There is a great deal of pretentious nonsense in the food world at present on the subject of ‘bone broth.’ From the way that this is discussed, in almost whispered awe, one could be forgiven for thinking that ‘bone broth’ was a new discovery akin to that of a new star in the culinary firmament. I have studied the instructions for the preparation of bone-broth provided by some of the high priests of the art, and unless I am missing something, I assure you my friends, that this thing of which they speak is ‘stock’ (or broth, or boulli, if you prefer). Stock made with bones, as the name implies, but stock nonetheless. Nothing more, nothing less. And I have to tell you that stock is far, far, from a new concept in cooking. Cynic that I clearly must be, I remain completely unable to think of a single reason to invent a brand new name for an ancient cooking concept, unless it be related to the ancient concept of marketing and self-promotion.
I feel better having gotten that off my chest. Thank-you for listening. In return, may I amuse you with a story about stock? There are not enough stories in cookery books these days (except for the tedious ones by humorless posers and proponents of ‘bone broth.’) The story comes from our source for the last couple of days - 99 practical methods of utilizing boiled beef and the original recipe for stewed chicken (New York, 1893.) The author opines for some length on Some Opinions on the Value of Bouillon and ends with this lovely anecdote:
Bouillon played a leading part in a conjugal episode which caused considerable gossip in the sixteenth century. Catherine de Médicis, then in her youth, gave a grand fête, to which every lady invited was to be accompanied by a cavalier wearing her colors, and who was chosen by the queen herself.
Madame de Guise was one of the guests. Now, Monsieur de Guise was known to be frightfully jealous of a certain Saint-Mégrin, who, as luck would have it, was chosen as the cavalière servente of his wife. Guise forbade her attendance at the ball, but she broke through his commands, alleging that duty to her sovereign superseded her duty to her husband.
The fête lasted until six o'clock in the morning. When the young wife returned to her home, her husband appeared at her bedside accompanied by a majordomo carrying a bowl of bouillon. "Drink this, madame," said the duke, "it will cure you forever of all fatigue."
It will be remembered that at this epoch, poison played an important rôle in royal kitchens, and in the houses of the great.
When the duke made his way to the door, adding — "Cries for help are in vain, madame, the servants are all away," — the duchess certainly believed that her last hour had come. She wept, implored, bade farewell to earth — but did not perish. When, at noon, Guise once more entered her room, with an innocent smile upon his lips, asking after her health, he found her in a pitiable condition of fright, bewilderment, and anguish.
The duke then said with a gentle severity: "Come, madame, be comforted. The bouillon has, as I hoped, been of benefit to you, and I owe it thanks for having permitted me this little revenge. I had an uncomfortable night, and you an uncomfortable morning. We are quits."
Thus bouillon, most innocent bouillon, was the accomplice in a conjugal revenge and a sweet reconciliation.
This is another story which it is so unlikely to be able to authenticate that I am not even going to try. But it made me smile, which is sufficient enough reason to include it.
To the enthusiastic stock-makers as well as the deadpan bone-broth developers amongst you, I give you the remainder of the piece on Some Opinions on the Value of Bouillon, which will also stand as our recipe for the day.
THE pot-au-feu, or bouillon, is made by boiling meat for a certain length of time in water by means of which most of its nutritive qualities are extracted. Vegetables are added to give further relish and nutriment.
Bouillon of the best quality can be made from good meat only, which should be chosen from the fleshy, juicy part of the thigh.
Meat from the breast and neck makes a good pot-an-feu of lighter quality, and containing more fat, for which reasons it is preferred by some.
In some households, it is the custom to add a beef spleen to the bouillon: this is rich and juicy, and gives more nutritive value to the dish, but is a trifle heavy for most palates. The spleen itself is not eaten, but thrown away. Again, some persons add a piece of lard to the soup, should the beef from which it is made be dry or of inferior quality.
The vegetables used are: carrots, parsnips, celery, and turnips; the last is rejected by some cooks, who think that it detracts from the clearness of the bouillon, but this is hypercriticism. Vegetables are put into the pot only after the soup has been skimmed.
Three pounds of meat are required to a quart of water. Should this amount of liquid be reduced to a third by boiling, we have consomme or bouillon consummately perfect, but the meat is done to rags in the process, and cannot be utilized as bouilli. To the meat may be added a few bones, one of which may be marrow bone if the taste is relished. Should delicacy be preferred to richness, the marrow bone must be omitted. The meat should be put into cold water, which must be heated by slow degrees, in order that it may gradually penetrate the meat, softening it and dissolving the non-nutritive portions which rise to the top of the liquid as scum. Immersion in hot water would cause contraction and hardening of the muscular fibres, and coagulation of the nutritive elements, and would prevent the issue of the juices of the meat. The process of boiling should be slow; the soup-pot hermetically sealed.
Let us take it for granted that these directions have been explicitly carried out. The meat has been immersed for half an hour, and the infusion is hot, but not yet boiling. We stir up the fire; the scum becomes thicker, and we remove it, at the same time adding a little salt to the bouillon, putting in the vegetables, and then closing the soup-kettle again and allowing the slow ebullition to continue.
Some cooks add parsley root, a little garlic, an onion into which cloves are stuck, and a bay-leaf. This is entirely a matter of taste, and no general rule can be given. Certain authorities claim that the garlic should be placed within the beef, as is sometimes done with a leg of mutton; some affirm that this vegetable, with its penetrating flavor, greatly increases the succulence of the bouillon. For our part, we believe that a good bouillon may dispense with all odors except the delicate ones peculiar to the ordinary vegetables, and that garlic, onions, and cloves are used rather to conceal the absence of the flavor sui generis of the bouillon, than to add to its delicacy.
The same may be said of coloring matters, whether in liquid form or in balls or tablets. Good bouillon has a color peculiar to itself, a reddish-yellow, which comes from the juice of the meat. Its absence indicates too small an amount of meat in proportion to the water used, a deficient quality of meat, or a too rapid process of boiling. From six to seven hours of slow, continuous boiling are essential to the success of the pot-au-feu.
A peculiarly delicate flavor may be obtained by adding to the beef some pieces of raw fowl, or the remains of a cooked fowl, more especially the carcass. The same cannot be said of pieces of the leg or shoulder of mutton; this meat imparts an acrid odor, which detracts from the perfection of the consommé, and also interferes with its preservation.
Bouillon should be strained through a colander or a sieve into the soup dish, to prevent the entrance of any fragment of meat or vegetable. The same precaution is to be observed when bouillon is used in the preparation of soup with pâtes d'Italie.
At one time two learned chemists, Lefèvre and Vincent by name, invented an economical bouillon, made from meat which had already served once in the preparation of bouillon — from the bouilli, in fact. To every pound of the meat they used two quarts of water, three ounces of carrots, and a little onion. They let it boil for two hours, and obtained as a result a pint and three-quarters of good bouillon. But the bouilli was cooked to rags. It is a question whether the economy of the proceeding was as great as they claimed, and whether it would not have been better to utilize the bouilli in some other fashion, and use fresh meat for the bouillon.
Another theoretical plan consists in the manufacture of bouillon from bones only. The nourishing qualities of the meat would be a missing factor.
Opinions differ as to the value of bouillon. The English assert that it is non-nutritious, and laugh at our fondness for what they call hot water. It is not to be gainsaid that bouillon is more of a stimulant than of a nutriment properly so called.
Some Abyssinian tribes, as the Gallas, reject the bouillon, and save only the meat.
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