Last week, our dear friend Henry came home from rehab following surgery and intense radiation treatment for tonsil cancer. Even weeks later, he was still limited to liquids, either that he could drink or put into a feeding tube. I asked if he craved anything. “Not really, I can’t taste anything,” he said.
His wife said she’d looked at the ingredients on the commercial liquid food they had been putting into feeding tube. She was struck by all the artificial ingredients. “What he needs is something natural, like broth.”
“Let me see what I can cook up,” I said.
I spent a day researching the value of bone broth. Once something of a lost art, bone-based stocks have come back into vogue as key parts of the paleo and keto diet movements. So I spent a day making gallons of bone broth and soups incorporating it. Then I posted a photo on Facebook showing off my handiwork.
Immediately, I was flooded with two questions. “Can I have the recipe?” and “What’s the difference between bone broth and stock, anyway?”
The answer to the second question? Essentially none.
Bone Broth vs. Stock
The stock vs. broth question has been something of a culinary debate for years. Bone broth and stock are both liquids derived from simmering ingredients in water. The flavoring ingredients may vary, but they are generally discarded.
At Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, chefs taught us that if bones were involved in this process, then you were making stock. If one used only meat or vegetables, then it was broth. Thus, technically there’s no such thing as “vegetable stock,” it’s broth. (Vegetable broth is delicious and endlessly versatile; check out my recipe for it.)
The bone broth vs. stock debate gets complicated by the intended use. Stock, whether it’s made from beef, chicken or fish bones, is generally created as an ingredient to enhance a dish. Some argue if the liquid is made solely to be consumed on its own, then it’s broth.
Of course, what if you plan to use it for both? After all, I have been known to sip on freshly made beef or chicken stock, and warm vegetable broth is an almost daily habit — and I use the same stuff to cook with, too. So bone broth vs. stock seems like splitting semantic hairs to me.
At any rate, the process for making bone broth or stock is the same. I already have a lengthy post on making chicken stock. So here I’ll focus on beef stock aka bone broth (although you can use the same recipe for chicken).
For millennia, cooks simmered bones to extract collagen, nutrients and flavor to create a thick, rich gelatinous base for soups, stews and sauces. It has also been known as a medicinal cure-all for generations as well. Why is that?
Health benefits of bone broth/stock
Historically, cooks just anecdotally knew that people felt better after sipping bone broth. Now scientists know why. Based on research from a number of sources, including the Mayo Clinic, here’s a quick (and not complete) breakdown of what’s in bone stock that makes it so nutritional:
Collagen: the most abundant protein in the human body, collagen is found in the bones, muscles, skin, and tendons. The addition of collagen to the diet can help repair body tissue at a cellular level.
Glucosamine: a sugar protein that aids the body build cartilage, the cushy connective tissue at your joints. Glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance found in bones, bone marrow, shellfish and fungus.
Proline/glutamic acid: one of the amino acids that forms collagen, proline helps support antioxidants and improves gut health, aids nutrient absorption and supports the metabolism, and even helps protect the cardiovascular system.
Glycine: an amino acid used by the body to create proteins that in turn repair and maintain tissue and aid in making hormones and enzymes.
Glutamine: the most common amino acid found in the muscles. In fact, more than 60 percent of all skeletal muscle is made up of glutamine. Glutamine quickly becomes depleted when the body comes under stress, either from over-training or illness.
Key Tips for Bone Broth
- Buy good bones. The best option is visit a butcher. However, thanks to the popularity of bone broth, major supermarket chains now stock bones, too. I found grass fed organic bones in the freezer section of my local QFC, owned by Kroger. If yours doesn’t carry them, fill out a request slip.
- Caramelize bones in a hot oven. This helps to add a hearty, earthy flavor to the final product.
- Start with cold, clean water. Long simmering will condense all flavors including the gunk in your water supply. Use a filter if you’ve got one. For the same reason, don’t add salt until the end or it may be brackish.
- Invest in a mesh strainer and cheesecloth. This will help create clear, beautiful broth/stock.
- Don’t boil or cover. Boil too much and stock becomes cloudy. Covered stock/bone broth can taste sour.
- Bones first. I prefer to let it simmer with just the bones for the first couple hours and then add in vegetables and aromatics. This makes it easier to strain fat off the top.
- Strain, strain, strain. Beef bones yield a lot of fat. Strain with a spoon regularly to eliminate excess.
- Safety first. A big stock pot stacked with bones is both hot and heavy. Use tongs to remove the bones and vegetables. Then use a ladle or a cup to get out the liquid.
To get the bones to give their all, beef stock/bone broth should be simmered for a minimum of 12 hours, and chicken stock for at least four hours. You don’t have to do anything to it other than skim it. Just set it on a back burner and let it go. If you have an electric stove or portable burner, you can leave it on all night; this is not recommended for gas for reasons that should be obvious. It’s impossible to “overcook” beef stock/bone broth. However, it’s tempting to under cook it. Give it at least eight hours if possible, or use a pressure cooker.
Using an Instant Pot
Stock is based on the French technique known as reduction. This simply means that simmering ingredients in water over a long period of time allows the flavors and collagen to become concentrated due to the slow evaporation of water.
So while you can also make bone broth in an Instant Pot, be aware that without the evaporation, the resulting broth will be a bit different. In my experience, it tends to be oilier and cloudy, and doesn’t quite coax all the goodness from the bones. However, it’s better than skimping on cooking time in a regular pot and for those who value time above all, it’s definitely worth a try. For a six-quart Instant Pot, cut the recipe in half and follow the steps up to putting the bones in the pot with water. Then, set the Instant Pot on manual for 2 hours. Continue straining as directed.
Roasted Bone Broth
- Large stock pot
- Mesh sieve
- Cheese cloth
- 8 lbs beef or veal bones (about 3.5 kilos)
- 2 onions quartered
- 3 large carrots roughly chopped
- 3 ribs celery roughly chopped
- Handful chopped fennel (optional)
- Few whole cloves (optional)
- 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
- Handful stems from parsley, thyme or oregano
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- Splash apple cider vinegar (optional)
- sea salt or Himalayn pink salt
- Remove impurities from the bones. Place thawed and/or fresh bones in stockpot or bowl and cover with water. Let stand for fifteen minutes and then drain, discarding the water. This helps to remove freezer frost, blood, and other undesirables. Dry well.
- Roast the bones. Preheat oven to 400°F/ 210°C. Roast the bones on a sheet pan or roasting pan until they achieve a rich brown color, about 30 to 45 minutes. If desired, you can add vegetables and roast those, too.
- Simmer. With tongs or a large spoon, transfer bones to the stockpot. (Leave the vegetables aside for later.) Cover with cold water. Pour the fat out of the roasting or sheet pan, add water, and gently loosen the pan drippings. Pour this into the stockpot. In either case, the water level should be at least three inches above the bones. Apply high heat until the stock comes to a gurgling simmer. Then reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a simmer. For the next couple of hours, use a ladle or large spoon to regularly skim the foam and fat from the surface of the stock. Don’t let it boil.
- Add vegetables and aromatics. For beef bones, simmer the uncovered stock for a minimum of eight hours; for chicken, two hours. Skim every hour or 90 minutes. Add water as needed to keep the bones submerged.
- Remove bones and strain. Don't try to pour out the contents. Use tongs to remove bones and vegetables and put into bowls. Ladle or pour the remaining stock and vegetables through a colander set over a large bowl. Repeat until all the stock liquid has been strained through the colander. You will probably need two or three large bowls.
- Strain through cheesecloth. Line the colander with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Let the stock cool a bit. (I add a few ice cubes.) This will help the fat collect on the surface. Strain through cheesecloth again. At this point, taste it and add a bit of salt as desired.
- Use or cool and store. Cool the stock/broth quickly. (One tip: plop freezer bags with ice into the bowls.) Once at room temperature, put into the fridge. Refrigerate and use the stock within five days. Mason or glass jars work well to keep in the fridge. Otherwise, ladle into freezer-proof glass, silicone or plastic containers and freeze. Use within three months.