By Stanley A. Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat
There is a very old saying,”the nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat.” This saying celebrates the traditional knowledge that meat on the bone is valuable, both for taste and nutrition. The meat right next to the bone is sweeter and tastier, flavored with bone marrow and other substances that enter the meat during cooking. Grassfed meat cooked on the bone has so much flavor that spices are often unnecessary. I prefer to cook grassfed meat on the bone. Bone in meat has great nutritional benefit. Bone in meat is more tender. Bone in meat cooks more evenly. And it tastes so much better.
Why Most Meat Cuts Are Boneless
Most of the meat cuts sold today, including grassfed cuts, are boneless. There are several reasons for this. Bones are heavy, and most meat is shipped a long way. Cutting off the bones reduces transportation costs. I have talked to grassfed farmers who do not sell bone in meat because they are afraid the bones will penetrate the plastic they ship their meat in. The emphasis on lean meat promotes the use of boneless cuts, as bones contain fatty substances such as bone marrow. Carving bone in meat requires more effort than dealing with boneless cuts. Most people think of bones as waste, and do not want to pay for them. Actually, bones have tremendous nutritional and culinary value.
Bone In Meat Is More Nutritious
Bones are made up of minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and many others. When you put your mouth on a bone, the saliva in your mouth dissolves some of these minerals, which thus enter your body. Your body knows exactly how to digest and process these minerals and the cofactors which come with them. Need minerals? Eat the meat next to the bone, and you will get plenty, in a form that your body can easily assimilate and use. Also, you can suck discreetly on a tasty bone.
Bones also contain bone marrow, a fatty substance that is extremely nutrient dense, and is invaluable in making your own bones strong and healthy. Bone marrow is released into the meat during the cooking process, making the meat more nutritious and sweeter. There have been few, if any, scientific studies on the nutritional value of bones and bone marrow. However, there are some very old “studies,” conducted by our ancestors, the traditional peoples studied by Dr. Weston A. Price, and even wild animals.
Traditional People Knew the Value of Bones
The earliest habitats of primitive humans were found in caves. Many of those caves had one thing in common—a large pile of smashed and split animal bones. It is universally agreed that those bones were smashed and split to get at the bone marrow.
Traditional cuisine is full of references to bone marrow, which was eaten in many forms, and highly prized. The most prized meat in early Europe was the chine portion, a cut of meat reserved for the elite members of society, the heroes. Ancient Irish warriors fought to the death for the right to eat the chine portion, also known as the Hero’s Portion. Even the mightiest warrior in the Iliad, Achilles, cooked a chine portion for himself and the other great heroes of the Greeks. The chine portion was the same cut as a modern rack of lamb, or prime rib, or pork rib roast, except that the chine bone was always left on.
The Native Americans would actually use heavy rocks to pound bison bones into powder, which was made into a nourishing broth.
For most of history, meat was always roasted on the bone. Even stews had bones added to the pot, and the pieces of meat often contained bones. Many traditional peoples would chop chicken and other soft boned meats into pieces, so the marrow and other nutrients would be released into the pot during cooking. These traditions are still carried on today, in traditional cuisines all over the globe.
Several of the peoples studied by Dr. Weston A. Price, particularly the Inuit, split the bones so they could eat the marrow. All of the peoples studied by Dr. Price ate foods made with bones, often in the form of bone broths. These people had excellent teeth, strong bones, powerful immune systems, and were robustly healthy.
Finally, predators such as lions, wolves, and coyotes value the bones of their prey. After eating the liver of their kill, these animals will crack the bones for the marrow and chew on them, often leaving the lean meat for the scavengers. If you have ever given your dog a bone, you can see that dogs also have this traditional wisdom. Chewing on the bones is one of the best ways that these animals can get necessary minerals.
Meat on the Bone Tastes Much Better
Prime rib of beef, Porterhouse steak, T-bone steak, and lamb chops are bone in cuts that are popular even today. These cuts are very expensive and highly prized. Our ancestors ate a much wider variety of bone in cuts. Sirloin steaks, strip loin steaks, lamb roasts, beef roasts, pot roasts, pork roasts, and stews were all cooked with the bones. Almost all poultry was cooked with the bones, as were most fish. The reason for this was that the bones add so much flavor, as well as nutrition. When you cook meat on the bone, the marrow and other substances from the bones actually flavor the meat, adding succulence and a depth of taste that just does not exist with a boneless cut. The bones also help keep the meat moist, and help conduct heat throughout the meat so it cooks more evenly. If you are cooking the meat in liquid, the bone marrow, gelatin, minerals, and other substances from the bone enter the liquid, imbuing it with wonderful flavors, and causing it to thicken into a wonderful, flavorful sauce. There are a number of traditional recipes that call for adding extra bones to stews, pot roasts, and even the roasting pan to add these flavors to the dish. Meat is always tastier when cooked on the bone.
How to Add the Benefits of Bones to Your Diet
The simplest way to enjoy the benefits of bones is to cook bone in cuts. These are cuts of meat that still have the bone attached. When you eat the meat, do not be afraid to chew all the meat off the bones. Do not hesitate to discreetly suck on the bones, especially if you can get some of the marrow. You may find this to be immensely satisfying, as I do. Of course, don’t swallow any bones.
Another great way to enjoy the benefits of bones is to make real bone broth from the bones of pastured animals, simmered for many hours so the nutrients of the bones are released into the broth. My cookbook, Tender Grassfed Meat, has a number of such broth recipes, as does Sally Fallon’s magnificent work, Nourishing Traditions. Tender Grassfed Meat also includes a number of recipes for cooking bone in meat.
This post is part of Fight Back Friday Blog Carnival at Food Renegade.
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