All photos by Brian Petro.
Fad diets are nothing new. Every five years or so, a nutrition expert (or a nutritionist with very good marketing) states they have found the way to lose weight through an obscure or unique diet. We all remember the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, grapefruit (or other citrus) diet, eating lots of cabbage soup, drinking lots and lots of Slim Fast, taking diet pills, Deal-A-Meal, and dozens of other “sure fire” ways for people drop those stubborn pounds. The one we have seen the most of in the last five years is the Paleolithic (Paleo) diet. This diet is supposed to replicate what humans ate before we settled down and developed agriculture, cities and coffee shops. Since we were not staying in one place very long, hunting and gathering was the norm for the day. What was captured was used in as many ways as could be invented. Most beverages, like dairy, processed beverages, coffee and alcohol are banished from the Paleo and other fad diets. However, one beverage that has been around since the days of hunting and gathering has made its way back to the mainstream: bone broth.
Bone broth has been re-popularized because of health reasons. Once it landed back on menus, it did not take long for experimental bartenders to experiment with it in cocktails. With good reason; stock has been in cocktails since the Bloody Bulls of the mid-1950s. It became popular then for the same reason it is popular now; it is full of health benefits! Beef bullion was mixed in with the tomato juice, or sometimes completely substituted for it. These rich drinks had their day, then faded into obscurity. It is possible they resurfaced during the Bloody Mary craze of the 1980s, but it never came back to where it was during the era of Elvis, Marilyn and cars with fins.
The bones that you use matter. You want to find high quality bones for whatever type you are going to make. Organic, well raised animals are going to make a healthier, better tasting broth. Having a mix of bones is better than all one type. The bones of different animals will work and create different flavors for you to experiment with. One thing to keep in mind when combining the bones of different animals: larger bones take longer to break down. To get all the delicious flavor out of cow or veal bones is going to take much longer than getting it out of a chicken carcass. The chicken bones will start to break down when paired with bones that are thicker, so make sure you strain everything carefully. Even if you are going with the bones of one large animal, use a mix. Joint bones and supportive bones offer different flavors to your broth. Both are available at the butcher if you have to buy them, or possibly for free from farmers or other local resources. Of course, free bones may not be the best bones, which brings you full circle to making sure you have the best bones.
There is a reason that bone broth, in a variety of forms, has been around for such a long time. It is incredibly simple to make. Well, in theory it is. All you need is the bones from an animal, water, and a heat source, and you can make some bone broth. Sounds pretty simple, right? Long ago, before we had vast amounts of science on our side, that would be all you needed. There have been several advances in what we know about food over the centuries. We have much more control over how our broth comes out now than we had in the past. There are many, many opinions on how to make a proper bone broth. Everything from watery and thin to thick and gelatinous has its defenders and its detractors, but let’s just start with making the broth.
How to make bone broth
After several experiments, here are some of the best tips I found for making bone broth:
- Blanch the bones before you do anything else. Put them in just enough cold water to cover them on the stove, then bring it to a boil. This should be enough to get rid of all the loose bits and excess fat that would normally float to the top while you are cooking. Most recipes will have you skim this off the top as you make the broth. This step prevents all that maintenance.
- Roast the bones. This will help release more flavor when they go in for the long haul. This step can take up to a half an hour at 450 ˚F, depending on the thickness of the bones. If you want to add vegetables to the roasting pan you can, just don’t roast them with the bones the entire time. Add them for the last fifteen to twenty minutes.
- Use a crock pot to make the broth. The heat is easier to manage, as it stays consistent. There are usually just a few settings on a crock pot: Low, High, maybe Warm and Off. Put the bones in, then add about ten cups of water for every two to three pounds of bones. Kick it on low and let it do its thing. This will ensure that the water never boils (which is good, especially if you want to clarify it) and there are no worries about ovens having issues and burning the house down (also good).
Add a little salt. Some people will yell about this, but do it anyway.
- If you want a thicker bone broth, add some acid as well. Apple cider vinegar is popular, but so is lemon juice. If there is going to be residual flavor, I prefer the lemon juice. If you are going with the quantities above, use one half tablespoon.
- Let it sit there for as long as you want. The longer you do, the more flavor you are breaking out of those bones. Beef bones can handle 48 hours of heat and water. More delicate bones, like any poultry, will start to break down at around eighteen hours. As it is cooking, the aroma will permeate the house.
- In the home stretch (the last five or six hours of cooking), add any vegetable scraps or aromatics that you want. Bone broth on its own is fine, but some creators want to add a little something extra. Like anything else, the more specific you get with the flavor you add, the fewer cocktails you can add it to.
- After you have turned off the heat and let it cool, strain it a few times through cheese cloth and a fine mesh strainer to get out all of the solids. If you blanched the bones, it should be mainly fat and any herbs and vegetables that you added.
- If you are looking to clarify the broth a little (who does not like clearer ingredients in their cocktails?), the best time to do it is after you strain out the solids but before it is completely cool. I have found several different techniques for clarifying stock, most using egg whites, but none of them would work for me. This is not uncommon. As I combed through comments, many people had similar issues clarifying their broth.
- Pour the cooled broth into a container and then put in the refrigerator until it is well chilled. This will separate out more of the fat and cause it to rise to the top. This excess fat is then easy to skim off and either save for other cooking purposes or dispose.
At this point, you have a delicious bone broth. If you used the ten cups of water and two pounds of bone recipe, you’ll create about eight cups. Separate this into several containers, and store what you want to use in the fridge and what you are not going to use in the freezer. Refrigerated, it lasts about a week. In the freezer, it can hold for up to six months.
Bone broth drinks
Now, we can start making cocktails! Base bone broth adds two things to a cocktail: umami and mouthfeel. The umami comes from the salty, fatty richness that is extracted from the bones. The mouthfeel comes from the gelatin that was holding together the joint bones, if you used them. You will not have the same texture if you just used non-joint bones due to the small amount of gelatin found in those types. When I started experimenting, playing with the thickness of the broth was an option. Adding it to tomato juice is a natural fit; the sweetness of the tomatoes matches many savory flavors. Reaching for a peaty scotch or smoky mezcal is also a natural fit, as many other bartenders have discovered. While playing off the base of a Margarita, this cocktail sprang forth:
- 1.5 oz. / 45 mL mezcal (such as Montelobos or Mezcales de Leyenda Oaxaca, silver medal winner in the 2017 Berlin International Spirits Competition)
- .5 oz. / 15 mL bone broth
- .5 oz. / 15 mL agave nectar
- 2 oz. / 60 mL orange juice
Garnish: Orange zest
Pour all of the ingredients into a mixing tin over ice. Shake well for 20 – 30 seconds, then strain into the rocks glass over fresh ice. Express the orange zest over the drink, then add it to the cocktail.
Orange is a great flavor that goes with smoke. The bone broth sits patiently in the back of the cocktail, enhancing the rest of the flavors while adding a solid backbone.
The broth I made did not have a thick viscosity, but there was a little extra richness to it. Using it to replace the egg white in a cocktail became part of the experimentation for the ingredient, and led to some interesting results. It was not the Whiskey Sour variation that was surprising; bourbon and beef have been a delightful combination since bourbon was distilled in the 19th century. It was when I started with a Ramos Gin Fizz and tinkered with it.
- 1.5 oz. / 45 mL gin (such as Langley’s No. 8, double gold winner in the 2016 NY International Spirits Competition)
- .5 oz. / 15 mL simple syrup
- .5 oz. / 15 mL fresh lemon juice
- .5 oz. / 15 mL fresh lime juice
- .75 oz. / 23 mL bone broth
- 3 drops orange flower water
- 1 oz. / 30 mL soda water
Pour all of the ingredients except the soda water into a mixing tin over ice. Shake well for up to a minute. Strain the mix into the rocks glass, then add the soda water into the cocktail. Stir gently, then serve.
The omission of the milk or cream was intentional. There are some amazing and delicate flavors occurring, and the milk buried all of them. You get the wonderful texture from the bone broth alone. The milk or cream also did not really do much to help out the creamy, foamy head either, so it was scrapped to allow all of the citrus glory to come through.
Making a bone broth takes time and patience. It is an amazing base for experimentation with a variety of herbs and vegetable scraps to enhance the rich flavors inherent to the ingredient. It is a far more versatile ingredient than you might expect, fitting equally well into a savory Bloody Mary as it does in a floral and citrusy Ramos Gin Fizz variant. It is too bad that people on the Paleo diet, or our ancient ancestors, did not have alcohol to go with their bone broth. It makes a tasty cocktail.