We’ve long known about the nutritional and healing qualities of bone broth– the savory, nutrient-dense, concentrated brew of meat, vegetables, herbs, spices, and vinegar. Bone broth is made by cooking beef, lamb, chicken, or turkey bones until they break down into a decoction rich in collagen, amino acids, and minerals, and imbibed as a restorative elixir, alternative to coffee or tea, and palate cleanser. It provides about 10 grams of protein per cup and very few calories. The flavor profiles that can be created using different bones, herbs, vegetables, and vinegars can be quite varied. More food-like than tea and filled with nutrients, bone broth is a great option to counteract the afternoon blahs and stay hydrated and alert until dinner– staving off pre-dinner snacking.
You can click here for a recent New York Times article that details bone broth’s ancient history and recent rising trend — and then try our take on this beneficial libation.
If you are cooking fresh, local, and organic, you will probably have most of the ingredients you need on hand. In fact, many of the components of bone broth are from things you might have been throwing out– vegetable ends, surplus herbs, bones from a steak or roasted chicken. You can collect left-over vegetables and herbs from the week’s cooking and stash them together in the refrigerator– they’re going to meet later anyway. Meat bones should be frozen until you are ready to brew.
The overall preparation for bone broth is simple: In a large stockpot add bones, vegetable scraps, herbs, seasonings, and a splash of vinegar. Cover ingredients with water, heat until almost a boil, then cover and simmer for several hours until the bones break down. Pour off (or strain out) the liquid and you have a rich, savory, aromatic broth. Adjust salt, season as desired, and imbibe!
That is the big picture– now let’s talk fine tuning, customization, and all the tasty options.
Using bones from your week’s cooking is a great way to economize, cut down on food waste, and vary your broth flavors. But if you want to bulk up the broth-y goodness, add a beef marrow bone for an extra dose of nutrient-rich, delicious marrow. Using bones from meats that have been cooked with seasoning and spices will transfer over to the broth so the money spent to flavor your protein is not wasted. I usually take off most of the skin on the remaining chicken bones after the meat has been removed and don’t add that skin to the broth. Many people leave the skin intact (where a lot of the seasoning is) and put into the broth and just skim the additional fat after chilling. Or not.
You can use any vegetable combinations you like– and it doesn’t have to be scraps– you can use things from your garden or newly purchased produce if you prefer. For example: a variety of hot pepper like jalepeño or anaheim will give your broth kick, celery will add saltiness without loading on sodium, carrots will lend their vitamin A and beta-carotene and broccoli its antioxidants. Onion is a pretty useful veggie for its own sake— not only doonions give a base note to cooking, in the case of bone broth, onions and onion skin help to break down the bones and bring out the minerals and collagen you’re aiming to access.
Speaking of bone breakdown, an acid like vinegar (or wine) is key to getting out all the goodness you can from the bones and into the broth. Different vinegars give different flavor profiles. Apple cider vinegar is a brightener, red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar is earthier. Flavored vinegars (garlic, herbed, lemon, etc.) will imbue your broth with their flavor profiles AND do their job as bone breaker-downers.
Herbs and Spices
The combinations of herbs and spices you can use are endless. Try a bit of ginger for a warming broth, cilantro (if it’s your thing) is a delicious, the merits of parsley is often overlooked– it gives an earthy, pleasing “green” flavor that brightens many dishes. Citrus, like lemon from a lemon-roasted chicken will impart a lovely subtle fresh tang. Thyme, oregano, marjoram, cumin, rosemary, bay, chives, and sage are all great herbs to use, fresh or dry. Use whole peppercorns as they will be easier to strain out at the end.
Preparation, Consumption, and Storage
Don’t skimp on the size of your stock pot. Make sure that all of your ingredients fit comfortably in the pot and that you can add enough water to cover them by an inch or two, and still have a few inches to the rim of the pot. Heat until it gets almost to a boil, cover, and simmer until the bones have turned soft and gelatinous. If the liquid cooks down too far you may have to add more water. I start making the broth in the morning and by the afternoon the bones have broken down and the broth is tasty and ready to eat. Your cooking time, depending on ingredients and preference, can be anywhere from six to 24 hours.
If fat or a “skin” accumulates on the surface of the broth, you can skim it off, or not. Some people like the extra oils and benefit from the easily accessible calories. You can pour your broth off, or strain it away from its solid ingredients, depending on how clear you prefer your broth. I like mine with “floaties” because they add a little interest and extra flavor. The vegetables left after the steep are a great snack– I like to save them in a bowl and eat them on their own.
It will take several hours for the broth to cool, but make sure you don’t let it sit out overnight– refrigeration is key for food safety.
Store your broth in manageable containers that you can pour from to reheat serving sizes. At cooler temperatures bone broth will be a bit gelatinous, but it will liquify again with proper heating up.
In warm weather, I like bone broth at slightly above room temperature. Also, spicier brew is refreshing in summer. For a more robust cup I sometimes I add a hard boiled egg to my “sipping broth” or dried chives.