As an ardent cook and card-carrying member of the Weston A. Price Foundation (well, OK, so they don’t have cards…but if they did, I’d wear it on my sleeve), I’m sold on broth as one of the foundations of my kitchen.
Howzat, you say? You mean the stuff in cans or aseptic packages at the store? Or you mean the little cubes you dissolve in boiling water?
No, no, no. I mean the long-simmered, fragrant, nutrient-packed, digestion-enhancing kind you make yourself. From bones. Nothing adds flavor or nutrition to a meal more quickly than good broth. And it’s one of the easiest things to make, too. The internet is just lousy with broth recipes, and some of them are good, too. And I’m going to add one more, right here, right now.
Why am I so passionate about broth? Several reasons, actually:
- Calcium. Magnesium. Phosphorus, silica, sulphur and other trace minerals. All these essential minerals end up in the broth and, because they’re bioavailable (i.e., your body can absorb them readily), they end up in your body.
- Collagen. Good for your joints. Good for your skin. Nourish them both from the inside out – saves on having to inject them from the outside in.
- Gelatin. Gelatin helps make food more digestible. So when you include broth in your meals (whether as soup, a sauce, the liquid in your rice, or in a mug on the side), you help ensure good digestion for the whole meal.
- Flavor. We’re talking knock-your-socks-off, gourmet-chef-in-your-pantry flavor.
Are we on board? OK, then, let’s make some broth!
Basic broth (chicken, with beef variation at the end)
Makes about 3-1/2 quarts of rich, nourishing broth
Stockpot (stainless, enamel, or ceramic); for this recipe, an 8 quart is ideal
Large slotted spoon
4 quart-size canning jars and lids
Metal funnel (a canning funnel is ideal, but you could use a regular one)
Fine-mesh strainer (6-8 inches across)
Cheesecloth (ideally unbleached – who needs more chemicals?)
Chicken: Your goal is to have about half the depth of your stock pot loosely filled with stuff, mostly bone-related stuff. That could be a leftover chicken carcass from the roast you had yesterday; it could be a pound of wings plus a couple of backs plus a leg/thigh combination; it could be some leftover bones plus some necks; I hope you get the idea! The main thing is that you want a bunch of bones, gently used or fresh. Chicken feet are always a great idea, and if you’ve got them, toss in 6 or so (they’re pure collagen and add tons of flavor). Oh, and if you can get pastured chicken for all of this, so much the better. If not, at least get organic and free-range.
Other ingredients: One hefty carrot (or a couple of smaller ones), one good-sized onion (4 inches or so in diameter), a stalk of celery if you’ve got it, some wine (or apple cider) vinegar, and a little Celtic sea salt (or Himalayan crystal salt). At the very end, you will need 8-10 parsley stems with the leaves attached (depending on the size of parsley sold at your store, this may be half a bunch, or it may be just a quarter). Optional: a small sweet potato; leek greens; a teaspoon or so of whole black peppercorns; a strip of kombu or wakame sea vegetable.
Scrub the carrot, cut off the stem end, and cut into two or three pieces. Ditto for the celery. Rinse the onion, cut off the root end, and cut it in half. Unless the skin is totally funky, leave it on. [In fact, start saving your yellow onion skins and keep them in a little plastic bag. They add wonderful color to your broth (just like they do to hard-boiled eggs, for that matter, but that’s another story). If you’ve got them, use a handful for your broth.] If using one or more of the optional ingredients, you scrub and chunk the sweet potato, and/or rinse the leek greens and/or sea vegetables (leave intact), and/or take out the jar of peppercorns.
Now you’re ready to make broth! Put the bones in your pot. Fill the pot to a couple of inches from the top with filtered water. Pour in a little vinegar (a tablespoon or so). Cover the pot and turn the heat on to medium high. Go do something else, but keep track of your pot; you want to catch it as it’s starting to get some active bubbles, but before it reaches a full rolling boil. (This will take a good 15 minutes or so, so if you want to check your e-mail, start laundry, write a love letter, go for it.)
As it starts to come to a boil, you’ll see some thickish, maybe greyish, solid-looking foam. It’s just bits and pieces of protein and the like that are cooking and solidifying, but you want to lose it, as it will make your broth murky. So take a big (serving) spoon and start gently lifting it off. I dump spoonfuls of what is delicately called “scum” into a custard dish, for later disposal, but do whatever works for you. You can give the contents of the pot a gentle stir from time to time to release any scum below the surface; be patient and try to remove what you see, but do not make yourself crazy because that is so not worth it. Oh, and don’t remove the fat. That’s good stuff!
OK, now it gets totally easy (not like that was so hard). Put in the rest of the ingredients. Add a big pinch of salt (if you like to measure, maybe 1/4 teaspoon). Add water if you need to, to bring it within an inch of the top. Cover it, turn the heat to the lowest setting, and let it simmer for at least 6-8 hours, up to 24. Shorter overall simmering times seem to get the best gelatin, while longer times extract more minerals. Your call on this!
About half an hour before you plan to turn the heat off, add the parsley to the pot. When you stop cooking it, go ahead and leave the cover on; you can strain it right away or hold it up to an hour before straining (believe me, it stays plenty hot).
Straining and storing
Line up 4 super-clean, dry, quart-size mason jars and accompanying lids. Put your (metal) canning funnel in the mouth of one of them. Put your fine-mesh strainer on top of the funnel, resting the handle on something handy (and sturdy; I rest it on the top of my toaster oven). Take about a 12-inch piece of cheesecloth, three or four layers thick, and line the strainer with it (the ends of the cheesecloth will hang over the edges). Put your soup pot immediately adjacent, as well as a bowl lined with a small plastic trash bag (or used handle bag from the store – if this is your choice, use two to avoid leaks).
Use a large slotted spoon to lift out the big pieces of vegetable and bones into the trash bag, letting them drain as much as you can before dumping the solids. When you’ve removed most of the big pieces, use a ladle (or a metal or glass cup measure) to scoop broth into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Keep an eye on your jar, and when you’re within shouting distance of the threads on the jar, stop and move on to the next jar. As you start to get to the bottom of the pot, you will probably want to stop using the ladle altogether, and just tilt the whole pot into the strainer to get the last precious drops of broth.
You’ll see that a pale gold layer of fat will be floating on top of each jar. If one jar has a really thick layer and the others pretty thin layers, take a spoon (or a small ladle) and gently equalize the fat distribution. Then put the lids on and let the jars cool down till they are still warm to the touch, but not hot (you can grab the jar without burning yourself). Then put in the refrigerator. The fat will solidify and make an airtight seal, keeping your broth fresh for waaaay longer than if you removed it. In fact, without fat, the broth will have to be re-simmered for 10 minutes or so every 3-4 days (or frozen); with the fat, I’ve found that it will stay fresh a couple of weeks. So keep the fat!
If you want to freeze, then don’t fill the jars more than about 3/4 full. When they have cooled down, make sure the lids are tight and then lay gently in the freezer on their sides. When the contents are frozen, you can stand them up again. Sure, they’ll look really silly, but you won’t end up with broken jars, something that seems to happen regularly when you freeze the liquid in vertical jars.
Beef variation: Same as above, but use a mixture of hard bones (like knuckle and marrow bones) and meaty ones (like short ribs or oxtail). Leftover bones are fine, too. You can cook beef broth longer, too – a minimum of 12-14 hours, up to 24 (even 36 if you really want to go for it).
Mixed variation: Same as above, but use a mixture of chicken and beef bones. Good all-purpose broth, and you can use what you have laying around in the freezer, too.