By Cinda Chavich

My grandmother always said good soup should have eyes.

I remember those little bubbles glistening in my bowl of chicken soup, the “eyes” that were left floating on the surface of the golden broth after the rest of the chicken fat had been skimmed away.

Soup was a Sunday ritual. We ate Grandma’s chicken soup, filled with her hand-cut egg noodles, before the rest of the broth’s integral components arrived on the table — a platter of the tender chicken, carrots and parsnips was always presented next, pot-au-feu style, with creamy dill sauce on the side. A one-pot family meal.

Chicken soup is still my idea of perfect comfort food. Rich meaty stock, or what’s more recently been dubbed “bone broth,” is one of those simple, healthy, restorative (and delicious) things that anyone can make at home. I rarely start with a stewing hen like my grandmother did, but we never roast a chicken or turkey without saving the bones to create a tasty broth.

Old-Fashioned is On-Trend

It’s a tradition in every culture, a must in every chef’s kitchen — bones are roasted with aromatics like onions, garlic and herbs, then simmered for hours to squeeze out every last drop of flavour. Chicken bones are often the base for bone broths, but in Asian cultures pork bones are included in the gingery broths for big bowls of Vietnamese pho or Japanese ramen. And when it’s British beef-and-barley soup or Scotch broth, the bones are beef or lamb.

So what’s the difference between soup stock and what’s now called “bone broth”?

Not much, says Hayley Rosenberg, creator of Victoria’s first bone-broth bar. Belly up to her takeout bar in her new Nourish in the Harbour location for a steamy mug of broth in several flavours.

“People are coming in for an Americano or a bone broth in the morning — a jolt of caffeine or nourishment,” says Rosenberg. “Essentially it’s old-fashioned chicken soup.”

Nourish makes flavourful broths with organic and ethically raised meats and vegetables. From regular chicken broth to their Garden Herb (beef or chicken), Chicken Chai or Tamari Cure (beef or chicken), there are several soothing soups to try. They serve them by the mug or the bowl, with zucchini noodles or grains.

The bone-broth trend began with Brodo, a popular takeout window selling mugs of steamy soup in New York. Now bone=broth bars are popping up across North America, from Portland’s Broth Bar and Cultured Caveman to Vancouver’s Home on the Range Organics.

Broth as a Health Booster
Chicken soup — a.k.a. “Jewish penicillin” — has long been known for its health-giving properties, but rebranded bone broth is the new nectar of the holistic gods, touted as a healing food, nutritional supplement and sports drink for Paleo Diet fans, athletes and celebrities. Broth boosters note that the simple act of simmering bones for hours releases a boatload of nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and collagen. Science now confirms that these nutritional goodies from broth are easily assimilated, and can help fight colds, reduce inflammation, smooth skin, boost energy and even curb overeating.

“Bone broth is rich in vitamins, calcium and minerals, nutrition that’s bio-available,” says Rosenberg.

Whole food advocates Sally Fallon Morell and Kaala Daniel’s new book, Nourishing Broth: An Old-Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World, says it all. A richly simmered broth offers us everything that our fast-food world simply cannot — healthy, homey, nutrient-dense, slow food that’s also easy, economical and accessible.

And what’s even more exciting, this liquid elixir is not just good for you, it’s just plain good. A stash of homemade broth in the freezer is like liquid gold, whether your goal is good taste, good health, saving money or reducing food waste.

How to Make Bone Broth
Simply fill a big stockpot with bones and aromatics, cover with cold water, throw in some salt and peppercorns and let the whole thing simmer on top of the stove for six to eight hours (Rosenberg cooks her broth for 24 hours). For extra flavour and colour, roast the bones and vegetables in the oven until nicely browned before you start simmering your stock.

Once the broth comes to a boil, some buff-coloured foam will likely come floating to the top — that’s the coagulated protein. Skim it off and discard for perfectly clear soup stock. Keep the pot barely simmering on low and add another cup of cold water every hour. Strain out the solids, pressing to release all of the tasty juices, and simmer, uncovered, for a few hours to reduce and concentrate. The fat will rise to the top as the broth cools.

If there’s time to chill the broth, it’s easy to remove congealed fat from the top and save it for cooking. Otherwise, spoon off most fat and drag a piece of folded paper towel over the surface to soak up the excess. You don’t want an oil slick on the top, but a little fat adds richness.

A classic soup stock can be made with any kind of meaty bones simmered with a mirepoix of chopped onions, carrots and celery. Add parsnips for sweetness, garlic and bay leaves, or ginger, star anise and dried mushrooms for distinctive broths. Rich texture comes from the gelatin that is released by the bones over a long, slow simmer. Some bones are better than others in that regard: think beef shin or marrow bones, ox tails or pigs’ feet.

It takes time to simmer a good soup stock, and that’s probably why bone broth is such a comforting sip, whether you’ve got a head cold or just a bout of the winter doldrums.

Just remember to leave some of those little “eyes” of yummy richness glistening on the surface of your soup — a reminder that it was made with love.