That broth, that broth, that deep-reaching broth. Dissolved and suspended essence from the boiling of fat and earthtones...last week I wrote about this and I thought I said everything I had to say about broth. But all that talk about broth...it made me want broth, which you cannot have until you make it. So there I was, back in the kitchen, making something to eat. Story of my life.
I wanted the same broth that reconstituted me that night by the fire, on the wooden bench in Siberia, the night I got my ass kicked by winter in the mountains above Lake Baikal. Hot and salty and...what else was it? It was damn good is what it was.
When I wrote about that broth last week, I only scratched the surface. Indeed, I did not even write about the broth, despite my intention to do so. I failed to write about broth because I wrote about what I do when I try to cook broth: I inevitably make stew. I was so young then, such a grasshopper, so far from the monastery exit. Allow me to explain the obstacle in my path.
Broth is the product of cooking things for a very long time. This extended cooking period gives Chef Boy Ari many opportunities to sample and tweak, and therein lies the rub. The addition of certain items will coax the product away from broth-ness and into the realm of stew. Specifically, the starchy items, potatoes being chief among them—especially when cooked until they dissolve. Carrot and kohlrabi can bring the broth toward stew-ness as well.
However, it is not so simple. Vegetable variety provides an important backdrop to the flavor. Some starchy vegetables can and perhaps should indeed be added in small quantities, so that they contribute of their veg-ness without starching the clarity of the broth.
I started with a pack of frozen beef soup bones, Lifeline Organic brand, in my cast iron pot full of water. I simmered for two hours, removed the bones and let them cool, cut the meat and fat off the bones, cut it all into chunks, and added it all back to the pot. To this I added several glugs of red wine, a pinch of sage, a chopped pinch of rosemary, and two pinches of marjoram. I added soy sauce, a few chopped slices of pickled Kohlrabi, a big chunk of carrot, a chopped onion, a chopped head of garlic, some chopped hot peppers from the pickled pepper jar, and some hot vinegar from the same jar. I added a few sprigs from a celariac plant that’s growing in my living room—it’s like adding celery leaves, or a whole sprig of celery. All the while, tasting and tweaking...I added black pepper, and a piece of venison backstrap (cleaning out the freezer of last year’s deer). After the backstrap thawed in the broth, I cut it into chunks. (No amount of meat seems to threaten the integrity of the broth. Meat doesn’t thicken the product like potatoes do. Eaters go for those chunks first, leaving broth behind.) I added just two small potatoes, for that mild potato earthtone—but not enough to starch it. I added frozen kale from last summer—yes, yes, yes.
Tasting and tweaking. More soy. More wine. Cooking slowly, adding water to keep the pot full...it was working. I was making broth and not stew! Marrow was dissolving from the bones and impregnating the water. Fat and connective tissue were melting into the broth. Salty earthtones were merging.
People came over for an intimate little party that we threw. We called the party A Casenor Christmas. Casenor (ka-sen-your) is the name of our house. This name, while drawing upon language rooted in a patriarchal past, turns that history on its head and implies that today, in our house, everyone “wears the pants.” Anyway, some of the guests performed a play that I wrote, entitled A Casenor Christmas.
This play turns many things on their heads, revolving around the koan: It’s like that old expression, all roads lead to Rome. Jesus came from Mary, and he’s always going home. My first play. All the while, the pot was simmering. Eventually, we ate from the pot.
Inevitably, the guests went for the sparse chunks of meat and vegetable. The next day I had my broth.
Refrigerated, the contents of the pot were covered by a thick, hard layer of congealed fat. I heated it on medium, spooned some into a cup, and started sipping.
Now is when we hear the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Broth, Broth, BROTH. BROTH BROTH.” This broth was powerful, penetrating, and perfect. It was almost thick, with fat and dissolved salty earthtones, but clear, and not starchy. It was perfect nurture in a cup. Not to mention the flavor: enough acid that I did not need to munch on pickled product. Enough fat that I did not even need the mayonnaise. And when you have fat and acid in balance, against a backdrop of delicate-yet-strong earthtone flavors, you do not have a problem.
E-mail Chef Boy Ari: Flash@missoulanews.com