In days gone by, making stock required a lot of fuss: stirring, straining, making a raft (really!), and possibly dropping a dime in your stockpot to see if the letters on the coin were visible! So many Very Strict Broth Rules.
Times have changed, and now we look to bones for essential nutrients we are otherwise missing in our diet. Do the same rules for broth and stock apply to bone broth? Not really. Almost everything you knew before about making meat-based stocks and broths is up in the air.
Bone broth is here to stay as a form of food as medicine. To be honest, it never really went away. Studies in the US about the usefulness of meat broths and stocks were prevalent before World War II. After the advent of antibiotics, broths and stocks took on a lesser role in everyday at-home cooking. The Weston A. Price Foundation published Sally Fallon’s Broth is Beautiful in 2000, citing research dating to the early 1900s. Still, it is only recently that the idea of a new type of medicine, bone broth, has become extremely popular once again.
The beauty of bone broth is its simplicity. There are only five essential elements to bone broth – bones, water, a pot, and a heat source, and time. Those elements are non-negotiable. Everything else about bone broth is about your preference.
Today, we are going to say goodbye to the fussy broths of the past and focus on a tasty yet far more simple food: nutritious and delicious bone broth. Challenge the Very Strict Broth Rules. Decide what you like! You’re the one who will be drinking or eating it. What flavors do your family enjoy? What nutrients does your family need? That’s the whole point of making bone broth – nourishing the heart and soul, and refusing to accept the old guidelines as gospel. Go forth and rebel!
Myth 1: Making bone broth is really hard.
It’s really not hard, I swear. Once you figure out what cooking vessel you are going to use and learn to tolerate the sight of bones, the rest is downhill coasting by comparison. Pinky swear.
Myth 2: If your bone broth doesn’t gel, you failed. Dump it and start over.
Who woke up one morning and decreed that all bone broths must gel? Using gelled broth as the sole indicator of broth-making success is definitely an opportunity for rebellion. Here’s why: during cooking, heat breaks down the collagen in the bone, skin, connective tissue, and any muscle meats that we might include in our bone broth. The collagen breaks down into gelatin, a substance much prized for its healthy benefits. When cooled, the gelatin creates a web within the broth that turns the liquid into a wobbly semi-solid. But if there is too little gel, or too much water, that gelatin web won’t be strong enough – and thus your broth won’t gel. A broth that doesn’t gel may, in fact, have tons of gelatin – but too much water. If you want to reduce your broth by 25% and try to gel it again, that’s your business. If you put good ingredients into the bone broth, and cooked them for a minimum of eight hours, you’ll have plenty of the nutrition in the final product.
Myth 3: You absolutely must cook with your lid on… or off.
When clear broth was the ideal, some chefs recommended a lid off broth to prevent cloudiness. The theory was that the temperature would be too high if the lid was on, which would cause the broth to boil vigorously. High heat and vigorous boiling agitates the ingredients more, causing more particles to be shed from the ingredients into the broth. Those extra agitated particles cause the broth to be cloudy.
Yet the important lesson here has nothing to do with lids and everything to do with heat and evaporation. We’re not looking for wimpy broth. We want savory, meaty flavor with tons of nutrients. The best temperature for cooking bone broth is right around 208 to 210 F: otherwise known as no ruckus in the pot. This temperature doesn’t beat up your gelatin, and the lower temperatures won’t give your broth a bitter flavor. It’s a gentle way to get amazing bone broth. Keep your temperature below a full boil, and you’ll never have to worry about whether the lid should be on or off. Unless you want to, that is.
Myth 4: Never add vegetables at the beginning of cooking. They will add an awful flavor to your broth.
Here’s another old rule that was more applicable to making clear broth with a moderate flavor. I don’t know about you, but I want big meat and vegetable flavor. I cook my bone broths for 24 to 48 hours. Sure, the vegetables are pretty tired after such a long cook time, but if you are using simple onion, carrot, and celery, they do not get bitter to me. I keep the temperature just below boiling, which helps keep too much water from evaporating from the pot. The vegetables do develop a faint roasted flavor that I find appealing. Some cooks like to blend the vegetables after cooking and re-add them to the broth. Or you can decide to skip adding vegetables at the beginning, and wait to add them until the last few hours of cooking. When bored, sometimes I puree some of the vegetables to add at the end to give the broth a bright flavor.
Myth 5: Adding parsley or other herbs to your bone broth at the beginning of cooking will create bitter flavors.
After you cook your bone broth for a long time with plenty of water, at the right temperature, and with great ingredients, nothing is bitter afterward – I even add seaweed sometimes. Once I added two whole bunches of parsley and a packet of fresh thyme to chicken broth. The broth came out green. Now that’s a problem! I used that batch to make a sauce for kale.
Myth 6: You have to skim the fat from your bone broth.
If you plan on whipping up a gourmet pan sauce with your bone broth, removing the fat is a good idea to keep your sauce from breaking. If you are making bone broth to drink, it’s all about preference. If you have gone to the trouble of getting bones from pastured, grass-fed animals, why remove the fats? They are very healthy. Bone marrow is approximately 80% fat in a healthy animal. If you want the bone marrow nutrients, you need the fat. Industrial processes far more sophisticated than the home cook has access to could separate the fat from the nutrients. Some of the nutrients in broth require fat to be properly absorbed.
Moreover, you need not chill your broth at all. When your broth is complete, let the broth sit for an hour. Check the temperature to make sure it does not go below 160 F. I scoop a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup into the broth and begin filling jars and bags. If you are using glass jars and are worried about temperature, run your jars through a quick wash cycle in the dishwasher – or soak them in toasty warm water in the sink – before you fill the jars. You do want to avoid big temperature changes in thinner jars. I’ve never had one break following my super obsessive storage techniques.
Myth 7: Cooking bone broth for one to four hours is plenty of time.
Old school broth was cooked for 2 to 8 hours. Even the lovable Julia Child was quoted saying that there was never a point to cooking broth for more than 8 hours. I still love her, but the girl was just plain wrong. Culinary schools still preach the 8 hour rule, but here’s the difference: I don’t want fat-free broth. I want delicious medicine. After 8 hours of cooking, only 20% of the collagen has been broken down in beef bones. If you want something truly hearty and nutritious with lots of roasted flavors, you will want to at least target 8 to 24 hours of cooking time.
Myth 8: You must skim the scum from the bone broth before the impurities in the scum pollute the flavor of your bone broth.
Poor scum! I feel so sorry for it at times. Another rule from the days of crystal clear broth bites the dust. The fluffy white foam that sometimes collects at the surface of your broth is just protein from the meat and bones in your broth. The heat changes the outer surface of proteins, and causes them to change shape or denature. That’s what happens to all proteins exposed to heat during cooking – unless you just eat your food raw! Scum isn’t anything awful. It’s not blood, toxins, fat, or anything awful. Just proteins. Even the reddish juice you sometimes see on bones isn’t blood (hemoglobin). It’s myoglobin. I am cooking bones to get at the proteins, nutrients, and healthy fats. The so-called scum – it’s just protein. I don’t skim it out of the pot. After an hour or two, fat rises to the surface of the broth and those misunderstood proteins become a source of flavor and color. Our minds are taught that scum is to be avoided. We think we can taste the evil in our pots, and if you truly can taste it and it bugs you, by all means remove it. If you have clean, high quality bones, why throw away the outer layer? Did it look at you funny? No, I didn’t think so.
Remember: the only rules for broth are bones, water, heat, and a pot. The rest is up to you. Experiment and decide what you like. Don’t be hemmed in by arbitrary rules that no longer apply. You make the rules now.
Myth 9: You can’t make broth in a…
This is my other favorite myth to bust. You can make broth in just about anything that can maintain a steady 210 F: a stockpot, a Dutch oven, a braiser, a turkey roaster, your oven, a crockpot, and either an electronic or standard pressure cooker. Challenge me.