Bone stock – Seems it’s entered, maybe even passed, the realm of tragically hip foods, but I’m here to say that it ain’t necessarily so. It’s winter, when soups, stews, and hearty sauces rule, and bone broth always has and always will have a starring role therein. You can buy the stuff, true enough, but what do you get? Most likely, you’ll find something that is but a pale shadow of its name, or a more or less real deal offering that costs way too much for our liking. Making it at home really is the only viable answer for acquiring top notch quality at a reasonable price – But doing requires some serious time and attention to detail. Is it worth doing? Without a doubt, the answer is yes.
Bone stock really isn’t trendy. It’s been around since forever, and for good reason – It’s not only delicious, it’s pretty darn good for you. Building a stock from bones, marrow, connective tissues and a little meat is genuinely nutritious. What you’ll find inside depends to some degree on what you make it from, but generally you’ll get calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, and silicon from the bones. The marrow contributes Vitamins A and K2, omegas 3 and 6, and trace minerals – iron, zinc, manganese, selenium, and boron among them. The connective tissue adds glucosamine and chondroitin. All that stuff gelatinizes when you make stock, and the gelatin is rich in amino acids, especially glycine, proline, and arginine. There are recent, peer reviewed scientific studies that state, unequivocally, that your mom was right – chicken soup is good for you when you’re sick.
You can make bone broth from a bunch of other stuff – We do so from beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, (and veggies), on a regular basis. In its simplest form, it’s taking the carcass of that chicken or turkey, or beef or pork bones, simmering it low and slow with some aromatics, and then making soup or stew for your meal that night. It’s fun, delicious, and absolutely the right thing to do – using pretty much everything you can from that bird. But when you’re making bulk stock to last the winter, then you’re talking serious bone stock, and that’s what we’re going to do here.
So, where to go for bones? Really, no farther than your fridge or freezer. The first and most important step here is to not throw away anything from what you buy. Bones and carcasses are not refuse, they’re vital ingredients. You can store things up to make a big batch, or do what we do and make smaller ones as you go. In this house, no poultry of any kind is done being used until stock has been made, after however many meals we’ve enjoyed. That’s the way it’s been done through the ages, and it’s what you should be doing too. We buy local, grass fed beef from a high school friend who raises it. Bags of beef bones are part of the bounty we gratefully receive each spring.
You can ask local butchers for bones, without a doubt – I’ll recommend finding a good Carniceria – They are far more likely than your average grocer to have a Use Everything mentality. If you’re using whole bones, you don’t want to work with anything that’s really Fred Flintstone sized. Get your butcher to cut them down to an average of maybe 3” to 4”, or just grab a hack saw or a hatchet and do it yourself – It’s not that hard at all.
How many bones do you need to make stock? Depends on how much you want to make, really. What you’ll see images of here was almost 5 pounds of bones. You can do it with less and make smaller batches, no problem – what’ll drive quality is the freshness of what you use, and the ration of water to bones – more on that in a bit.
I’m certainly not going to claim that there’s Only One Way To Do This Right, but I will say this – What I’ll outline here works consistently for us, and will for you, too. The process isn’t as fussy as some, and fussier than others – What it entails is what I believe you need to do to make sure you build high quality stock that’s safe to eat. Understand this – doing this requires some of your attention for most of one day and part of another – in other words, it’s a weekend thing for serious food lovers, so if that’s you, read on.
A Note on Equipment.
You’ll need a good sized stock pot for this – a 3 gallon (12 Quart) is pushing at the too small side of things, but is viable – a 4 gallon is much better. There’s quite a bit of ingredients volume in a batch the size you see me doing here – We’ve got heavy duty 4 and 5 gallon stainless steel vessels. If you’re going to invest, do not buy a cheap ass pot – Light weight stuff doesn’t transfer heat at all well, and won’t last, either – and I’d steer clear of aluminum pots, period. I highly recommend the Vigor heavy duty stainless steel – aluminum clad stock pots from the Webstaurant Store – you can’t beat the quality for the price on those. You’ll also need a fairly large colander and some cheese cloth, which frankly, you aughta have anyway.
First things first – Blanching.
This is fundamentally the same thing you do to veggies prior to freezing them. It’s a quick cooking step with a very specific, and important, task in mind – It removes most of the impurities that will make your stock funky if you don’t do it. And fear not, you will be leaving the good stuff there.
Toss your bones into your pot and cover with a good 5” of cold water.
Put your pot on the most aggressive burner you’ve got and set it on high.
Bring the pot to a full boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a very brisk simmer.
Let everything simmer for 20 minutes, then carefully pour off all the liquid.
That icky schmutz left in your sink trap? That’s exactly what you did this step to be rid of.
Step Two – Roasting The Bones.
There are stocks, (the so called white stocks), that don’t call for roasted bones and carcasses, but that’s not what we’re after here. We’re after deep, rich flavors, and you cannot get there without roasting. This is a step skipped or skimped on far too often, and that’s no bueno. You want a serious, high heat roast, done long enough to genuinely brown and caramelize.
The other consideration here is what to put in there with your bones. For my 2¢ worth, less is better. We’re after the basics here, a focused and potent depth of flavor from bones. You can add whatever you want when you put the stock in use. A hint of an aromatic base with some good salt and pepper is enough. Adding an acid towards the end of the process helps break down connective tissues and gives you richer stock. Tomato paste or purée is the most common choice – it adds a nice bright note and richness to the mix.
To Roast roughly 4 to 5 pounds of bones.
Preheat your oven to 425° F and set a rack in a middle position.
Peel, trim, and rough chop 1 medium onion and 3 or 4 cloves of garlic.
Arrange your bones, carcass, etc on a baking sheet(s) with a rim. Don’t overcrowd things – leave a little room between each one.
Toss the chopped onion and garlic evenly across the pan.
Season everything with kosher salt and ground pepper – a coarse salt is perfect here, but don’t be too heavy handed.
Roast for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size and volume you’re roasting. You want your bones to get pretty dark – not burned, but notably, definitely roasted, so don’t be shy about the time it takes.
When things are pretty well cooked, but not quite there, pull your sheets out of the oven and carefully smear tomato paste or purée on the bones – I say carefully, because the bones are hot as hell.
Stick everything back in the oven and let them roast for another 15 minutes or so, until the tomato is notably browned.
Remove from the oven and move on to the next step.
Step Three – The Long Simmer.
At this phase, you can and should expand your choice of aromatics to add to the bones. We tend to go very traditional with ours – onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and bay leaf, with a little salt and good pepper. You can certainly add other goodies as you like – Fennel, winter root veggies, a little rosemary even. Start out simple, and as you get used to the process and what you like, customize your own mix. Don’t over season here – Again, we’re after basic stock – you’ll add seasoning when you use it.
Finally, let’s discuss how long is too long for simmering stock? This will depend on what kind you’re making. Lighter boned stuff like poultry is pretty much played out after 5 or 6 hours, tops, while heavy beef bones could easily go 8 to 10 hours if you have the time and patience, (and I hope you do – The bigger bones can keep on giving if you let them.) In any event, don’t even think about simmering for anything less than 4 hours for poultry and 6 for beef – if you do, you’re largely defeating the purpose of the whole exercise.
To Simmer The Stock
For every 5 pounds of bones, peel, trim, and rough chop
1 medium Onion
2 stalks Celery
2-3 Cloves Garlic
2-3 Turkish Bay Leaves
Add bones and aromatics to stock pot, and cover with just enough water to keep everything submerged – you don’t want the bone and aromatic mix swimming in the deep end of the pool – just keep it under simmering water, so it can do its extraction thing.
Add a teaspoon of sea salt, and a few twists of fresh ground pepper.
Turn heat to high until you develop a solid boil.
Reduce heat to a bare simmer, cover the pot and let it go.
Keep an eye on things when you first gear down to a simmer. The covered pot can get frisky – you’re best off turning your heat to low, and then bumping things up a bit if you need to – you’ll get to a consistent simmer faster that way.
Keep a pan or kettle with hot water near by to maintain the water level above the bones. Don’t add excessive amounts – just enough to keep everything submerged.
Step Four – Initial Straining and Cooling.
When your stock looks and smells and tastes like it’s done, it’s time to strain and cool. Be careful when you’re pouring hot liquids, for obvious reasons. I use another, smaller stock pot with a colander stuck on top for this first task, getting rid of the cooked out ingredients – you’ll do further clarifying later, so don’t worry about anything more than that at this point.
You can certainly add the used up bones and stuff to your compost pile, by the way. They’re pretty well played out, and the long simmer softens bones, making them break down a bit easier.
Now you need to cool your stock relatively quickly. This is done first and foremost as a food safety best practice – hot broth takes a long time to cool, and it’s a serious playground for bacteria. An ice water bath is the best way to get the job done. Anything from a stoppered sink to a roasting pan or high sided braiser you can partially submerge your stock pot into will do the trick. A 50% -50% blend of ice and water is the desired medium. If you can increase the surface area between the hot liquid` and the cooling bath, by transferring the stock to something shallower and wider, that too will help speed the cooling process – So will stirring every 15 minutes or so.
The Cooling Mantra is this – Drop whatever the current temperature is to below 70° F within 2 hours, and from 70° F to under 40° F within 4 hours after that – Total cooling time, 6 hours or less. Do that, and you’re right as rain. You can also add some ice directly to the stock if you wish, up to 3 or 4 cups worth – As potent as this stuff comes out, you needn’t worry at all about overly diluting your stock at this point. Finally, do not ever put hot liquid into the fridge or freezer – not only will it not cool properly, it’ll heat up everything around it, and that’s just not good.
Once the stock is fully cooled, it goes into the fridge overnight. This will allow a lot of the suspended solids to drop out of the solution, and also allow the fat to rise. In the morning, you’ll find clearer stock with a nice, solid layer of fat on top. Time for the next step.
Step Five – Defatting and Clarifying.
Time to make your stock as clear as you want it – and that is the only criterion that matters. Your kitchen is not a Guide Michelin restaurant, and you don’t need to be able to read the date on a dime sitting on the bottom of your stock pot.
That said, you do want to remove the fat. Fortunately, that’s a simple thing with chilled stock. A wide slotted spoon or handled strainer does the job just fine. If you’re reasonably careful, you’ll get 99% of the congealed fat off your stock with no hassle.
Now, at this point you could leave things as is, if you wish. Yes, what you have will be kind of cloudy and a bit busy, but truth be told, so what? It’s going to be turned into soup, or stew, or sauce – so who’s going to notice? If you decide to stop here, don’t beat on yourself, it’s all good.
Regardless, what you see after the fat is gone may look like, well, loose meat jello. And if it does, congratulations, you’ve made some bitchin’ stock, indeed. If that’s what you got, you gelatinized a whole bunch of the available collagen, and that is exactly what you want – Liquid gold.
Now, if like me you’re just a bit fussy, then you might want to strain that stuff a bit more. It will liquify appreciably as it comes to room temperature. You’ll need cheese cloth and your colander again.
Put your straining setup in or over a stock pot and carefully pour your defatted stock through – Keep in mind that the refrigerated overnight caused most of the solids to settle – If you’re careful not to stir up that sludge, one pass will be all you’ll need.
Step Six – Further Tinkering and Portioning.
No matter what kind of bones you used, you really should consider making a reduction with some of your stock. Why? Because if your stock is liquid gold, a 50% reduction of that is platinum.
Reduction is as simple as it sounds. Put, say, 4 cups of stock in a pan, heat it to a boil, reduce the heat to a bare simmer and leave it there until it’s reduced in volume by 50%.
Cool the reduction, then transfer that to a clean glass jar with an airtight lid. Refrigerated, it’ll last a couple weeks. A quarter cup of that in 3 cups of water will make a great, fast stock. Even better, divvy it up into an ice cube tray with an airtight, locking lid and freeze it – You can pop out a cube or three when you want to make a quick pan sauce, or to add some zing to anything from mashed potatoes to asparagus, with a zillion options in between.
The rest of your stock can be portioned into pints or quarts and frozen, where it’ll be good for 4 to 6 months. Make sure, if you use glass jars, that you leave plenty of head room for the expansion of freezing stock – I’m talking a good 2”+, and err to the side of caution – broken mason jars in your freezer are no fun.
Your own home made stock, and/or reduction, added to a pan that just had something yummy sautéed in it, with a little butter added, and drizzled over whatever you’re having? That’s liquid gold right there.