Portable soup, a sort of homemade bouillon, sustained travelers before Cup O’ Noodles lined rest stop shelves and salty powdered bouillon cubes gave home cooks a short cut in making soups, stews and sauces. Modern cooks who seem to favor time saving packaged ingredients over more elaborate traditions have lost their taste for laborious culinary undertakings and with that loss, we’ve likewise lost a slew of traditional foods – portable soup rests among them.
Me? I love the rich complexity of a true homemade stock. I find its rich array of minerals and amino acids deeply fortifying and, as I’ve mentioned before, I typically try to serve up a quart of broth a day to each member of our family (the little guy gets a pint). But we travel a good deal both for work and to support our son’s homegrown, wildly unschooled and self-propelled education.
Translation? It’s tough to eat real, homemade foods on the road.
So, taking a cue from travelers before me, I began to make our own portable soup – a homemade bouillon that’s compact, stores well and for a long time, and that dissolves instantly in hot water for a beautiful mug of rich, homemade broth.
history of homemade bouillon and portable soup
Portable soup was the first bouillon. And, like all foods, it was homemade. Cooks would stew bones in water for hours and hours, reducing the gelatin-rich stock down to a thick, viscous liquid that solidified when cooled. Later, the thick, gelled broth would be cut and dried on flannel during the cool months where it could be stored indefinitely.
When circumstances took the family on the road, they’d grab the nuggets of portable soup – dissolving them in hot water, sprinkling in salt and cutting in whatever herbs and vegetables they could forage from the roadside. In an instant, the traveler’s would have a meal – but unlike the instant meals of today, this was real food.
benefits of homemade bouillon
Every once in a while, Nourished Kitchen fans will ask for a substitute for bouillon cubes. Those powdery, salty cubes contain a slew of nasty ingredients: processed fat, MSG, refined salt. Even Better than Bouillon, sold in health food stores, is loaded with refined, industrial ingredients like maltodextrin; further, it lacks one of the most nutritionally valuable aspects of a true broth: gelatin.
Gelatin in broths, and also in homemade bouillon, soothes the digestive tract which is why gelatin-rich broths play such an enormous role in healing protocols like the GAPS diet. Gelatin also supports skin health.
Homemade bouillon, made from long-simmered bones, is rich in all the same nutrients found in a good stock: minerals, amino acids and gelatin. Only it’s compact – easy to bring on the road.
where to find good bones and gelatin
A good bouillon depends on good bones. Most traditional recipes for portable soup – the original homemade bouillon – call for veal knuckle bones which typically produce a beautiful, strong gel, veal bones aren’t always available. You can make homemade bouillon with any good quality bones: chicken, beef, veal, pork. Bones can usually be purchased for as little as $1/lb from your local ranchers, so ask around at your farmers market.
Using a good quality, purchased gelatin helps to achieve the strong gel that is so essential in producing homemade bouillon. A purchased gelatin also acts as a bit of insurance policy – helping you to achieve that solid gel even if your stock was soft or you were unable to find bones that produce a firm gel like veal knuckle bones or chicken feet. I use grass-fed bovine gelatin in my homemade bouillon and you can purchase it online (see sources).
Homemade Bouillon (Portable Soup)
- 10 pounds meaty bones (chicken, beef, lamb, pork, etc.)
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons unrefined sea salt
- 2 tablespoons gelatin (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 425 F.
- Place the bones in a large baking dish, and roast them for 45 minutes.
- Place the roasted bones, peppercorns and bay leaves in a large heavy-bottomed stock pot. Cover with filtered water and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for eight to ten hours.
- Strain the stock into a large mixing bowl through a fine-mesh sieve. Refrigerate for at least eight and up to twenty-four hours. You should have about one gallon of stock.
- The stock should gel in the refrigerator, but it's not necessary. The fat will rise to the top of the stock. Pick it off and reserve it for another use such as frying vegetables or braising meat.
- Transfer the stock to a shallow, wide-mouthed pot, stir in salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue simmering until the stock is reduced to 1 cup, about forty-five minutes depending on the surface area of your pot. Please note that the amount of time it takes to reduce 1 gallon of stock to 1 cup will depend on the size of your pan. A very wide and shallow pan will allow the stock to reduce in about 45 minutes, a traditional stock pot will take several hours.
- Whisk gelatin into the hot stock and pour into a small container about 4 inches by 4 inches. Refrigerate for at least eight hours, cut into cubes about 1-inch by 1-inch. You can further dry out the cubes by setting them gently on a cotton cloth or napkin in the refrigerator or other cold place in your kitchen for a further eight to twenty-four hours.
- Each cube of bouillon will produce one cup of stock. Simply drop the homemade bouillon cube into one cup hot water, stir to dissolve and serve. The bouillon cubes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for at least six months.