One of my all-time favorite things to make has to be bone broth. It’s my favorite for one very simple reason: you’re (somewhat) effortlessly making a delicious, healthy, versatile ingredient out of what lots of people would ignore. It takes me back to the type of cooking my great-great-great grandmother would have made, and is filled with all the nutrient-dense benefits that I try to seek out for my foods.
So, what exactly is bone broth?
Simply put, it is a broth or stock made from bones, cartilage, and all the other knobby bits and ends we don’t always use when cooking meat. These bones slowly cooked at a low heat for hours with a few vegetables and some spices. The finished broth is strained to a delicious and nutrient packed liquid. The most successful bone broths gel once cooled (think of the texture of jam or jelly), but your first attempts at making bone broth or most store bought bone broths might not gel at all.
Bone broth has played a role in the food practices of many, if not most, traditional societies. These took the form of meat or fish bone broths, depending on the area and what animals they had access to. Bone broths allowed for efficient use of the whole animal—an important practice when catching or hunting animals was a more difficult and dangerous task than it is for modern cooks.
The resulting bone broth is rich in protein and minerals. Bones, fibrous tissue, and skin contain comparatively high amounts of collagen—the most abundant type of protein found in animal (and human) bodies. The process of making bone broth frees this collagen into the broth liquid, making it easy for you to consume and for your body to put it to use building and repairing your own collagen-based systems (bones, teeth, gut lining, skin and hair, joints, and other connective tissues). Collagen is high in glycine and proline, two amino acids that play integral roles in supporting the body’s digestive, nervous, and immune systems.
The proteins in bone broth are highly anti-inflammatory, which can account for some of the benefits seen to inflammatory autoimmune diseases (such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, leaky gut, and others) and gut health when regularly consuming high quality bone broths. The process of making bone broth also allows minerals to leech from the bone into the broth. This results in broth that is rich in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and iodine (if making fish bone broth)—all minerals that play crucial roles in our health.
How do you make bone broth?
The basic equation for bone broth is relatively simple, but the specific adaptations or techniques can vary depending on what is available to you or what your specific goals are for the broth. The simplest instructions for making bone broth are to add bones, some aromatics (onions, garlic, celery, and sometimes carrots), and spices to a stock pot with just enough water to barely cover them. Bring the whole thing just to a boil and then reduce to a very low simmer, put on the lid, and basically cook for as many hours as you have time—though generally never exceeding 48 hours, depending on what type of bone you use. When the broth is done simmering, strain the liquid through cheese cloth or a fine mesh strainer.
The resulting liquid should be brought to room temperature as quickly as possible by straining into a shallow, wide dish which will dissipate heat faster and then storing in the fridge or freezer. As the broth comes to room temperature, it might (ideally, it should) coagulate into a gel. This indicates that it has a high level of collagen in the broth.
That’s the basic method. And really, that’s all you need to know to get started on playing around with this health project. But through reading and lots of my own trial and error, I’ve culled together what I think are some really helpful tips to make a successful and tasty bone broth:
- Use the best quality of bones as you can possibly get your hands on. The better quality bones, the better the bone broth (in taste and benefits to you). Try your best to find pasture raised animal bones whenever possible, and organically raised if that’s an option. The important thing, though, is to talk to your supplier of meat or bones to find out how their animals were raised and pick the best of the available options.
- Roast the bigger bones before making the broth. This is especially helpful for making a good tasting beef or lamb bone broth. The process of roasting the bones develops a caramelized flavor, which adds some depth to your broth. Don’t forget to scrape up the little caramelized bits on the pan to add to your broth. All of those little bits are like flavor bombs for your broth.
- Soak the bones in water with a few tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar before cooking. This helps to break down the bones and tissues to release the minerals and collagen. If you ever did the science experiment in school of putting a whole raw egg into vinegar to dissolve off the shell, then you know the mechanism at work here.
- Choose the veggie add-ins you use wisely. Not all kitchen scraps are created equal when it comes to bone broths. Onions, garlic, and celery are all generally good choices. Adding in carrots will add a bit of sweetness, which can be nice to cut the meatiness of the broth, but not everyone loves the sweet note. This is where testing things out and experimenting to find your own preferences comes in. Certain produce (like bits of spinach or kale, tomatoes, bell peppers, etc.) can make the broth taste closer to a meat and veggie broth. Leaving out any excess produce besides the aromatics gives you a purer and more robust bone broth flavor. Think about how you want to use the bone broth when deciding what things to add. If you will be just sipping on it in isolation, you might like having more veggies to give it a more dynamic flavor profile. However, if you will be using this broth as the stock for other recipes, it might be best to stick to simple aromatics.
- Don’t be afraid to use and reuse. Save up the ends of produce you are using for another recipe (in the fridge if you will be making broth in a day or two; save these in the freezer to prevent spoilage or contamination if you will be waiting longer), and then repurpose those scraps for making your bone broth at a later point. While you can certainly use fresh carrots, celery, onions, and garlic, purely devoted to your bone broth (I certainly still do this some of the time), don’t be afraid to save up what you have left over and freeze those for later. In the same vein, save the bones from other cooking ventures: if you bake a whole chicken to use the meat for the week, save the carcass; if you make a recipe with drumsticks one night and bone-in chicken breasts another night, save those bones! Toss them into your bag with the veggie scraps, and you’re half way to a solid bone broth. Don’t forget to save the skin, cartilage, tendons, and all the other bits and pieces you might otherwise throw away. These help to build a really great bone broth.
- If you make a batch and it turns out less than ideally gelatinous, you can always add in some powdered gelatin. This ups the protein content and ensures that your bone broth is packed with all the benefits you were originally intending it to have. I like the Green Pastures line of collagen and gelatin. I’ll have another post soon about the difference between the two and some recipes to use them in, but for the purpose of having a bone broth that gels, just stick to adding the gelatin with the orange label.
- Don’t add too much water! This will only give you a watery, non-gelatinous bone broth, and will be sadly disappointing in flavor. Always add enough water to just barely cover the bones.
What I Do:
I have done—and am still constantly doing—a ton of experimenting, reading, and learning to figure out the method that I like the best. I’ve sort of settled onto two approaches that work well for me, but I’m constantly tweaking and testing out tips with each new batch.
Low and Slow
The first approach is one I tend to reserve for the weekends, as it takes a bit more hand-on work. The end product is a seriously beautiful broth that I like to sip on alone. I sometimes use it as the broth for a recipe (like my favorite French onion soup). For this style, I spend one day of the weekend going to the farmer’s market or the local butcher to get beef or lamb bones. I pick out some great looking bones from healthy animals, and then follow the recipe for beef or lamb bone broth. Once it’s all finished, I just sip on a mug of plain broth or use it in place of beef stock in any recipes I make.
Super Low and Slow
The second approach is my weekly go-to, because it requires very little effort on my part, uses up lots of leftovers, and still gives me a tasty broth to use for soups and other recipes. For this approach, I keep a gallon freezer bag that I slowly fill up with any scraps from vegetables I cook during the week. I tend to add in any veggies that I would normally be willing to put into a veggie soup, which can include the obvious aromatics bits, but also things like kale stalks, tomato ends, zucchini cores, and bell pepper tidbits.
When I cook any meat dishes for the week, I almost exclusively pick bone-in cuts (especially for chicken). I do this intentionally—they are usually cheaper cuts, and have the added bonus of giving me bones to use for stock. I’ll cook something like a whole chicken on the weekend to use the meat in a few dishes throughout the week. Some weeks I just buy bone-in chicken cuts when a recipe calls for bone-less and just cook for a few minutes more than the recipe called for. When the chicken is done being cooked, I can reserve the bones, tendons, cartilage, and anything else that isn’t about to go into my mouth. Those bits and pieces also go into the freezer bag.
This usually goes on for about two weeks in our house before my bag is close to full. I generally only cook for two of us, so things would add up faster if you cook for more people. When I’m satisfied with the amount of bones and vegetables I’ve collected, I follow the recipe for chicken bone broth.
How to Start in Your Life:
Decide how much you want to try to tackle: do you want to take on the totally from scratch version that involves getting bones from a butcher? Or would you rather start with a baby step version and use things you’ve saved from other cooking ventures? It’s worth playing around with both eventually to find the method that you prefer, but it’s much easier to start with only one to test out initially.
- If you want to start with the Super Low and Slow method, then just start adding things to a freezer bag. Maybe try to buy more bone-in cuts of meat for the upcoming week so you can save those bones. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can certainly make this with a large pot—assuming you can fit all the bones and still have room to cover them with water.
- If you want to start with the regular Low and Slow method, take a trip to your local farmer’s market or butcher and start up a conversation. They will likely have great suggestions about the best types of bones to use and might be willing to give you the bones at a discount.
- Once you’ve made your first batch, take a taste. Does it taste how you wanted it to? Did it gel like you wanted? Is it maybe too water? Think about what you felt did and did not work about making that first batch. This is your list of things to experiment with next time. Your first attempt at making bone broth will likely not be a huge success, and that’s totally okay. I have had many broths that were totally failures, but some that were outstandingly tasty. Keep playing and experimenting to find what works best for you, and keep enjoying the fruits of your labor!
Have you tried making bone broth? What has worked or not worked for you? Leave a comment below!
Keep it real,