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After everyone at your table has devoured the juiciest pieces of a roast chicken and you’ve treated your canine to the edible rejects, hold off on sliding that picked-over carcass into the trash. Your bird has another gift for you: broth.
Making homemade broth requires only a few minutes of your time, and the benefits extend far beyond sensory pleasure: to your health, wealth, and even the world around you.
For centuries, humans have been simmering otherwise inedible animal parts in water, sometimes for days, extracting maximum flavor and nutrients from those bones for nourishing meals to come. Thrifty grandmas and chefs the world over have refined that technique, adding vegetables and seasonings reflecting their cultures and customs. Traditional recipes earned reputations for purported healing powers.
Over the last few decades, followers of the Paleo diet have incorporated 24-hour broth-making into their everyday kitchen routines, often sipping on their extra-strength broth as a gluten-free pick-me-up in place of coffee and tea — both of which are off-limits on their regimen.
New York City chef and Food Network personality Marco Canora turned to bone broth — which was regularly available to him at his popular restaurant, Hearth — to help him combat the effects of years of poor lifestyle habits. In 2014, he opened a takeout window called Brodo (Italian for broth) to sell to-go cups of his chef-crafted potions as beverages. He went on to write a book about it and sell it prepackaged and frozen nationwide.
Breathless testimonies from celebrity influencers of bone broth’s purported magical powers — from easing joint pain to reducing wrinkles to improving gut health — flooded the internet. Products labeled “bone broth” popped up on supermarket shelves. The trend shows no sign of abating. When last checked, dTikTok videos with the hashtag #bonebroth had received more than 158 million views.
Some dietitians and medical professionals agree that bone broth can be a worthy addition to a balanced diet — supplying collagen and other important nutrients. But given that every bone broth recipe and human body are different, specific health claims linked to bone broth should be taken with a grain of salt.
I had been skeptical of the hype all along, and uninterested in exploring it for myself, until I made a batch last fall by accident while cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner. Unable to find room in the fridge for the half-eaten turkey, I sawed off the remaining sandwich-worthy slices and dumped the picked-off carcass and grisly parts into my slow cooker, along with half an onion and a few odds and ends from the crisper.
I set the cooker to low and left it alone for a full 24 hours, giving me time to recuperate from the previous festivities while basking in the tantalizing fragrances wafting from the kitchen.
The first taste of the finished broth blew me away — richer and more complex than any packaged product or broth I’d made from scratch on top of my stove in a fraction of the time. I could practically feel the nourishment coursing through my bones. I placed the strained broth in the fridge and was happy to find it congealed to a jiggly consistency the next day, a clear sign that those picked-off turkey parts had done their job. And now I had the foundation for restaurant-quality gumbo made almost entirely with remains of the feast: a win-win all the way around.
My curiosity was piqued. So what if bone broth wasn’t the cure-all it was cracked up to be. It was wholesome, grocery-stretching and most importantly to me, freaking delicious. I wanted to figure out how to reap the full spectrum of advantages bone broth had to offer. I turned to experts for guidance.
An ethical responsibility
Linton Hopkins, a James Beard Award-winning chef who helms the newly reopened Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta along with other high-profile spots in the South, learned the craft the classic way at the Culinary Institute of America.
“As a chef and a cook, I don’t feel good without a stock going. It’s one of my things,” Hopkins said. “We make all our stocks at our restaurants. And I do it all the time at home for me and my wife, Gina. They’re the easiest thing in the world. I’ll roast a whole chicken, we’ll eat what we can, and the rest will go right into the Instant Pot. I did the same thing with the bones from a beef roast last night. I’m no doctor, but I know good food is good for your life.”
The terms “stock” and “broth” are often used interchangeably, Hopkins noted. But stocks typically indicate a higher bone-to-meat ratio. Broths can even be made with just the meat. “But as a whole-animal, whole-vegetable cook, all my stocks and broths are essentially bone broth. I see stock as an ingredient I cook with. Broth to me is a finished word — meaning it’s ready to serve in a bowl as is.”
Aside from taste and nutrition, he views stock- and broth-making as both an economic decision and an ethical responsibility.
“In the restaurant business, the margins are very thin, so we have to strive for zero waste,” he said. “We ask a lot of an animal to give its life for our diets. If we’re going to bring these items into our kitchens and throw them away after a single use, then we’re part of the problem.”
Boning up on bones
Michelle Tam grew up in a traditional Cantonese American household in California’s Bay Area where her mother served multicourse meals that always ended with soup.
“And she would always throw a bone in there. I remember as a kid we would walk down to the neighborhood butcher, and he would step out of the freezer with this giant plastic bag of bones for 25 cents,” Tam said. “We would get a variety of different kinds of bones with some meat left on them that would flavor the soup, and it was really delicious.”
But it wasn’t until she and her husband began eliminating processed foods from their diets and replacing them with wholesome ones as part of a fitness regimen that she considered making broth from scratch herself. “I don’t know that it’s some magical elixir,” said Tam, a former clinical pharmacist who now creates recipes full time for her popular Nom Nom Paleo blog and spin-off cookbooks. “But it’s a great source of collagen, which most people don’t get enough of and is really important for joints and gut health and all that stuff.”
Collagen is the main constituent of connective tissue fibrils and bones that releases gelatin into liquid as it cooks. It’s most abundant in skin, feet, joints, marrow and knuckles. Tam may mix parts from different animals — lamb, pork, beef, chicken. The results, she said, are inevitably tasty.
“I’m always collecting chicken thigh bones, and I buy chicken feet when I see them at the butcher,” she said. Chicken feet contain tons of collagen, she said. But she warned not to go overboard, or you may wind up with a rubber ball. “I tried that, and it wasn’t delicious. One or two should do the trick. I also like to include something meaty for flavor, like a chicken leg. And chicken wings are excellent.”
Because bone broth can be “a spectacular growth medium for bacteria,” Tam refrigerates hers as soon as it reaches room temperature, and whatever isn’t consumed within a few days goes into the freezer. She offers ways to store bone broth conveniently and safely in usable portion sizes (she’s tried muffin tins, ice cube trays and silicone baking molds) and recipes for her favorite ways of using broth in a super-simple egg drop soup and slow cooker Korean short ribs on her blog.
With her multi-cooker, Tam can now produce collagen-rich bone broth in as little as an hour. But she’s not above buying bone broth ready-made when time is short or personal bone supplies are low, now that she’s found several brands she can trust. Roli Roti, which began as a food truck in the Bay Area selling rotisserie chicken, contains only a couple of ingredients and is “super high quality and super gelatinous.” Bonafide Provisions, found in many supermarket freezer sections, has become another standby.
Practical bone broth tips for busy, budget-conscious cooks
Cassy Joy Garcia, a certified holistic nutritionist and New York Times best-selling cookbook author, became a fan of bone broth more than a decade ago during her marathon-running days and writes about it regularly on her healthy lifestyle blog, Fed + Fit.
“I think bone broth is getting some new attention now with grocery prices on the rise and people wanting to do more with less,” Garcia said. “I feel like it’s an easy entry point for some good DIY kitchen basics. If you’ve already roasted a chicken, just go ahead and throw that carcass in your pot or pressure cooker along with that random onion in the pantry and scraggly carrot in the fridge, and lo and behold, you’re going to save yourself some money and have broth that tastes better and is better for you than anything you’d buy.”
She collects leftover bones from roasted meats and chicken in silicone freezer bags and keeps a veggie bowl at the forefront of her fridge for tossing in vegetable scraps, peels and all that could go into a homemade broth.
Now with more mouths to feed as a mother of three preschoolers, she does allow herself to take a shortcut from time to time with a quality premade product. One of her favorites is Fond sipping broth made of grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken bones, which come in flavor combinations such as ginger and cayenne, and shiitake and sage.
“They’re definitely a luxury product,” she said. “But they’re really a cool way to show what a broth can be and can open our eyes to exploring different flavors we can play with at home.”
On her blog, Garcia offers a detailed guide to making beef and chicken bone broth, and a slightly more complex one boosted with turmeric and ginger, which she uses for making her favorite chicken soup.
She gives you the options for making the broth in various vessels but makes no bones about her preference for her high-speed pressure cooker.
As for myself, I’m sticking to my slow cooker for now, content to inhale those 24-hour aromatics all day and allow them to soothe me to sleep.
Learning the possibilities — and limitations — of making bone broth at home
Since Thanksgiving, I’ve made several more batches of bone broth following advice from the experts and falling down many rabbit holes of online research along the way.
I’ve been patronizing the nearby international farmers market more often to seek out a variety of bones from animals that have been responsibly raised without harmful chemicals that could negate my broth’s potential health benefits.
Some purists only use bones and water, giving them more flexibility to add layers of flavor later. But I can’t resist throwing in a few extras to amp up the nutritional and flavor profile (roasted mushrooms and a splash of red wine for beef, fresh ginger and turmeric for chicken, and always extra cloves of garlic).
I’ve made a habit of stashing yogurt containers of my finished products, along with baggies of leftover bones and trimmings, so long as space permits in my freezer.
Serious chefs boil the bones first to rid them of some of the impurities and then caramelize them in a 400- to 450-degree oven to deepen their flavors before proceeding. One day maybe I’ll find the motivation to give that a try.
I have quickly learned that, as easy and satisfying as bone broth is to make, I’m lucky if I can produce 2 quarts at a time — barely enough for one batch of soup or gumbo. But I wasn’t planning to replace my morning coffee with steaming broth anyway. And if I’m really hankering for the real deal before I get around to making another batch, I’m happy to have discovered I can buy Roli Roti, the brand Tam recommended, in the meat department of my neighborhood Publix.
You don’t have to follow any recipe to make bone broth. But it does help to have some guidance until you get the hang of it. Here’s the basic formula I’ve been loosely going by based on several recipes I’ve studied. Feel free to deviate with what the local butcher needs to dispense of, or what’s soon to go south in your fridge. Mother Earth will be grateful.
Very Adaptable Slow Cooker Bone Broth
Susan Puckett’s recipe for bone broth is highly flexible. If you have no leftover bones, chicken or turkey wings, drumsticks, necks and gizzards also work great. For extra collagen, a few chicken feet will do the trick. For beef broth, follow the same procedure as for chicken. Or feel free to use bones from other animals as well — lamb, pork, game. Larger bones will take longer to break down so you may want to allow more simmering time.
Makes roughly 2 quarts (or more, if you have a larger vessel)
2-3 pounds roasted or raw chicken or beef bones, or a combination
2 carrots, cut up
2 celery stalks, cut up
1 medium unpeeled onion, halved
5 unpeeled garlic cloves, smashed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1. Place the bones, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves, salt, peppercorns and vinegar in a slow cooker (mine holds 6 quarts) and add enough water so bones are submerged but not floating.
2. Cover with the lid and let simmer on low setting for 12 to 24 hours.
3. Skim off any scum that’s collected on the surface. Turn off the heat and let it cool slightly. Discard the solids.
4. Set a large fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl, strain and let it cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate. Scrape off the fat that congeals on the surface.
5. Use within four to five days or transfer to jars or plastic containers, label and freeze for up to five months. (Or pour the broth into ice cube trays, muffin tins or silicone molds, and freeze and pop them out into freezer bags.)
Susan Puckett is the former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and author of “Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey Through the Soul of the South.”