Broth is an undeniably key staple in cooking. Yet many folks are intimidated by the prospect of making it. However, homemade broth is one of the simplest, healthiest, tastiest, and economical ways to enhance soups, sauces, stews, chilis, casseroles, braises and even stir-fries.
Homemade broth has many benefits over purchased broth. You have complete control over the type and quality of vegetables and bones that go in the broth, where they come from, how old they are, and how they were grown/processed. Further, you can cook the broth for as long as desired, manipulating the ultimate nutrient content according to your goals. Homemade broth also contains no added preservatives or sugars, colorings, MSG, or excess salt. Making homemade broth also allows one to tailor flavorings to the ultimate finished product, such as adding ginger root for Asian style broth. Finally, homemade broth is more economical as one can use vegetable and bone scraps to make it, significantly reducing overall waste and contributing to cost reduction.
I find that making a vegetable or simple bone stock has different cooking requirements than making a true bone broth. Bone broth needs to simmer at least 12 hours (and up to 24) to extract sufficient gelatin and minerals from the bones. Because of its high nutrient content, true bone broth is believed to aid digestion, heal gut issues, and improve nail, hair, bone, skin and joint health. However, simple broths or stocks have less of these benefits but require less cooking time. When cooked too long, some vegetables lose nutrient potency and can add bitter or off flavors. So I am separating the preparation of simple broth and bone broth in order to highlight this difference.
General Tips for Making Simple Broth
- Save most vegetable scraps meant for the garbage or compost pile in a large re-sealable plastic baggie stored in the freezer. Add to it as you cook. When the baggie is full, place contents in a stockpot or Crockpot and add enough water to cover.
- Add a few peppercorns and/or a small amount of herbs (like thyme or parsley) or dried herbs tied in cheesecloth.
- If desired, add additional complementary veggies to round out the flavor (celery, carrot, onion, tomato, turnip, and mushrooms are especially good)
- For Crockpot, turn on low and cook for 6-12 hours. For stovetop, bring to a low simmer and cook, uncovered, for 2-3 hours.
- Sieve out solids using a fine mesh strainer (use them now for compost). Let broth cool, then portion and freeze, or use within 5 days.
- Non-waxy and non-bitter scraps work best and can include onion skins (great for color), garlic and garlic skin, bell pepper scraps (avoid seeds), Kohlrabi or cabbage stems, stems from greens (beware of beet and red chard greens which may color the broth), winter and summer squash ends and peels, tomato ends/seeds/pulp, carrot and parsnip ends and peels, asparagus or green bean ends, choi stems and greens, cauliflower leaves and cores, mushroom stems, and broccoli stems. Sparingly use strongly flavored vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage as they can overpower the taste. Avoid waxy vegetables (cucumbers), bitter seeds and pits or highly bitter greens, and beet scraps. Leave out potato skins as they add a starchy element.
- Wash all vegetables (even the onions) before you peel or de-stem them if you are planning to store them for broth. You don’t want any sand or dirt in your broth!!
- Add bones to make your desired flavored broth. Raw or cooked bones (like cooked chicken carcasses) work equally well. I also often add chicken necks, giblets, or wings for added flavor. For a make-your-own seafood broth, add in shrimp shells, lobster shells, and/or fish bones. For a rich beef broth, roast your bones in a 350- degree oven for about 30 minutes prior to adding them to the stock pot to get a good caramelized flavor.
- When adding bones for broth, add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to help extract maximum amounts of minerals from the bones.
- The longer the mix cooks, the more bitter the flavors can be depending upon your particular vegetable mix, so for crockpot cooking, time it so that you turn on the Crockpot right before bed and sieve out the solids right when you get up in the morning.
Tips for Making True Bone Broth
- Place cooked or raw bones in pot, add water to cover by an inch or two (it will significantly reduce while cooking), and stir in two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Bring to a low simmer and cook, uncovered, for 10 hours. Add vegetable scraps and additional seasonings and cook for 2-4 more hours. Strain, portion and store as indicated above. You may cook the vegetables together with the bones for the full 12 hours, but I would not recommend including cabbage, broccoli, or bitter greens in the vegetable mix in order to avoid strong or overly bitter flavors).
- Do not cook at a rapid boil. This causes the broth to become cloudy. Also, periodically skim off any foam that forms on the surface of the broth as it can contribute off flavors.
- Beef knuckle bones or other bones that contain large amounts of collagen make the best bone broth. Ask your butcher to hold some aside.
- If possible, buy organic, grass fed bones, or wild bones. If you can’t find them locally, they can be ordered online.
- Bone broth should congeal upon refrigeration. This is an indication that significant healthy gelatin has been extracted. If your broth is not gelatinous, try using different bones, adding more bones, or increasing cooking time. I find that chicken and seafood broths do not become gelatinous, most likely due to low amounts of collagen and gelatin in the bones.
- Make broth once a week to keep a steady supply on hand. If your freezer bag isn’t completely full, simply add to it two to four large whole carrots, an onion cut in half, and two to four stalks of celery.
- Use homemade broth instead of water to cook rice and other grains. This adds flavor and added nutrients to your finished dish.
- Hold off on salting the broth until you make a specific dish so that you can control the ultimate amount of sodium in your dishes.
- Use plenty of onion skins for a pleasant, deeply colored broth.
- Make note of vegetable combinations or amounts that particularly appeal to you. For example, I do not like large quantities of asparagus but love tons of mushroom stems in a single batch of broth.
- Meat eaters may want to make true bone broth whenever possible to maximize nutrient content.
Julie Wern is a psychologist turned stay-at-home-mom turned caterer. She is currently in training at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to become a Nutrition and Wellness coach. She is the author of Holcomb Farm CSA’s Simply Fresh blog and currently teaches cooking and cookie decorating classes. Contact Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments and inquiries.