When the feasting lets up a little, and the kitchen can be cleaned up a little, I tend to want to throw everything into either the dishwasher or the garbage. Leftovers are quite handy to have, so I’ll make an exception and pack those up for the fridge, and there’s one other thing I’ll do before collapsing onto the couch: gather up the bones from the meat and start a pot of stock.
Note from Katie: Although a very, very early Monday Mission was about homemade chicken stock with all my instructions, I asked Lauren from Leto’s Passion to share her tips on getting serious gel action to help you with this week’s brothy mission. Check out this photo to see why:
That is simply congealed liquid stock – not frozen at all! Hoo boy!
UPDATE 2015 – I’ve gathered all my best knowledge of chicken stock into one handy post: The Encyclopedia of Chicken Stock
What is Broth?
First of all, we need to know what we’re talking about. Most often the words stock and broth are used interchangeably. If you really want to get technical, stock is just the liquid (whether it needs to be from raw ingredients is up for debate), and broth describes the soups you can make out of it. I remember this by thinking of the stalk of a plant from which the various branches (B is for…) grow. Or, “this soup is delicious! It must come from good stock”.
Nonetheless, we always talk about “bone broth” – probably because it sounds better with all those Bs. And you know what? It has a lot of Bs in it too: riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3) and B6.
If you’re interested in what exactly broth has in it that makes it so good for you, hop over to my blog for the sciency background stuff, but I saved the tips and deliciousness for KS readers!
How Do I Make It?
Stock can be made from raw ingredients or pre-cooked. Since a lot of you are probably staring down a turkey carcass right now, or will be soon, we’ll start with the pre-cooked version.
- Set up the pot. First of all, save your drippings! If you don’t need them all for gravy, get them into the pot or slow cooker you’ll use for stock right away while they’re still liquid. Since I often roast a chicken in my dutch oven, I can just leave the juices all in there, carve and plate up the meat, and throw the off-cuts and bones back in the pot as they come along. Not only will the fats in those drippings make for a richer stock, the goodies that are already leaching out of the bones are in there and we want to capture them.
- Acid soak the bones. Break down the carcass a little, so it lays as low as possible (without packing) in the pot or crock. Splash a little apple cider vinegar or wine over it (about 2 tablespoons should do it, but I never measure) and put in enough water to just cover everything. Clap a lid on it and leave it there while you go and enjoy your dinner. This acid soak starts breaking down the bones so the minerals can more easily dissolve into your stock.
- Quick heat. When you’re ready to face the stove again (at least 20 minutes after the bones started soaking, but not so long that you’re worried about salmonella!) turn the heat up quite high and bring the pot to a low boil, then turn it down as low as it goes. This will get you through the salmonella danger temperature range, liquefy the collagen to produce gelatin, and bring any impurities to the surface so you can skim them off. If you don’t skim, the stock will likely be cloudy, and may taste off.
A lot of the joint-supporting things in stock are broken down by heat, so we want to keep the pot just hot enough that the occasional bubble bloops up, but not let it get hot enough to simmer. The two main reasons that stock might not gel are too much water (diluting the gelatin) or too much heat (breaking it down).
Gas stoves and slow cookers can be tricky with this. If you’re struggling to get the temperature down, there are trivets one can buy that lift pots higher off the gas flame, and I’ve heard of putting a cleaned and empty tuna tin between the inner and outer bowls of a slow cooker to do the same thing.
- Now you wait. Anything between 8 and 24 hours is reasonable. After a few hours you can check to see if the bones are soft enough to break. That exposes the marrow and lets its fats and nutrients leach into your stock better.
- Add flavourings at the end. I tend to leave my stock “virgin” so I can flavour it as I want when I go to cook with it, but you can throw in or carrot peelings and onion skins, whole peppercorns and a bay leaf a couple of hours before the stock will come off the heat. (More on that in a minute.) Salt is not recommended at this stage because it may wind up too concentrated in your final product.
- Strain and store. To strain, line a colander with a piece of cheesecloth, a clean tea towel or a couple layers of coffee filter, and set this over a bowl with a spout. I use my biggest Pyrex jug. Using tongs, fish as many bones as you can out of your stock and put them in a separate bowl (skipping this will overfill your colander and generally causes me to spill hot stock all over the kitchen counter). Pour the stock through the colander to strain it, then into whatever you’re going to store it in. Yes, this produces more dishes than I like, but I have not found a better way. (Do you have a method for straining and storing stock that doesn’t create so many dishes to wash? Share it in the comments!)
Starting from Scratch
If you look in the fridge and realize you’re running low on stock and there is no poultry carcass in your immediate future, starting from raw ingredients is easy.
The best cuts for soup are the cheapest, but not always the easiest to find: wings, feet, and necks. (For larger animals tails are also on the list, and for fish the whole head. I’ll be posting about those stocks later in the week.) Feet need a little preparation, but the rest is the same as with a cooked carcass: acid soak, low boil and skim, then barely blooping for 8 to 24 hours.
As with the first method, bones can be reused, lowering the cost even further. When the broth stops gelling and the bones fall apart, you’re done.
A note on vegetables: When I’m really with-it and planning ahead, I save up my (prewashed) vegetable skins and peelings in the fridge or freezer specifically to add to stocks. Anything is fair game, but I’d advise against brassicas (rutabaga, turnip, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and mustard) because they’ll make your house small like farts and the stock taste like old socks. If you want to add herbs or very delicate greens, do so not more the 20 minutes before you strain your stock or the heat will kill their nutrient contributions.
For those on GAPS, starting from either raw or cooked bones is acceptable.
And if you happen to have a pressure cooker (or histamine intolerance), here’s a fast method that will give you all the flavour but probably less of the collagen and gelatin found in the slow-simmered versions. It is not a GAPS recommended method.
How Do I Store It?
Strained into tightly-sealed jars, stock will keep for quite a while in the fridge. I can’t really say how long a while, but I can say that two to four weeks is not unreasonable. You’ll know that you’re running out of time if the gel starts to melt. And of course, any protein that is truly gone off will have a smell that instinct will recognize in a nanosecond. Those are the times I’m glad that bones are cheap!
If you’re facing a huge batch of broth and have no plans for soup in the next week or two, freeze it. I use ice cube trays (especially for broths I only ever want a little of, like fish or shrimp) and transfer the cubes to bags when they’re solid, or Ziploc bags with all the air squeezed out and laid flat until they’re frozen. Just remember to label and date your bags; you should have 3 to 6 months to consume your stock, but freezer burn is still something to watch for! I’ve also heard of freezing stock in mason jars (with proper technique to avoid dangerous and messy explosions).
Do not store it in metal, as the gelatin will react with it and cause corrosion.
What Do I Do With It?
The simplest soup of all (my 3y.o. calls it “plain soup”) is just broth in a mug. I confess that when I first read of that I thought, seriously? But it’s amazing. It was probably the first time that I consumed something and heard my body say, “thank you. That was exactly what I needed”. You can serve it with a meal but we generally use it as a snack or meal replacement; and it makes a great substitute for a coffee-only breakfast.
The next level of fanciness is to add chopped vegetables and/or meat, rice, barley or noodles, and cook them in the broth for soup. How about a real French onion soup, simmered for hours (and possibly served with more marrow goodness)? Alternatively, once the stock is hot you can stir it hard and drizzle in a raw scrambled egg to make egg drop soup, or finely slice a thin omelet and use that instead of noodles.
Needing something that sticks to the ribs, or that a picky eater can’t pick apart? Blend it. There are of course endless possibilities, but here are some I’ve posted on my blog: a thick orange one, a white one, and a stew-style brown one. Towards the end of the week we often enjoy “green soup”, made of whatever is wilting in the crisper cooked in broth and blended.
Sauces and Gravies
A broth reduction on its own makes a flavourful gravy (you can omit the flour, which technically makes it an au jus, or substitute from this tip sheet if you’re gluten free), but you can add whatever suits your palette and budget too: red or white wine, mushrooms, cream, spices. Just be sure to add salt at the end, so that you don’t condense your reasonably-salted stock down to dehydration gravy!
Stock can be used anywhere you need both liquid and flavour. Try adding some when cooking rice, steaming vegetables, or wilting spinach. Add a little splash to stir-fries or anything that needs thinning down; you might as well get the nutrition kick rather than use water, right?
Have fun with it, and broth on!
Lauren Matheson is a mother, a reader, an immigrant, a seeker of patterns in chaos, and a geek for many things, including ancestral nutrition and real food, parenting and adoption, international development, breastfeeding, interculturalism, and what it means to be a human and a girl. She blogs about what she thinks and eats at Leto’s Passion.
See my full disclosure statement here.