Home-made bone broth is one of the best things you can do for your health, for your wallet and for your sense of satisfaction because you are using food that would normally be wasted. Besides, once you taste homemade bone broth you will never go back. Never, ever. The flavor is so much richer than the watered-down, over-salted version you can buy at the grocery store and it’s packed with vitamins and minerals from the bones, veggie pieces and various scraps you boil down. This is totally thrifty health and even though I’ve been doing it for years, the sense of satisfaction that I get out of turning scraps into deliciousness almost can’t be described. Literally every pot of broth feels like a mini-miracle.
Benefits of Bone Broth:
- Uses leftover scraps of food that would normally go to waste or compost so you get all the nutritional value out of them
- After you make the soup the veggie scraps can *still* go to compost 🙂
- Boosts your nutrition tremendously because it’s chocked full of trace minerals, vitamins and nutrients
- Saves money
- Tastes way better than store-bought broth
- Easy enough that anybody can do it – even if you’re not sure about your skills at boiling water
- Cuts down on food waste (and if you don’t know that we waste 40% of our food, then you should read this)
- Your broth contains no cheap fillers, flavor enhancers, ridiculous amounts of sodium, artificial colors or anything else you don’t want to eat.
- If you’re working on gut health and healing your gut to increase your nutrient absorption, then bone broth is a food-must. It’s a huge part of the GAPS diet and many other protocols to boost health.
Starting Your Bone Broth Journey with a Freezer Bag
Bone broth starts with, well, bones. Plenty of people rush out to buy bones specifically for broth, which is great, but I’m all about the thrifty so I just use bones from the meals we’ve eaten recently. Naturally, this isn’t something you want hanging around in your fridge, but don’t worry – there’s a handy tip to keep things sorted out and it comes in the form of a zip-lock freezer bag. At all times I have a 1 gallon freezer bag in the front of my freezer that I can toss scraps into for bone broth. I’ve tried with reusable containers like glass storage containers, tupperware, etc… but it seems like when I’m actually making soup the freezer bag is the easiest to get frozen stuff out of to dump in the pot and I can usually reuse one bag for several months before it tears and I need to replace it. It looks something like this (right now what I have is lamb bones – lucky me! But normally it’s a picked-over chicken carcass in there). I call this the BONE BAG and everyone in the house knows to add veggie scraps and chewed on bones to it.
Bone Broth Ingredients:
- Bones. Cooked or Raw. Any kind you have, from whatever meat you like. I like for the pot to be at least half bones and I use a big stock pot. It can be a mix of bones, or all one kind – that’s totally up to you. If you’re lucky enough to have a local butcher they may have scrap bones, which would be awesome. I typically just use the leftover bones from what my family eats so it’s chicken carcasses, bones out of beef or pork ribs, lamb bones, or whatever. You can totally make stock from fish bones, clam shells and shrimp peelings as well but it has a strong fish-stock flavor so I usually keep those separate from my meat bones. If you’re feeling really adventurous add some chicken feet – they’re fantastic in terms of adding collagen and gelatin to the stock (which is great for your skin, hair, nails and bones) but people get squeamish about the idea of chicken feet.
- Pot scrapings. If I roast a chicken or other meat there are always drippings at the bottom of the roasting pan. Some of it is chicken fat, some of it is juices and some of it is little bits of cooked skin or whatever that is stuck to the bottom of the pot. Once it’s cooled down, scrape all of that out into your bone bag and make sure you don’t miss any of it because this makes the soup flavor awesome! Don’t worry about too much fat – you can skim the fat off later if you want to. Likewise if there’s anything stuck to the pan after you pan-sear a steak – add some water to liquify it and dump it into your bone bag.
- Onion skins and scraps. The thin papery peelings from onions that would normally go straight to trash or compost, as well as the tops and bottoms that you cut off. These release nutrients and give your stock a nice golden color that canned stock mimics with colorants. In the old days some of the golden color would come from chicken feet too, but we modern kids are sensitive about that sort of thing – although if you can find them, I’d highly recommend them!
- Celery tops and bottoms. The leafy tops that just go to trash and the bottoms that you cut off celery stalks can just go in the bone bag and get boiled down with the rest of it.
- Mushroom stalks. Some people leave most of the mushroom stalk on when cooking, some people cut off only the bottom, and some people take out the whole stalk. Any part of a mushroom that you don’t use can go into your bone bag.
- Veggie ends and pieces. As you’re preparing food there are inevitably bits of veggies that get cut off. Think of the peelings, the ends that get cut off, the stems spots from tomatoes that get cut out, parsley stems, the outside leaves from cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower outside leaves or woody stalk. The only things I don’t use are potato peelings and that’s only because potato things make the stock a little bit starchy, which I don’t prefer. My bone bag always has celery, onions, mushroom, carrot and tomato pieces because I don’t seem to know how to cook without those things so there are always scraps, but frequent additions are zucchini ends, eggplant peelings, squash tops or bottoms, parsley stems, cilantro stems, stems from fresh herbs, green pepper scraps, and sometimes a wild variety of other things.
- Herb bits and pieces. If you happen to buy fresh herbs or cut some from your garden then most of them have stems that have the same great flavor but would normally get thrown out. The only herbs I wouldn’t add are mint (just because minty broth sounds weird to me) or huge amounts of any one thing because then the broth will only taste like that one thing – so just portion some out for the next bone bag.
- A bay leaf. If you happen to have some – I usually buy these in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs just because I toss one into every bone bag and typically make a batch of bone broth at least every 2 weeks. If you don’t happen to have any sitting around the house then don’t worry about it. It adds flavor, but isn’t crucial.
- Eggshells. If you happen to buy good organic eggs then tossing a couple of eggshells into the mix can up the calcium and mineral content of your broth. If they’re factory-raised eggs then I’d skip it.
- Vinegar or Lemon Juice. This adds a bit of acidity to the broth and will help to pull the nutrients out of the bones. Long cooking does the rest. I’ll add maybe 1-2 tablespoons (honestly, I don’t take time to measure. I add a glug or two).
- Water. Enough to fill the pot to about an inch and a half below the top.
Generally I make bone broth when the fates dictate that I should – which is mostly when my freezer bag is full – but you just pick the best day for you. 🙂 The whole thing is super easy, just pick a day when you’re mostly home. Dump the bone bag into your big stock pot or big crock pot – whichever you prefer. Fill it up with water to an inch and a half below the top. Turn it on high until it comes to a boil and then cover it with a lid, turn it down to a low simmer and go about your day. Every couple of hours check on it to make sure the water level isn’t changing too much – if it’s dropped significantly add more water and re-cover.
Give it minimum 4 hours, but the longer the better (often I’ll leave it simmering overnight). I’ve never left it more than 24 hours, but I’ve heard of people doing that.
Once it’s done cooking put a big bowl in the sink with a colander in it and pour the pot into the colander slowly. The colander will catch the bones and bits and the broth will drain down into the bowl. Please remember the bowl because I know from experience that you will feel like an ass if you pour the soup through a colander directly down the drain (I only did it once, but was so sad when it happened that I learned my lesson).
Put the big bowl in the fridge and let it cool down. Typically there is enough collagen in the bone scraps to make it turn into a gel-kind of consistency and if you put chicken feet in it then it will be flat out broth jell-o. The fats from the broth will rise to the top and solidify into a thick layer if there are lots of fats or little spots if there aren’t. You can skim these off or leave them with the soup just depending on how much fat you like. I typically leave most of it, but if something was really fatty sometimes I’ll skim some of it off.
The gel-like consistency is what makes this broth special, and what shows you how much nutrition you’re getting. As soon as you heat the broth the gel will melt and it will convert to a liquid, but the collagen in this broth that makes it turn into a jelly is exactly what you want to see. It may need a little salt – don’t be afraid to be generous with the sea salt, you’ll never add a fraction of what you would find in store-bought broth.
This makes a lot of broth – I usually end up with about 4-8 quarts (2-4 L) per batch just depending on which pot I used and how full my bone bag was. Typically I’ll keep some in the fridge for use this week and divide the rest into glass mason jars (leave space at the top for it to expand as it freezes) for the freezer. I put a piece of masking tape with the date on the outside just to make sure I’m using the oldest ones first. If I’m feeling especially ambitious I’ll freeze some in ice cube trays and then store the ice cubes in gallon freezer bags for future use. Honestly I usually run out just about when my bone bag is full again.
Now make food-gold out of your bone broth
I use bone broth in everything. When I’m sauteing veggies I’ll add a spoon full for flavor. When I’m making sauces or gravies I’ll add some to make it richer. I love homemade soups and stews and always use my own broth. So many leftovers can be converted into a great soup for new flavor. Favorite leftovers to add include rice, beans, cooked veggies (I usually chop them smaller for soups), leftover meat pieces, leftover noodles, or whatever.
If you’re not into the leftover idea then a great basic hearty soup is:
- 3 cups (ish) bone broth
- 1/2 cup cooked rice
- 1/2 cup cooked beans (whatever kind of beans are your favorites)
- 4 thin sliced green onions
- 1 small carrot, cut into small cubes
- 1 celery stalk cut into small cubes
- 1 medium or 2 small mushrooms cubed
- 1-2 oz cooked chicken, beef, pork or lamb cut into small cubes (or small pieces of cooked ground beef are great too)
This will serve a couple of people. If you like your soup a little less dense than this one, just add more broth. The great thing about soup is that you can put literally anything into it. There just isnt’ a wrong way to do soup. If you want different flavors try adding a dash of hot sauce, some lemon or lime juice, fresh parsley, cilantro or other herbs, a little bit of honey, molasses, agave nectar or palm sugar or even some Thai fish sauce. Just as an aside, the combo of a little bit of palm sugar and a couple of tablespoons of fish sauce is what makes Thai soups so darn yummy. Bone broth is the base for an endless variety of meals and once you’ve had your own liquid-gold bone broth you will never go back.