Maimonides’ Medicine: Bone Broth
2 to 2 ½ quarts
active: 30 min
total: Over Night
In food trend-susceptible New York City, an unlikely dish is taking its place alongside the metropolis’ most in-demand treats of macarons, cupcakes and Cronuts: the humble bone broth. A long-simmered concoction of animal bones, water and not much else, bone broth’s Big Apple profile began to rise late in 2014, when lauded Italian chef Marco Canora launched Brodo, a bone broth-only takeaway shop in the East Village that quickly drew long lines of New Yorkers eager to hand over $10 for a 16-ounce cup of broth. A collagen-rich brew purported to strengthen hair and nails, boost skin’s dewiness and reduce inflammation in the body, bone broth ascended to the level of a bonafide trend when copycat soup-slingers set up shop not only in New York but in L.A., London and other cities, as well.
Here’s the thing, though: While 20-something urbanites looking to fabulous-ify from the inside out are just coming around to bone broth, Jews have known about soup’s healing power for ages. Which one of us, when feeling under the weather at this time of year, hasn’t whipped up a chicken- (and chicken bone-) heavy pot of noodle soup? The sniffle-easing practice, usually inspired by a mother’s or a great-grandmother’s cherished recipe, has likely been passed down through dozens of generations and at least as far back as the 12th century, when the famous Jewish physician Moses Maimonides recommended chicken soup as “an excellent food as well as medication.” Colloquially known as “Jewish penicillin,” chicken soup’s appeal lies not only in its pure deliciousness, but, for many home cooks, in its potential to soothe a cold (the dish even has an entry on drugs.com).
Which brings us right back to the seemingly sudden rise of bone broth. Sanctified as a cure-all by chef Canora, a former heavy drinker and smoker who, by his own account, made himself ill with his round-the-clock chef lifestyle—and then cured himself by drinking broth—the hot liquid is also a major part of the so-called Paleo diet, a meat, nut and berry-heavy regimen whose proponents believe that the diet’s high levels of protein and low levels of processed food better mimics our ancestors’ way of eating and is therefore much easier to digest. Because early man wasn’t in the position to waste a single morsel of food, Paleo-ites claim, they would have made long-cooked broths from the bones of any animals they ate once they stripped the hides and ate the meat. The Paleo diet (redux) has been around since the 1970s, when gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin advanced the regimen’s easy digestibility, it was revived in 2013 when several Paleo guides and cookbooks were published and became best sellers. With the diet’s rise in 2013 and 2014’s opening of Brodo, eaters around the country, and the world, began to hear about — and latch onto — the cult of health surrounding bone broth.
While proponents (and vendors) of the elixir tout a wide-ranging list of benefits from higher energy levels to shinier hair to increased absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, the verdict on bone broth’s demonstrable health effects is still out: last year, scientists told NPR’s “The Salt” that the laundry list of broth’s positive effects is “probably overblown.” On the other hand, a number of recent studies have demonstrated that chicken soup specifically — the “penicillin” that we Jews have known about since forever — has measurably positive effects on cold symptoms, increasing hydration, boosting the body’s anti-inflammatory processes and increasing the movement of nasal fluids. While ultra-trendy bone broth might not be a long-term cure-all, like chicken noodle soup, it certainly makes a nourishing and comforting meal when you’re feeling under the weather.
It’s also darn tasty: typically made by roasting bones to break down their nutrients even further before bathing them in liquid, the caramelization that this process lends the meat results in a deeply savory, umami-rich broth that’s wholly unlike the tinny, salty broth you find on supermarket shelves. Sippable as-is or as a spectacular base for a flavorful winter soup or stew, bone broth is well worth making at home. Here’s how.