Making the Perfect Soup Stock a/k/a BONE BROTH!

Making the Perfect Soup Stock a/k/a BONE BROTH!

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No, we aren’t talking about Wall Street “stock”.

A great soup, sauce, or gravy begins with a great “stock”, that is, beef, pork, chicken, or vegetables simmered in water so that the water becomes intensely flavored. The best restaurants make their own stocks, and that is one of the secrets of their success. You can add a lot of quality and flavor to your home cooked meals if you make your own stocks. You can also save a lot of money too.

These days, people refer to this as “bone broth” and it is widely touted as a very healthy drink just as it is, with of course some salt, pepper, and spices to enhance the drink.  These are not added in the stock making process, but are added later, when you drink it.

Leftovers are fine! Use leftover chicken, or the “less favorable” pieces like backs and necks, leftover veggies, leftover roast, trimmings from vegetables (like potato skins), and bones. You can freeze leftovers and thaw them when ready to make stock. If the frozen leftovers (meats, bones, etc.) have already been cooked, you don’t need to roast them first as they are already cooked. These recipes can be adapted based on what you have on hand. If you have doubts about a particular vegetable, cook it by itself in some water and see how it tastes.

Soup Bones: if you ask at the meat market for bones, you will get bones with meat attached. That’s what you want.   When roasting the bones in the oven, DO NOT LET THEM TURN BLACK! You want a nice brown, NOT black. If they burn, trim the burned part off or get more bones and start again as burned bones will make the stock bitter. You can also ask for “beef trimmings”, which will be bits of meat and fat, if you use trimmings (or stew meat, which some people do but that cut is more expensive), add it to the roasting pan when you put the bones in the oven. Be sure to deglaze the roasting pan and pour all of the small bits and pieces into the stock pot. (This means pouring a little water into the bottom of the hot roasting pan, and use a spatula to move it back and forth so all the little tasty bits of meat and fat come lose and thus pour easily into the stock pot. These bits and pieces are called the “fond” and they are full of flavor.)

Veggies. An alternative to roasting the carrots and onions is to dice them and then saute them in butter or olive oil until they caramelize (turn a bit brown). This is also achieved by roasting them with the bones. The point of this is to add rich and robust flavors to the beef stock. Add the celery towards the end of the saute process as celery has so much water it doesn’t caramelize very well. Don’t use vegetables in the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, kale, turnips, cauliflower) Don’t use ground or powdered herbs, use whole peppercorns rather than ground black pepper.

When you chop the onions, chop off the ends but don’t peel them. The onion skins will lend a nice color to your finished stock.

Stock Cooking Notes:  Meat stocks benefit from long, slow cooking (8 hours or longer at least, I simmer my beef stocks overnight for 16 hours or so), vegetable stocks are done in an hour. You don’t want the stock to boil at this stage, when the bones, meat, and vegetables are in the pot, just a slow simmer. Resist the urge to stir it. When the stock is finished, strain it to remove any bits and pieces. Refrigerate it overnight, and remove the fat the next day (or not, I don’t, as I like it in the broth). If desired, at this point it can be further reduced by boiling until it’s the consistency of jelly. Since stock making can be quite a production, make more than you will need and freeze it for later. It would be easy to make stock for a month in one day.

Rules of Thumb for Ingredients:

+ 1 pound of bones/meat for each 2 quarts of water. . . . if you plan to simmer for longer than 8 hours, you will likely need to add more water after a few hours.

+ Onions, carrots, celery, at a ratio of 2-1-1. That is, for every two parts of onions, you want 1 part each of carrots and celery. For a 16-20 quart batch of stock, start with 2 pounds of onions, and 1 pound each of celery and carrots. Chop the onions, but don’t peel them. The onion skins will add a nice color to your stock. , 1 pound of chopped celery, and 1 pound of chopped carrots – a ratio of 2-1-1. If you are making less, reduce the veggies accordingly. This does not need to be precisely measured, stock is very forgiving.

+ Tomato paste – for a large 16-20 quart batch, you can add a small can of tomato paste to enrich the color.

Note that stock is very forgiving when it comes to amounts of ingredients. This isn’t a precise, must-be-exactly-measured recipe like a bakery recipe. It’s meat, water, and veggies, slow cooked a long time.

Chicken Soup Stock

If you are going to back a small batch, say 4 quarts, of chicken stock, you’ll want:

2 pounds of chicken (which could be backs and necks, or even chicken feet)
1/2 pound onions (about 2-3 onions)
1/4 pound each celery and carrots (this would be about 2 carrots and a couple of ribs of celery).

For a large batch (16 quarts), you’ll want:

8 pounds chicken
2 pounds onions
1 pound each of carrots and celery

Peel onions before chopping. Chop the vegetables in large pieces, do not include the leaves from the celery (they can be bitter). Put the ingredients in a soup pot and cover with water. Simmer for 1 hour.  Note that “simmer” is not a rapid boil. Generally, I turn the heat up high when I start, but when bubbles start to form, I turn the heat down. If you are using whole chickens, at the one-hour point remove the chicken from the water and take out the breast meat and use it for another recipe. This is “poached chicken breast.” If you like snacking on chicken skin, this is the time to remove it, add a dash of salt, and voila! Tasty snack!  Or if you’re using backs/necks, chicken leftovers, etc., just let it continue to cook. Turn it down low and simmer it overnight, or if you are in a hurry, at least 4 hours. Always resist the urge to stir. If you are simmering it overnight, rather than all day when you can watch it, make sure there is plenty of water in the pot. When finished, strain and use immediately, or refrigerate until the fat congeals at the top, remove the fat and freeze the stock for use later. Save the fat for other cooking purposes, and you can also leave the fat in if you like that in your broth.  (I do!)

The recipe directions above make a “white” stock, which is a light color. If you want a darker poultry stock, with deeper flavors, roast the chicken pieces and vegetables first, and add some tomato paste to the simmering stock.

After Thanksgiving and Christmas, use the bones from your turkey to make a brown turkey stock.

Beef Stock

If you are going to make a small batch, say 4 quarts, of beef or buffalo or pork stock, you’ll want:

2 pounds of bones with meat attached
3/4 pound onions (about 2-3 onions)
1/4 pound each celery and carrots (this would be about 2 carrots and a couple of ribs of celery).

For a large batch (16 quarts), you’ll want:

8 pounds of bones with meat
2 pounds onions
1 pound each of carrots and celery

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (230 degrees C). Slice onion. Chop scrubbed celery and carrots into 1-inch chunks. In a large shallow roasting pan place soup bones, onion, and carrots. Bake, uncovered until the bones are well browned, turning occasionally. This is maybe 45 minutes and shouldn’t be longer than an hour. This can be messy in the pan, so line the pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper to facilitate the clean-up. Place the browned bones, onion, and carrots in a large soup pot or Dutch oven — and any fat or juices in the pan after the roasting. Put the empty roasting pan on a burner and add about a cup water and move it around with a spoon or spatula in order to “deglaze” the pan, pour this and any little bits and pieces of meat or vegetables into the soup pot. If you want to know, these bits and pieces are called the “fond” and add LOTS of flavor.

If you plan to add some tomato paste, for a nice flavor burst “paint” the roasted bones with the tomato paste before adding them to the stock pot.

Turn the heat on high until bubbles start to form. Reduce heat immediately. Cover and simmer.  I usually simmer mine for about 16 hours.  Others go less, but I think you need at least 8 hours if using a stove top method. If you are using a pressure cooker, it can go less but I can’t advise you on how much less since I’ve never used a pressure cooker for this purpose.  Don’t skim any stuff that rises to the top.  Don’t stir.   Some people skim the stuff that rises up, but that’s mostly an issue for chefs in restaurants who want a perfectly clear stock for some recipe they are doing. I think there’s a flavor advantage to not skimming the stock.

Adding the vegetables at the beginning of the simmering process will enhance the flavor of the vegetables in the stock. The carrots will give it a sweeter taste. If you want a less sweet stock, or want the flavor of the vegetables to be more subdued, use less carrots and add them later in the cooking.

When finished cooking, strain the stock. Refrigerate it and remove the fat that congeals at the top.  You can either remove the fat, or leave it on. I like the fat in the broth so I leave it.  If you take it off, don’t throw it away! It’s beef fat-  also known as tallow — and it is a very healthy fat. Use it as you would any other fat or oil to cook food. If you’re making chicken stock, you’ve got schmaltz. If you’re making pork stock, it’s lard! Waste nothing!

 If you’re making a large amount of stock (several gallons), freeze some bottles of water in advance.  When you put the stock in the refrigerator, put the bottles of frozen water in the stock to help cool it quicker.

Note that if you aren’t removing the fat, you can proceed immediately to the reducing.  The purpose of reducing is to concentrate the flavor and reduce the amount of space in your freezer.  If space is not an issue (for example when you are doing a small amount), you don’t need to reduce the stock unless you want to concentrate the taste and nutrition.

We reduce the stock  by simply boiling it. I usually reduce my stock by about 50%. I eyeball that in the pot to know when to stop, usually an hour or two.

Freeze the broth it in meal-size portions (2 to 4 cups) for use as needed. I freeze mine in mason jars, but you must leave 1 inch of space between the top of the broth and the lid of the jar.  (Ice expands!)  I put the lids on top, but I don’t tighten the rings until the stock is frozen solid — usually after 24 hours.

What to do with the meat and poultry left from making stock:

Save the bits and pieces of meat left from your stock-making adventure. They can be used in casseroles, soups, meat pies, tacos, burritos, or any dish that calls from some chopped meat. Adding some heat helps boost the flavor. Also, your dog and cat will love the snacks. Waste not, want not! If you’ve made a lot of stock, and the meat leftovers are more than you can handle in a day or two, freeze the remainder in meal size portions for use later.


No, we didn’t add any salt. And you shouldn’t either. Add salt when you use the stock in its final dish, don’t add salt to the stock while it is cooking. When I drink the broth

Basic Vegetable Stock

1 tbsp olive oil |1 large onion | 2 large carrots |1 bunch green onions, chopped | 8 cloves garlic, minced |8 sprigs fresh parsley | 6 sprigs fresh thyme | 2 bay leaves |1 teaspoon salt |2 quarts water | 2 stalks celery | 8 peppercorns

Chop scrubbed vegetables into 1-inch chunks. The greater the surface area, the more quickly vegetables will yield their flavor. Heat oil in a soup pot. Add onion, celery, carrots, scallions, garlic, parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. Cook over high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for an hour or so. Vegetable stock is usually not simmered for the long periods that we do for bone broth. Strain. Feed the vegetables to your worms or compost. Other ingredients to consider: mushrooms, eggplant, asparagus (butt ends), corn cobs, bell peppers, pea pods, chard (stems and leaves), celery root parings, marjoram (stems and leaves), basil, potato parings . . . Get the idea?

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