Bone broth has been revered as both food and medicine since ancient times. The nutrients and protein in bone broth are particularly well absorbed and they support the growth and repair of connective tissues in the body including bones, joints, blood vessels, and skin. The gelatin acts as a digestive aid and the amino acids support the body's natural detoxification mechanisms.
Bone broth can be consumed regularly as a winter tonic or used as a healthy and flavorful base for soups, stews, and sauces. It’s always been popular with gourmet chefs, serious home cooks, and grandmas, but now bone broth is trending. Even New Yorkers can be spotted sipping it on the street from to-go cups instead of coffee.
Making bone broth is as much as art as it is a science because the flavor and nutritional profile will vary depending on several factors:
- Which bones you use
- The age, diet, and lifestyle of the animal they came from
- Whether or not you add additional ingredients like aromatic vegetables and herbs
- How you cook it
Like all things, the quality of the finished product can only be as good as the raw materials, so never add brown or expired vegetables and use only bones from animals raised on pasture, fed their natural diet, and never exposed to hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, pesticides, or other chemicals.
To make bone broth, you really only need 3 things: bones, water, and a splash of apple cider vinegar. The small amount of acid will maximize the release of minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium, etc.) and gelatin from the bones as the broth simmers. If you can, use bones with lots of cartilage and some meat left on them. When making bone broth from poultry bones, be sure to include the wings, neck, and back.
If you're using bones from larger animals like cows, pigs, or lamb, opt for knuckles, feet, tailbones (oxtail), short ribs, and/or shank bones. If you can, add some skin, which is one of the richest sources of collagen. You can add organs to bone broth, but avoid adding livers, which can make it bitter. Eat them instead, by sautéing with balsamic vinegar or making paté.
To get all of the nutritional benefits from the bones, the marrow must be exposed. They don't need to be cut up into tiny pieces; they just need to fit into your pot. You can chop up poultry bones with a sharp cleaver or cut through them with poultry shears, but bigger bones require saws. They're often sold in pieces as marrow bones and soup bones, and they’re part of bone-in cuts of meat like shanks, ribs, rib roast, steaks (T-bone, Porterhouse, rib and rib eye), oxtail, and stew meat.
To give your bone broth more flavor, you can add bay leaves, parsley stems, whole peppercorns, or vegetables like onions, celery, carrots, and/or garlic (avoid using vegetables in the broccoli family). I regularly save vegetable trimmings -- like the ends of green beans and zucchini, and any wilted or tough green tops from leeks and scallions -- and keep them in the freezer until I'm ready to make bone broth. You can also add dry beans (pre-soak them overnight first) to give the broth more nutrients and a bit more body.
Avoid using uncoated aluminum pots to make bone broth, as they can impart a metallic taste. Instead use an enameled cast iron soup pot or Dutch oven, inexpensive speckled enamelware, or a slow cooker with a ceramic insert.
Bone broth should be simmered long enough to extract the collagen but not so long that the gelatin fibers start to break down. Bigger bones require longer cooking times. If you're using bones from beef, veal, pork, or lamb, you'll have to simmer them for at least 24 hours, which is easily done in a slow cooker. Smaller bones, like those from chickens and turkeys, require only 4 to 6 hours of cooking time. Fish bones and exoskeletons from shrimp, crayfish, and lobster contain collagen that dissolves faster and at lower temperatures, so these broths only need to cook for about an hour.
- Add the bones and any other ingredients to a large enameled or ceramic-coated pot along with just enough cold water to cover everything. Leave some room at the top to prevent the broth from boiling over. Add the vinegar and a pinch of sea salt if you wish.
- Slowly bring the mixture to a gentle boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Cook the broth at a boil so gentle that just a few bubbles rise to the surface at a time. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Simmer the stock, tasting occasionally, until all the flavor has been extracted from the bones, about 4 to 6 hours for poultry bones.
- Cool the broth for two hours.
- Pour the broth though a fine mesh strainer and into clean, labeled glass jars with tight-fitting lids. Transfer them to the fridge. The following day, transfer to the freezer any jars you won't use within 2 or 3 days.
If you're making a big batch of bone broth for future use and you're short on freezer space, after you strain out the solids you can boil it down into a concentrated "fumet" which you can store in smaller portions, freeze into cubes, or dehydrate into strips and use them as you would bouillon cubes.