Bone broth (a.k.a. stock)… I love it.
One of the earlier foods I introduced into our diet after changing from vegan to omnivore was nourishing (and delicious) homemade grass fed bone broth (stock).
In culinary circles, stock (or as I’ll refer to it in my blog post, bone broth) is considered the foundation of cooking, and for good reason. A cup of broth seems so simple, and for the most part it is, but it can be used in so many ways. Bone broth really sets the foundational flavor for many recipes.
Michael Ruhlman writes about stock making, “It may be the most commonly avoided preparation in America’s kitchens, even though it’s the single preparation that might elevate a home cook’s food from decent to spectacular.” He also says, “If there’s one preparation that separates a great home cook’s food from a good home cook’s food, it’s stock.”
I hope those quotes inspire you to embrace stock (bone broth) making, and if you’re still on the fence, read on because I’ll show you how easy, fun, and wonderful it is to prepare.
*UPDATE – TODAY (10/25/13): Since writing this long post and scheduling it to appear, I’ve learned even more about making stock because I’m enrolled in a Classic Cooking school right now, and we actually learned about stock making today. I would say that my instructor would probably be intrigued with some of what I’ve written but he’d also probably be horrified. I had planned on adding to this post to reflect that, but I came home and saw that — oops — the post has gone live already. That being said… these are all still “pretty” legit and they make yummy bone broth. I will add to the bottom of this post what I’ve learned in school for the truly classical method, hopefully later today!
Making bone broth was something that really intrigued me once we ended our decade-long vegan journey. At the same time, I didn’t know much about it. If I remember correctly, we started our omnivore foodie life with organic, pastured-raised eggs, along with grass fed organic ghee and high vitamin butter oil, and then we added sardines (learn how you, too, can love sardines here).
Shortly after, I was mystically drawn to bone broth so I started playing around with it. Seemed weird, mostly because I was using the term “bone broth” yet I couldn’t help myself because it sounded wickedly fun. Bone broth is also referred to as stock (chicken stock, beef stock, fish stock), so when you’re talking to people outside the Paleo or Nourishing Traditions spheres, they might look at you like you have two heads if you say you make bone broth, which is really just good ol’ stock.
When I started the bone broth journey, I had no idea what to do or where to begin, but I quickly learned. It’s my hope to introduce this into your home if you’re new to it, with ease and excitement, because making bone broth (i.e., chicken or beef stock) is really fun and crazy easy. With a few simple tips, you will be well on your way.
To begin, there are many ways to make bone broth, by adding a variety of ingredients, as well as using different cooking methods such as a slow cooker, sous vide, or oven. They’re all amazing, and you pretty much can’t go wrong. It’s as simple as putting grass fed bones and joints along with optional muscle meats, organ meats, vegetables, and/or spices, and filtered water into a slow cooker. (I’ll detail using a sous vide and oven below as well.) It’s up to you with how varied the ingredients are for your broth. It can be super simple or super complex.
For bone broth, it’s essential to get a LARGE slow cooker so you can make a big batch and get everything in it you want. My first batches as a newbie bone broth maker were in a 6-quart slow cooker, but I quickly went as big as I could which is an 8-quart slow cooker.
My whole family loves bone broth, especially when I use it to make other recipes like chili, stew, soups, sauces, and mashes by using the homemade bone broth (i.e., stock) in place of water. The flavor of your recipe deepens so much that you’ll think you’re sitting in a Michelin Star rated restaurant (a hallmark of fine dining quality), whether you’re saucing up a steak with it or making a simple soup.
Bone broth (and stocks) has a reputation for bringing on health and nourishment because it has minerals, gelatin, and more. It’s comfort food at its best. Some even classify it as a superfood. Is it? Perhaps. People drink bone broth to fortify and increase strength and healing while sick, and also to maintain health and prevent connective tissue problems. Who needs chondroitin sulfate supplements when you can make bone broth inexpensively from grass fed bones, joints, and meats. Two prominent amino acids common in bone broth are glycine and proline. Glycine is important for many reasons, most notably to help make other amino acids as well as making heme, plus detoxification and enhancing digestion. Proline is important for collagen and therefore… skin, bones, ligaments, etc.
Bone broths are made around the world, and have been since the beginning of time practically… but sadly, most americans buy stock in a box. I suspect it’s because they don’t know how easy and fun it is to make. I have a slow cooker making stock at least once a week, sometimes two times a week. The smell alone seems healing. I love waking up in the morning after it’s been cooking all night, and opening my bedroom door to the intense aroma of comfort. My husband loves coming home to the smell of broth cooking away after he’s been gone for a few hours.
There are a handful of basic rules that should be followed for optimum bone broth:
- Brown the bones and/or meats in an oven before putting them in the slow cooker.
- Add a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (or any vinegar) to help draw the minerals out of the bones and into your broth.
- Start your bone broth with COLD filtered water.
- Don’t salt the bone broth because oftentimes you want to use the it in another recipe, and if it’s salted it can throw off the other recipe. Make your bone broth unsalted, and then simply salt it before drinking / using as needed.
- Although this isn’t technically required, I highly recommend getting your bones and parts from grass fed animals only. And, include a knuckle and/or joints to make sure you get lots of gelatin in it. I usually order mine online. Here are three sources: Northstar Bison. Alderspring Ranch. Good Earth Farms.
Other than those rules, you have free reign and can become a wonderful witch creating a fabulous brew of all sorts of stuff. Below, I’ll share some different ways I make my broth with a variety of pictures to tell the story.
There are three main ways we enjoy bone broth in our house:
- We drink bone broth by the mug. As I mentioned above, I don’t use salt when making broth, rather I salt it before consuming it. Therefore, when I’m going to drink a cup of bone broth, I’ll heat it up gently on my stove and stir in sea salt at that time. Sometimes I use plain sea salt and other times I love adding smoked sea salt. Sometimes I stir in fresh chopped herbs as well. It’s wonderfully delicious. I look forward to this being my morning beverage once I become pregnant again and stop drinking coffee.
- I use bone broth in other recipes in place of boring ol’ water for soups, stews, chili, sauces, mashed veggies, etc. It bears repeating that this is the best way to take your meals to a new level of depth and flavor. For this reason, I always keep broth either cooking away on the counter, fresh in the refrigerator, or in the freezer ready to thaw and use at a moment’s notice.
- My little girl, now three years old, doesn’t sit down to a hot mug of bone broth because, well, it’s hot. So, for Kamea, we actually do the opposite. I freeze the broth in little fun molds of different shapes (shown below) and take a few out of the freezer, cut them into pieces, and she goes to town. She loves her bone broth.
Some random notes about bone broth…
I have made chicken broth a few times and it’s extremely tasty. I think most people are familiar with chicken bone broth because it’s given to people in times of sickness for its healing benefits (though all bone broths can promote health). I admit that I don’t make chicken bone broth nearly as often as I make beef bone broth. With chicken broth… you typically use the bones of chicken that you’ve already cooked. But since the bones from one chicken isn’t really enough, in most cases, it requires freezing the bones until you accumulate enough and then making the broth. Furthermore, the best chicken bone broths are made using the bones of roasted chickens which I don’t do very often because when I make chicken, it is often in the slow cooker with a recipe like this slow cooker chicken recipe … so in my opinion, I’m already extracting a lot of the nutrition out from this first go at it. I’m not sure there’s much left. However, I do roast chickens on occasion and when I do, I store the bones and wait until I have 2 to 3 chicken’s worth of bones and then make amazing chicken bone broth. When making chicken bone broth, you cook it for 12 to 24 hours.
I want to quickly throw in here that fish broth is another popular option but I’ve never made it. I never have bones from fish (or heads) to use. I do know that you don’t cook it nearly as long though.
Many people will use whatever left over veggies they can find in the refrigerator that are on their last day or beyond. Personally, I’m not into that. I want really fresh foods whether I’m eating them straight from the fridge or making a stock. But, that’s me. I also don’t use “cooking” wine. When I cook with wine, I use a good quality wine that I like to drink. And, on that note, wine in broth is fabulous.
How to make fabulous bone broth (directions)…
As mentioned above, I recommend browning your meat and bones in the oven before adding them to the slow cooker. This really elevates the taste. If you don’t do it, you risk not only a color-less looking broth, but possibly a kind of icky tasting one, too. I roast my bones (and meats when using) at about 350 to 400 degrees F in my Breville Convection Smart Oven for about 45 to 60 minutes. It’s a good idea to turn the bones (and meats) over once during roasting.
The consensus is that bones and knuckles give the bone broth “body” while the meat (like soup meat or oxtails) gives “flavor.”
For the “bone part” of my grass fed bone broth, it usually consists of marrow bones and a big ol’ knuckle. Beyond that I might add soup bones that have grass fed meat on them as shown above.
Get your slow cooker out and add some filtered water to it, about half way. Add a couple splashes of apple cider vinegar. Once the bones are done cooking, add them to the slow cooker. At this point you need to decide if you want to add anything else such as vegetables, organic meats, seasonings, etc.
If you want the bone broth to be extra easy then you can simply keep it as bones and not add anything else. I say “extra easy” because I’m thinking ahead to the straining process that happens at the end of broth making. Fewer items in the slow cooker to strain out, the easier it is. However, that doesn’t necessarily make for a fun broth.
If you want more oomph to your bone broth, but still want to keep it fairly easy to clean up, then consider adding a couple more things such as garlic cloves and an onion or two (skin and all – quartered), plus the bay leaves, some grass fed meat (any cut will do, I often use oxtails or buy a package of soup bones with meat on them), and of course always add the apple cider vinegar. The idea is that the bones give nutrition and body (good for mouth feel) and the meat gives more flavor. I didn’t always use the combo of bones and meat in my beginning bone broth making days, but I do now. It is definitely better but I won’t say it’s absolutely critical.
And, if you’re going all out, then consider doing what I wrote above, and then also adding chopped carrots, celery, and whatever veggies you fancy or have on hand.
Before I go into the next steps, I want to share a list of things I’ve added to broth on different occasions to create variety. These things can be added at the beginning of cooking the bone broth, during the second half of cooking, or in some cases during the last hour of cooking. Some people prefer to add veggies during the last hours of cooking since that’s all it takes to extract most of the flavor and nutrients.
- at a minimum, to have extra tasty broth include an onion (or two)
- cinnamon sticks
- veggies (beet, carrot, sweet potato, celery, parsnip, tomato, etc)
- sea veggies (kombu and dulse – these add a bit of salt but doesn’t seem like much)
- ginger root and turmeric root
- shallot, leek
- tonic herbs and tinctures
- a few tea bags (Kukichu is great, and I’ve also used organic chai spiced tea bags. When I use tea bags I put them in for about 30 to 60 minutes and then pull them out. I drape the string over the edge of the slow cooker to make this easier.)
- whole cloves
- organic red wine for beef bone broth and organic white wine for pastured chicken broth or fish broth
- fresh herbs (these are best when added during the last hour of cooking to prevent the bone broth from tasting bitter)
- tomato paste (very nice!)
After you have the items you want in your slow cooker, you’ll need to add enough filtered water to cover it all, but be sure not to fill your slow cooker too high or it’ll bubble over. Speaking from experience here. Turn your slow cooker on LOW, put on the cover, and walk away. You’ll want it to cook for 24 to 48 hours. During this time you can open the lid and give it a quick stir. You’ll notice that some of the liquid has decreased. You can add some more water at this time or not. Obviously, adding more water dilutes it a bit, but there’s really no downside to that and it’ll give you a bigger yield.
When you’re ready to harvest your bone broth after it’s been cooking for a good 24 to 48 hours, turn the slow cooker off, and let it cool somewhat so you can handle it. It’s important to chill quickly as possible for food safety reasons.
Get a big bowl out and remove the bones using tongs (putting them in the bowl). Throw the bones away.
Get another bowl out and put a strainer in it, better yet spend a little money on a well-worth-it chinois to get the highest quality result. Carefully scoop the veggies, herbs, and broth out, and pour through the chinois. I usually use a pyrex glass measuring cup for this scooping step.
Pour the freshly strained broth into a vessel of choice that will be put in the refrigerator for at least a few hours, where the fat will accumulate at the top and you can easily skim it off. I use various vessels for this such as an 8-cup pyrex glass measuring cup, mason jars, and sometimes I just use mixing bowls where I put aluminum foil across the top.
I then put it in a big bowl of ice to facilitate chilling and stick the whole thing in the fridge. When I was growing up in Michigan where the winters are cold and filled with snow, mom would often stick the vessels right out in the snow overnight.
NOTE: Don’t put hot bone broth into a glass jar and then proceed to shock it with an ice bath or it could crack the jar. Speaking from experience. Sigh.
After it has chilled in the refrigerator, you can skim the fat off of the bone broth. Some people keep this fat (i.e., tallow) for cooking, but I hesitate doing that because it’s been cooked so long I can’t help but wonder if/how much it’s oxidized and perhaps not as healthy? I am inclined to feel that way when using a slow cooker since you get simmering with a slow cooker for a long period (depending on how long you cook it). But, if you use a sous vide to make broth, which I detail below, the temperature doesn’t get as hot as a slow cooker so the tallow could prove to be great?
Now your bone broth is ready for consumption, for the most part. Obviously, if you’re just drinking it straight, you’ll need to warm it up on the stove (add some sea salt) and enjoy. Otherwise, save it in the refrigerator for up to 4 to 5 days.
Sometimes I won’t use all that I’ve made so I love to freeze it. Keeping a stash of bone broth in the freezer is smart. I pour the broth into silicone muffin pans, freeze it, then pop out the pucks and FoodSaver them. (Food Savers rock… though, my dream is to one day have one of these where you can vacuum seal liquid items! Ummm, Greg? If you’re reading this, ummm, I really want one of these.)
I have also frozen my bone broth in glass mason jars, but be sure that you don’t fill the jar all the way with the bone broth because it needs room to expand a bit. Err speaking from experience here. Sigh.
Sous Vide & Oven Bone Broth
I mentioned above that you can also make bone broth in your sous vide supreme as well as your regular ol’ oven. These are great options because it allows you more control of the temperature so it doesn’t simmer to heavily or boil as can happen in a slow cooker. Why is that important? Well, kitchen professionals will tell you that bone broths (stocks) should never boil and some say it shouldn’t even simmer, because it affects perfection when making broth. Once the broth starts to simmer or boil, you get an end result that’s cloudy in both taste, feel, and look.
Sometimes perfection is overrated? I don’t know what cloudy tastes like, but I do know that slow cookers are easy and cheap. So, if that’s how you want to make bone broth, then do it. The important thing is making it.
That being said…. I’m hooked on making bone broth with my sous vide. There’s something satisfying about having such precise temperature control, and therefore knowing that I’m producing the finest and prettiest broth. Plus it makes a lot. When I use my sous vide to make bone broth, I can get out my big roasting pan for lots of bones and meat (pictured below).
I learned about using my sous vide for bone broth from Chef Steps, a unique and very cool culinary site. I’m so glad they featured this because I never would have imagined using my sous vide for anything other than food sealed in FoodSaver bags (except for eggs, those just go in the sous vide as is, in shell, for the best soft cooked eggs ever). Obviously, making bone broth in my sous vide supreme means not using bags and therefore using the whole thing like a temperature controlled slow cooker. Beautiful!
Here’s what you do… follow the same instructions above for using a slow cooker, but put everything in your sous vide. Set the temperature to 194 degrees F. Put the lid on. Let it cook for 24 to 48 hours.
Using the oven is my least favorite because, although I could sort of control its temperature using a careful eye, monitoring, and a thermometer, it meant lots of monitoring. Not easy to do while sleeping. Maybe my oven sucks. Also though, too much water evaporated during the oven cooking process.
If you want to use your oven to make bone broth, you can use your slow cooker inserts like I did or any nice cooking vessel that is oven safe. Fill it up with ingredients like I noted above for using a slow cooker. Put the cooking vessel(s) in the oven (uncovered). Set a thermometer (like this one) inside the broth to efficiently monitor the temperature from outside the oven. Set the oven to about 200 degrees F or less and keep track that your broth doesn’t rise above that. Again, not my favorite method, because it requires monitoring it if you’re really trying to narrow down the temperature range, you’re using your oven all day which can heat up your kitchen (not fun in the summer), and too much evaporates off in my opinion.
Lastly, you can use a pressure cooker to make broth but I don’t for a couple of reasons. The temperature gets higher than I want, and frankly my pressure cooker wouldn’t make the quantity of bone broth that I like to make.
UPDATE – TODAY (10/25/13): As I mentioned earlier, I am taking a Classic Cooking Series for 6 months and today the topic was stock. Here are the basics according to Classic Cooking…
In classic cooking, you use a stock pot and cook it on your stove. The benefits of a big stock pot is that it’s designed to be taller than it is wider for proper evaporation, etc. You also cook it without a lid. A stock pot is designed differently than a sous vide and slow cooker obviously, so this should be taken into consideration when choosing which vessel to use for making your stock. I have one of those big stock pots actually, so I’m excited to venture into new stock making territory and use it.
The basic elements for classic stock would be bones, trimmings, mirepoix (in a ratio of 3 onion to 2 carrot to 1 celery), head of garlic (cut horizontally and thrown in is fine), bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaves, parsley, and small handful of peppercorns… dried thyme and bay leaves can be used), sometimes tomatoes or tomato paste (for beef or veal stocks). The ratio of bones to mirepoix should be 1 part bones to 1/2 mirepoix. Never salt your stock because if you want to reduce it for a sauce, you can’t control the saltiness. This is another reason you don’t want to use store bought stock because they’re all salted.
You’ll also notice that the classic method doesn’t not use vinegar. As I’ve read time and again, vinegar is essential to getting nutrition from the bones so I’ll keep doing that.
Add enough COLD water to cover the ingredients by 1 to 2 inches. Bring to a boil as quickly as possible and then immediately turn it down to a simmer. I know I mentioned earlier that chefs don’t want the stock to boil, but I’m presuming that they don’t want it to boil beyond a few minutes. Basically… Keep an eye on it and get it to a boil for only a moment in the beginning, then reduce the temp to a little simmer.
From there you cook 2-3 hours for chicken, 4-5 hours for beef, 20 minutes for fish, and 10-12 hours for veal stock. You’ll notice that I cook mine for much longer than those times. I’m under the assumption that cooking them longer enables me to get more nutrition from the bones. Maybe my times listed earlier for bone broth are a bit overkill and going forward I think I’ll cut it down, but I’ll still cook it longer than my instructor said.
I stand by my invitation to put all kinds of fun ingredients in your stock when desired. While I use my broth in many recipes and simplicity can be beneficial there, even essential, I also just drink it straight. By adding diverse ingredients, it makes the plain broth drinking experience more enticing.
Now, go get your bone broth on!