of the toes and skinning the feet is not a particularly pleasant one.  Boiled chicken feet smell - and not very good.  Cutting off the toes isn't so much of a problem, but skinning those feet really seems to release their odor.  Take my advice - just don't worry about it.

While all of the above is happening, I leave the organs sitting on a plate waiting patiently.  If I were using a typical grocery-store chicken, I would NOT use the organs.  Actually, I don't think I would make this with a typical grocery-store chicken at all because of the treatment-of-the-chickens issue, but if that's all you have available to you, I would never recommend using the organs because of the level of toxins potentially concentrated in them.  

By this time, all of my veggies have at some point been chopped.  For efficiency's sake, I will often chop all of the veggies the night before and keep them overnight in a huge mixing bowl in the refrigerator.  Don't worry about how they look!  It doesn't matter!  These days, I don't even wash any of the vegetables.  They're all organic, so I know they don't have any toxic chemicals on them.  And any bacteria and such will be destroyed during the cooking process.  If I weren't using organic for some reason, I would either scrub the hell out of them or peel them all.  It takes a while to chop this many vegetables.  My friend and neighbor says that a big food processor can do the job quickly, but I don't have one and I don't have interest in buying one.  Oh well.  Anyway, I expedite the process as much as I can.  For the celery, I don't even break the stalks apart.  I just put the entire bunch on the cutting board and start slicing them all at once, leaves and all.  For the carrots, I don't peel them.  I just cut them in half or fourths lengthwise (depending on how fat they are) and then slice them up.  Really, it doesn't matter.  Just get everything cut up into pieces however is most convenient.  

The original recipe calls for grating the ginger root.  The first couple of times, I painstakingly peeled the ginger root and then grated it.  Now I don't even peel it.  I just score the outside and cut the root up into as many small pieces as I reasonably can.

So finally we're ready to get the broth started!

I put the chicken feet and the chicken into a soup pot and cover them up with water.  Then I pour in a little bit of apple cider vinegar.  Apparently, when the bones soak in vinegar, they more readily break down and will release more minerals and collagen/gelatin.  I've read to soak them anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour.  I usually soak on the low end simply because I can only plan to stay awake and work on this for so many hours in one day!

After 10-15 minutes of soaking, I add in the organs, all of the vegetables, and several spoonfuls of coconut oil (which is supposed to have "amazing" health benefits).  I add enough water to cover it all.  (The original recipe calls for 3 quarts of water; I measured it out at first, but especially since I use the same pot every time, I know to simply fill mine up to the tippy top.)  Time to bring it to boil for a minute or so.  I don't know for certain, but I'm guessing that the reasoning is the same as with the yogurt - to kill any bacteria that may be lurking around.  And then it simmers for about 12 hours.  The original recipe calls for it to simmer for 12-24 hours, but I don't feel comfortable leaving the burner on when we're sleeping, so I usually only get 12 hours in.  I've read that some people put it in a crock pot so it can cook longer and when no one is at home, but I haven't tried that yet.

During the next 12 hours, I stir the pot every once in a while.  After a couple of hours, as I mentioned above, I easily with any utensil cut the toes into pieces, leaving the claws right there in the pot.  I also start stripping skin off and maybe cutting the organs into a few pieces.  Several hours in, I start fishing bones out and breaking them into pieces.  THIS IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE PROCESS!  Look at the picture below.  Do you see all of that bone marrow?!  It's very healthy!  The more you can pull out and into the broth, the better!  I break the little bones as well as the big ones, and if I find a lot of marrow, I might try splitting the bone down the side and scraping out as much as I can.

After 12 hours, I have a pot of "something" that smells awesome but that, truthfully, doesn't look all that appetizing.  The veggies are super squishy, claws and swaths of skin are floating about, and feet are shriveled balls.

The original recipe calls for removing the bones and feet and eating the rest as soup.  So the first two times I made this, that is what I did.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Do you have any idea how long it takes to try picking out everything that isn't edible after it's all been cooking for SO long?!  (Of course, it was a little bit easier than it would be now because the original recipe doesn't call for breaking apart the toes or bones and it doesn't specifically call for the organs, but it was still QUITE a process.)  So pretty quickly, I decided that wasn't going to work for me.  What DOES work for me is to strain the soup, throw away all of the solids, and save the broth.  I store it in various sized glass food containers, putting some of them in the refrigerator and some of them in the freezer.

The fat will separate and settle into a thick layer at the top.  I do not, would not, could not ever throw this part of the broth away.

And ta-DA!  Every day, at least once a day, I put some of the broth in a mug, heat it up, and drink it just like a cup of tea!  Delicious!  Nutritious!  Soothing!  Energizing!  HEALING!!


UPDATED:  What a silly girl I am!  I almost always make my broth on Sunday, and timing is critical.  Everything needs to be done before we start the work and school week on Monday morning.  This weekend, though, I started it on Saturday.  I was able to cook it all day, put it in the refrigerator overnight, and cook it for several more hours when I got up.  So I guess that's one way to get in more than 12 hours of cooking time without leaving the stovetop on all night or using the crock pot!

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