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Stocks and Broths

Don’t Throw Those Bones Away

It was around 2006 when I was sitting in a pricey restaurant trying a tasting menu. The chef was so bold he served just a simple broth in a bowl. Looking down at the meatless meal, I was sure I’d starve. Little did I know I was about to fall in love with a new element of cooking and that the experience would lead me to look at wild game in a whole new light.

The carcasses of the animals I hunt are a treasure trove of bones, cartilage, and sinew; all of which are packed with flavor and nutrients. Broth and stock offer myriad nutritional benefits and serve as the cornerstone of great cooking. Every great cuisine has an element of stock and broth in it. There’s also a historical reverence that I can’t ignore, which cuts to the core of human existence. The bones of harvested animals have been used for tools, instruments, ceremonial objects, and relics since man brought down his first animal.

Now, I cry a little bit inside when I find out someone has left the bones of an animal in the field. OK, so that might be an exaggeration, but seriously, we should all make an effort to bring the bones from our hunt to the freezer. While nothing left in the field is truly wasted, as scavengers benefit from what we leave behind, the bones are an integral part of my waste nothing ethic. To me, the bones are just as important as the backstraps. You’ve all probably had stock before, and one of the most common is from a chicken or turkey carcass after the whole bird has been roasted. I’d like to imagine everyone’s grandmother made them chicken soup from a carcass at one time.

Imagine your favorite soup, rice, or meat dish bathing in the deliciousness of some amazing broth made possible only by the efforts of your hunt. As a novice chef, I’ve gotten as much praise from my consommé, broths, and flavorings attributed to bones as I have from the flesh of my animals. If you’re in a position where weather, location, and timing make harvesting bones impossible, I totally understand leaving what you can’t take. If conditions are on your side, I encourage you to do your best to get as much of the animal out of the field. Those who gather around your table will thank you for it.

Stock is relatively simple to make, but it’s certainly a process. As my friend Hank Shaw has said, “embrace the chaos” when it comes to cooking wild game. The chaos is the variation you’ll experience from kill to kill, animal to animal, and terroir to terroir. No two animals I’ve ever sourced are the same, they all have a uniqueness to them, and it’ll become apparent in the kitchen. Embrace it.

Stocks and broths can be as basic or as fancy as you want them to be. Take some bones, roast them in the oven (absolutely roast them, see the image with the pale unroasted bone stock compared to that of roasted bones), then gently boil them in water and you’re well on your way. Take it a step further and finish your stock with some vegetables like onions, carrots, and celery. The longer you let it go, the richer it becomes.

From simply simmering bones in water to the classic consommé, bones can carry a meal. Here, I’ve given you a baseline recipe. For those of you who are a bit more adventurous, look for consommé recipes and other clarified stocks. They’re time consuming, but when you make a great one they’re ethereal. Remember, stocks and broths are a foundation of cooking from great soups and stews, to braised meats and gravies. Got the flu and eating meals isn’t an option? Have a cup of hot broth to try and cure your ails.

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