Bone broth is a traditional healing food that has been used in nearly every culture around the world for centuries. Every restaurant in town has a pot of stock simmering on the back burner. Your great grandmother did too. In our modern culture, bone broth is what we call a “superfood.” It is inexpensive to make, and you can’t afford not to. And you can’t get it wrong – there are many ways to make bone broth, and you should make it a habit. I will tell you how I make it, and the way I do it is really bare bones. Scroll to the bottom of this post for an abridged version of the steps.
The health benefits of bone broth, also called “stock,” are many – conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, PMS, or even just your typical stress, low-immunity and fatigue can all benefit from bone broths. It is rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorous which aid in bone and tissue growth and repair; it is very high in the anti-inflammatory amino acids glycine and proline which are essential to wound healing, healthy connective tissue, and vital to proper liver detoxification; it is also rich in collagen, a major building block of our brains, bones, tendons and ligaments, as well as gelatin, a type of collagen which heals the digestive tract which will improve our overall nutrient absorption. And a healthy gut is essential for a healthy immune system – our intestines contain more immune cells than the entire rest of our bodies!
In Chinese medicine, bone broth is considered “longevity soup” – bones are associated with the Kidneys, and bone marrow is associated with Kidney Jing, the deepest level of our body. Jing constitutes our foundation, life force, genetics, memory, brain function, libido, and fertility. Bone broth can be used to improve our energy, metabolism, endocrine function (particularly the adrenals), nervous system, and reproductive health. Think of it as your super-hero immunity tonic. It is wholesome, food-based medicine and much easier for our bodies to assimilate than taking supplements – after all, our digestion is like a simmering pot of soup.
I make bone broth in big pots, and often, and store my surplus in the freezer in pre-measured portions for ease of use. For example, I usually make rice or quinoa in two-cup portions, so a 32 ounce mason jar is the perfect liquid pour for my pot. Consider freezing it in ice cube trays for single simmer servings for stir-fries and such. And of course use it as a base for all of your soups and stews. Or be like the British, who since the Victorian era have sipped their “bone tea” daily.
Start with the best quality bones you can – you are extracting all the nutrition that they contain, but with that, any potentially toxic residues. Bones from organic and grass-fed animals are recommended. You can get raw bones from your local butcher (chicken, beef, or lamb are good choices – ask your butcher for his best), or you can do what I do most of the time – simmer into stock the roasted chicken carcass from last night’s dinner. A bulb of garlic, an onion, a couple carrots, and a few stalks of celery can be added for flavor – you don’t even need to chop them. Sometimes I add the odds and ends of the vegetables I have been chopping for other meals and collecting in a container in my fridge throughout the week. (The only things you may not want to use in your stock are ‘bitter’ vegetables – like broccoli, mustard greens, brussel sprouts, etc…) Again, you can keep it simple and make bone broth using just bones.
Get out your big stockpot, or crock-pot. If you do start with raw bones, I suggest roasting them first for better flavor. Heat your oven to 350-400F, place bones in a roasting pan and cook to brown, about 30-45 minutes. How much bone do you start with? Two pounds of bone per gallon of water is recommended. And this is a good amount. If you are using a chicken carcass, throw it in your pot and cover it with water. If you are using vegetables in your stock, you can add them now, or later in the simmering process. A French chef at a five-star restaurant might have her two-cents to contribute on all this, but there really is no wrong way to do it.
One thing you will want to add to your stock is vinegar, a good glug, about two tablespoons per gallon of water. Apple cider vinegar is a good choice. (Avoid white vinegar.)This will help draw the minerals and other nutrients out of your bones. Cracking your bones is also a good idea. If you suffer from arthritis, you might consider adding some chicken feet or a cow hoof to your pot for a higher gelatin content – it will lube your joints. As a Chinese medicine practitioner, I would suggest adding some medicinal herbs – ask me at your next appointment and I can make some personal recommendations for you.
Set your stockpot or crock-pot to simmer on low ….and forget about it. You don’t want it to boil – just simmer (covered). And you can let it go for 6 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, or even longer. This is another debatable point – how long to simmer your stock – in my opinion, do what makes the most sense for you. You can’t screw it up. Longer is considered better in terms of nutrient extraction. If I am simmering on the stovetop, I often let my pot simmer overnight and strain my stock in the morning. If I am using a crock-pot, I will let it go longer. With chicken bones, around 24 hours is good; beef bones can simmer longer. Add small amounts of water as the liquid level declines – at least enough to keep your bones covered.
Next, strain your stock into a large container and cool it. (If you did a shorter simmer, you might consider reusing your bones for an immediate second batch, otherwise you can dispose of them.) The proper way to cool your bone broth (for food safety) is quickly – you can do this by placing your container of hot, strained stock in a sink of ice, or alternatively, throw a capped plastic water bottle of frozen water in your brew to cool it quickly (pretty slick). Do not put hot stock in the refrigerator, as this method of cooling will leave your stock in the bacterial growth zone (41-135F) for far too long (over two hours).
This next step is optional: After you cool your bone broth, you can refrigerate it for a few hours, and a hard crust will form on the top. This is fat – you can remove it, …or not. There are lots of opinions around this too. Some consider this crust to be highly nutritious; others prefer a lighter, clear broth. If you are not concerned about the ‘clarity’ of your stock, you can skip this step and enjoy a richer brew.
Your bone broth is now ready to be portioned into jars, old yogurt tubs and ice cube trays. Keep some in the fridge if you plan to use it within a few days, otherwise it is wise to freeze your stock. Your stock may be more like jelly than liquid – this is good! – it means that it is high in collagen. It will liquefy when you heat it up again. Note on freezing mason jars: be sure to use the wide mouth jars as the narrow top jars will crack in the freezer. I will leave it to the chemists and physicists to explain this phenomenon to you, just be warned. And if you do use the wide mouth mason jars, be sure to leave an inch or two of room at the top – liquids expand as they freeze. (I do remember this much from science class.)
There you have it friends – BONE BROTH. Here are the steps made simple:
Jules Bogdanski, L.Ac.