Okay, so I know that earlier this month I went on an epic tasting of the prepared bone broths available in the Bay Area. I know I said that some of them were quite good — and they still are.
But here’s the thing: it is far, far cheaper to make bone broth at home. Most of the store bought bone broths in my tasting were priced above $10 per quart. Homemade bone broth? That’ll cost you roughly the same amount of money for four to six quarts. And that’s if you start with all brand-new bones. If you start a collection of leftover bones in your freezer, you can cut that cost down even more.
Making broth at home doesn’t just save you money, either. It also allows you to control the flavor and consistency of your broth. I, for one, don’t like drinking straight beef broth. Instead, I prefer a mix of beef and chicken bones for a less meaty flavor. Like super beefy broth? Forget my preferences and make it with 100% cow bones. I like to also add some onion and carrot for background sweetness and depth, but you don’t have to. Keep it simple with just bones and water, and see how you like the result.
When I make bone broth, I think of it as meat stock. (It is, in fact, just a meat stock rebranded as a trendy, expensive drink. But I’m not going to rant on that today. You can read it again here.)
To begin, I gently sweat diced onions and carrots in a little bit of oil, just until they’re softened and sweet. Then I add bones and water at a ratio of about 1 pound bones to 1 quart water.
If you’re starting from scratch (aka buying all of your bones at the store), it’s best to be a little strategic about what you’re purchasing. For the best flavor, you’ll want to use bones that still have some meat on them. For the best texture and the best opportunity to get collagen and gelatin into the broth, you’ll also want to add bones with cartilage and connective tissue and all that goodness as well.
For the beef bones, I like to use meaty knuckle bones. You can also use bones like oxtail or marrow (preferably with some meat still attached). Make sure they’re cut into somewhat smallish pieces to expose any marrow inside the bones. You can ask your butcher to do this for you.
For the chicken bones, I like to use chicken backs. They’re easy to collect if you make a habit of purchasing whole chickens and cutting them into smaller portions at home. Most butcher shops will also have a stash of chicken backs that they’ll sell you for next to nothing. You can also use chicken wings, which are fairly cheap and have a pretty good meat-to-bone-to-cartilage ratio.
Finally, I also like to add chicken feet. They may make you squirm if you don’t make a habit of purchasing them, but I recommend taking a deep breath and moving on from that squirm. Chicken feet are a great source of both gelatin and collagen, and like chicken backs and wings, are quite cheap.
Side note: I prefer to make my bone broth with unroasted bones because I think it makes a better drinking broth. But if you want deeper, richer flavor, you should roast the bones before simmering. Simply spread them out in a roasting pan and pop them in a 400°F oven until they’re deeply browned, around 1 hour.
Once you’ve got all the bones, vegetables and water combined, bring the whole mess to a full boil over high heat. The bones will likely expel a bunch of grey gunk. (There will be more if you’re starting with raw bones than roasted bones.) Skim off as much of this gunk as you can, and then turn the heat down as low as it goes. Partially cover the pot with a lid and let it quietly simmer for about 12 hours.
I typically start my broth before I go to bed and let it gurgle away while I’m sleeping. If you’re worried that a very low flame will burn your house down while you’re sleeping (it won’t), you can also start your broth first thing in the morning. Make it on a weekend while you’re in and out of the kitchen to reduce anxiety.
After 12 hours, the water level will have reduced slightly and the bones will have browned and softened. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot.
If you start with raw bones, there will likely be a thick layer of fat on top of the broth. If you start with roasted bones, there’ll still be some fat but not nearly as much. I’d recommend skimming as much of it off as possible before proceeding. You can save the fat later to use as a cap on top of the broth if you’d like (it’ll keep it fresher longer), or just toss it. Be judicious, though — while a little bit of fat can be nice, greasy broth is pretty gross.
Next, I like to reduce the broth a little further before storing it. This step will concentrate the gelatin, collagen and any other minerals in the broth. It also, obviously, reduces the final volume of the broth, making it easier to store. But if you’re happy with how the broth tastes now, you can skip this step.
Bring the pot of strained broth to a rapid simmer and let it reduce for about an hour. It should reduce by about one-third in volume, leaving you with about four quarts broth. Remove the broth from the heat. If you’re going to be drinking the broth, you’ll likely want to season it now. Add salt to taste. If you’re using the broth for cooking, you may want to skip the salt for now or keep the levels low. It’s much easier, after all, to add more salt as you’re cooking than to correct for over-seasoning. Let the broth cool to room temperature after seasoning.
Depending on the speed with which you go through broth, you’ll likely want to freeze some or all of your broth. The best method, IMHO, is to divide the cooled broth between gallon-sized freezer bags and freeze the stock flat. It will take up very little freezer space this way. I typically measure one quart per bag because it’s a common measure for stock in cooking recipes. I like to freeze three quarts of broth and save one quart in a glass jar to store in the fridge for more immediate use.
Now, revel in your thriftiness while sipping on a hot mug of broth. Or make some soup.
Recipe: Homemade Bone Broth
Makes 4 quarts
Note: I prefer to make bone broth with raw bones because the final result is slightly lighter in flavor and nicer for drinking. If, however, you’d like a more deeply flavored bone broth, you can roast the beef bones and chicken backs before beginning. Roast the bones at 400°F until deeply browned, about 1 hour. If you’d like a slightly less gelatinous broth, you can skip the final reducing step. That version of the recipe will yield about 5 ½ quarts. If you prefer beef bone broth, you can substitute 3 additional pounds of beef bones for the chicken backs. Don’t skip the chicken feet. If you prefer all-chicken bone broth, replace the beef bones with 3 additional pounds chicken backs.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 pounds meaty beef bones, such as knuckle bones
3 pounds chicken backs or chicken wings
8 ounces chicken feet
6 quarts water
Salt, to taste (optional)
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not yet browned, 7 to 10 minutes.
Add the beef bones, chicken backs, and chicken feet. Cover with the water. Increase the heat to high and bring to a rapid boil. Skim off the brown scum that forms on the surface. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pot with a lid, and simmer for 12 hours.
Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a clean large pot. Skim off the fat from the surface of the broth. (There will be a lot.) Return the pot to medium-high heat and bring to a rapid simmer. Continue to simmer, skimming occasionally if needed, until the broth is reduced to 4 quarts, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt if desired.
Let cool to room temperature before transferring to storage containers. I prefer to store 1 quart in a glass jar in the refrigerator (it’ll be good for a week or two) and the remainder in gallon ziplock bags, frozen flat as indicated in the story above.