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But those days are over!
These are not magical culinary secrets that only chefs learn. These are tips that even the non-cook (and I’m referring to myself here, y’all) can master and implement with no hassle.
Sear your bones OR your bone-in meat.
For real, this is going to make a huge difference in the taste of your broth. When making bone broth put all your bones on a lipped cookie sheet or an oven safe container and cook them at 450° for 15 minutes. They will sizzle and hiss and your kitchen will start to smell like Julia Child somehow moved in without you knowing. And, it’s the same for your bone-in-meat to make short cook stock. Place a whole chicken, beef shank, lamb shank, turkey legs, goose or venison ribs (I’m naming all these amazing cuts and types of meat in the hopes that you will begin varying the types of meat you make broth with. Lest we forget we are omnivores who need many varieties of foods, not just chicken.) in an oven safe dish – I usually use my big Les Creuset braiser – and sear it, baby. Searing meats at high temps for a short period of time forces out the sugars and fats hiding in the bones and meat. And that forced expulsion of goodness makes your broth taste heavenly.
Make sure you’re using enough salt.
There is nothing worse than bland broth. Blech. Now, according to chefs we are not supposed to add salt to our cooking broth. We are supposed to add it after the broth is finished so as not to create a concentrated broth that is TOO salty. And, if your end goal is to greatly reduce your broth into a thick glaze, I’ll get on board with waiting to add salt. But if you’re making a big pot of broth to use for cooking soups and casseroles and grains, I say – add your salt and any other seasonings first thing. And add a little more than you think you’ll need. Salt, along with the holy trinity of carrots, celery and onion, is the backbone of good tasting broth. I use Celtic sea salt in my kitchen, and I use a lot of it. Meanwhile my blood sodium levels are just fine, and my cholesterol is perfect. Do not fear salt.
Cook your broth or stock at a low, rolling boil.
I almost always cook my broth in one of the maroon colored old school Crockpot brand crockpots. A few years ago a report came out that there were high levels of lead found in some broths. We all went ape-shit wondering where that lead came from (the soil? the chicken feed? the pot the chickens were cooked in? Bueller? Bueller?) and in the midst of the madness I called Crockpot and asked them for quality reports. And I got ’em. At that time there were no detectable levels of lead found in their ceramic crocks. I’m definitely open to using at-home testing, such as lead test strips, to test a long cook acidic solution in my crockpot. But as of yet I haven’t done my own tests.
This video shows a boil that is a notch above the perfect boil for broth. It’s a tiny bit too aggressive. One benefit of using a crockpot is that my low, rolling boil is always perfect. Getting the perfect boil on my old school electric stove is not so easy.
Ok, not to digress TOO much – the reason I tell you that I use a crockpot most of the time is because there are great settings on a regular crockpot that will keep your broth at just the right temperature to achieve a low, rolling boil. My crockpot has four settings – Off, Low, High and Warm. Off, is, obviously, off. Low is the magical setting that we want for broth. The Low setting makes the perfect low boil for broth. The High setting is a raucous boil that is too high for broth, and Warm just keeps it nice and toasty, no boil. Normally I start my broth on the High setting to get the temperature up quickly, and then once the broth mixture is good and hot I turn it to Low so that it doesn’t get hot enough to create an aggressive boil. FYI, if your broth does get aggressively boiled for a short amount of time, it’s ok. Just don’t cook it at that high temperature the whole time. And, also remember that not all crockpots are created equally. I have heard from clients that their crockpot doesn’t have the same settings as mine, OR they had similar settings that created different boiling results. So, pay attention to what you have and spend some time getting to know your device so that you can achieve the happy little boil you’re after.
You can also get the right temp for a low boil on the stovetop, but most folks aren’t comfortable leaving their stove on while at work or out of the house – and if you are choosing to make long cook bone broth you’re gonna need to cook those bones for about 12 hours, depending on the bones (chicken less, beef more, fish WAY less). So, crockpot to the rescue! You can safely leave it on for long periods of time – just make sure that the crockpot has ample water to cook for hours and hours without going dry and scorching the pot, setting off the smoke detector, and driving your dog and the neighbors crazy with worry (True Story).
Don’t cook your broth for too long.
We’re going for a happy medium here, folks. If you’re making short cook stock you need to boil your bone-in-meat for two to four hours, eight hours max. And if you’re making long cook bone broth you need to boil your bones for approximately 12 hours. Much more than 12 hours of bone boiling and things start to get funky – fats start to rancidify, proteins degrade and the whole batch of broth smells burned and gamey.
If bone broth is boiled for too long then you may begin to notice that the broth will not gel once it is cooled. Why? The proteins that make up the gelatin are too broken down to form into gel. If you’ve ever had hydrolyzed gelatin, like Great Lakes Brand gelatin in the green container, you know that the gelatin powder is treated with an enzyme (and I don’t know what enzyme – if anyone does leave that info in the comments here) so that it won’t gel once mixed with hot water and then cooled. Same concept here, except in our example the gelatin won’t gel because it’s broken down with heat. So, low LOW boil – the water should just barely move and make sweet gurgling noises.
Skim the fat off the top.
This is a standard culinary suggestion for any broth or stock, particularly beef. Beef bones and beef shanks are FATTY, and that particular type of fat is highly saturated and hard for some folks to stomach. While I’m a huge advocate of eating lots of animal fats from pastured animals, sometimes beef fat is just a bit much. And if there is any history of gall bladder or liver issues, or if you are new to animal foods or have been eating a low fat diet, you’re gonna wanna take that fat off and SAVE IT. Here’s how: you’ll cook your broth to completion and then let it completely cool. Once cooled you’ll see that there is a layer of white or more opaque fat at the top of the pot. Try to skim this off sans watery broth and store it in an airtight container in the fridge to use in smaller amounts for sauteeing vegetables, eggs or anything that needs stovetop frying. Now, if you are a hardcore longtime animal fat eater and you’re all, ‘there is no way I’m skimming the fat off the top that is my favorite part!’ Well, ok, leave it in there. It won’t hurt anything and it is medicinal in many ways. But, just for shits and giggles do me a heavy and skim the fat off just one batch of broth and see what you think – I personally think it does improve the taste, particularly if you’re using your broth as a soup base.
Questions? Leave a comment below! And happy cooking.