The sunset over Siberia’s Lake Baikal looked ominously beautiful from the peaks of the Barguzin mountains, far above the shore. The warmth of the March day was vanishing fast, glazing the snow with a crust that promised a hellish descent for me and my dad on our skinny, 1990s-era backcountry ski gear.
Our friend Ura was better equipped. A researcher at the nearby sable preserve we were visiting, Ura was a quiet bear of a man, perfectly suited to that unforgiving environment, right down to his Siberian skis, called kamoos. The boards are short and wide, with seal skins—harvested from the nerpa freshwater seals of Lake Baikal—glued to the bottoms. Instead of ski poles Ura carried an angura: an 8-foot staff cut from a birch sapling.
The trip down was a series of painful face-plants for Dad and me, but Ura sailed through the trees, chilling on his ice breakers. When we finally reached Ura’s home in the hamlet of Davsha, Dad and I were battered and broken. I huddled by the fireplace trying to muster enough energy to walk to the table.
Ura handed me a bowl of beef-bone broth. It was thin, salty and simple, but full of warmth and rejuvenation. That broth was first aid for my own bones, a liquid spatula that lifted me off the cabin floor and delivered me to the table, where we ate a dinner of fried trout, fried potatoes and a salad of shredded carrots and garlic.
I’ll never know exactly what was in Ura’s broth. Like many Siberians, he kept a cow, and his broth was cow-bone based. I’ve been trying to replicate it ever since.
Broth walks a fine line between stock and soup. Stock is more ingredient than meal, and should be free of fat and salt; soup is a finished product, ready to eat. Broth falls somewhere in the middle. It has fat, salt and other flavorings, but no chunks.
Vegetable-based broth exists, but the most potent broths are made from bones. Bone’s cartilage and marrow aid in the body’s absorption of protein and deliver other nutrients as well.
To make broth in its simplest form, all you have to do is simmer bones in water and add salt to taste. That will peel you off the cabin floor. But for a more well-rounded culinary experience, there are some extra steps worth taking.
Brown the bones first for added umami and depth of flavor. This can be done in oil in a stovetop pan, on low or medium, with a lid for splatter protection, or it can be done in the oven. I usually bake my bones for about two hours at 300 degrees, checking often to make sure they don’t burn. For extra umami, carefully coat the hot bones with tomato paste or even a little ketchup, just a tablespoon or two per pot, for the last half-hour.
Now add the bones to a pot of water and simmer. You can also deglaze the roasting pan and add the drippings for a richer, fattier broth. Add carrots and onions for more fragrance. Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours, then turn off the heat and leave the pot, covered, to cool.
About four hours after turning off the heat, strain the broth and salt it to taste. At this point you might want to pick any good meat off the leftover bones and scoop out any accessible marrow—it makes for a yummy snack.
Or add the meat scraps to the broth. You might be crossing the line into soup territory, but as long as it peels you off the floor, who cares?