Slow Cooker Lamb Bone Broth

It’s bone broth day!

I’ve never done this before, but I keep hearing about it from all the Paleo people, and it’s kind of a thing in Chinese medicine too.

There’s a lovely breakdown of all that is good about bone broth from the Jade Institute.

Bone broth is prepared in cultures around the world as both a tasty, healthful soup and an easily digested medicinal food. The prolonged cooking of bones in water results in a broth rich in nutritional constituents that promote strength, tonify blood, nourish in times of sickness and rehabilitation, and help to prevent bone and connective tissue disorders.

If this is the first contact you’ve had with Chinese medical theory, you should know that when the author says bone broth “tonifies blood,” she means that it’s something that almost every woman can benefit from, as most of us are considered “blood deficient” by Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is a condition that can come about a number of ways, but is heavily influenced by the menstrual cycle, certain deficiencies that come about when one avoids animal proteins, and the tendency by many women to eat a preponderance of cold, raw foods (salads!) year-round. If you’re blood deficient you may feel fatigued, weak, dizzy, and especially may get very light headed when you stand quickly. You may also have a pale complexion or be diagnosed with anemia from a biomedical perspective. I fall under this category and wanted the broth to act medicinally for this and other purposes (I also want to support my kidneys and spleen). I get regular acupuncture through my school clinic and often use Chinese medicinal herbs, but the preparations often run upwards of $30 for 1 week’s worth of doses, and making this broth from scratch cost about $5.

Anyway, here’s what I did:

The Union Square Whole Foods carries frozen lamb, pork, and beef bones for stew in the butcher department. Pork is not supposed to be the ideal animal to use for bone broth (I have no idea why; I just do what the internet tells me) and even though Whole Foods is excellent at sourcing quality product, I still shy away from using beef bones from grain fed cattle, because I feel that if the animal hasn’t been consuming quality nutrition it won’t pass quality nutrition on to me, (For more on this and the environmental impacts of grain fed beef versus grass fed, see here). To avoid the issue altogether, I went with lamb, and got a few packages at $1.99 a pound (your mileage may vary, but I read at least one report of an organic butcher in Oregon charging $22 per pound for organic grass fed beef bones, so I think this was pretty reasonable).

I started out by roasting the bones in a foil-lined glass baking pan in my oven at 400 degrees for close to two hours. I can report that the smell drove Miko crazy, which I will take as a good sign. When the bones were thoroughly browned, I took the tray out of the oven and dumped the bones and their liquid into my slow cooker with about 10 cups of water (which was enough to cover them all) and three tablespoons of rice vinegar, since I read that you should go with two tablespoons of vinegar, lemon juice, or other acid for every quart of water to draw the marrowy / cartilagenous goodness out of your bones.

The bones have been in the slow cooker on the highest setting for about three hours now, and they seem pretty brothy already, although I’m probably going to keep them in for 24 hours and add an onion and some garlic cloves toward the end, for extra nutrition and alium goodness. I was instructed to “skim the scum” that would form at the top of the cooking water, but so far there has been no scum to skim. Am I doing it wrong? Did I not purchase scummy enough bones? Bone broth insecurity!

As noted above, this adventure costs about $5 plus the use of the oven and slow cooker.

I’ve started to become really interested in using nutritional modifications in favor of herbal medicine to treat a wide variety of symptoms. This isn’t because there’s anything wrong with herbal medicine (there’s not: in the hands of a properly trained herbalist and a compliant patient, herbs can have some powerful positive effects). The issue as I see it is that many, many patients either won’t take their herbal formulas consistently, or won’t make other changes in their diets that would otherwise help the herbs along. I also think that cost is a factor that the alternative health community should address and take seriously. I have a lot more to say about that, but for now, it’s sufficient to point out that you have to buy food regardless of any other concerns about health or budget. To buy and prepare food that also acts as medicine is a one-two punch to your wallet and your body, and I’ve decided to prepare my future guidelines and recommendations by using myself as an experiment of one (while simultaneously saving all of that herb money).

If you’re interested in learning more about eastern nutritional therapies, check out Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. It’s kind of dense and difficult to digest, but full of solid information about nutrition from a Chinese medical perspective.