Author's Note: I'll be using the terms broth and stock interchangeably throughout this article. Broths are typically made from meats, stocks from bones, but in current times the terminology "bone broths" has blurred the distinction between the two.
I’ve always cooked a lot and have bought a lot of chicken and beef stock, bouillon or boxed broths over the years. Buying exclusively organic and free range stocks can be expensive. Also, to me prepared broths taste watered-down. They can also have too much salt and added “natural flavorings” which usually end up loaded with free glutemates. And then there’s the issue of the containers to recycle.
A couple of years ago I started making my own bone broths/stock and while they beat store-bought versions hands down, they were not very economical. For instance, to make chicken stock, I would buy a couple of packages of chicken backs and another of chicken feet at WholeFoods—a store not known for the most reasonable prices. And the backs and feet are hard to come by, hit or miss at WholeFoods. Sometimes I can find the chicken parts at Asian markets, for a better price, but always feel uncomfortable with the sources of the poultry: Where did they come from? What were they fed? How were they treated? For beef stock, I’d end up at shopping at Sprouts or my regular grocer, as their beef bones are only $2-$3 a pound, compared to WholeFoods at $6 a pound. The butcher will also usually cut the bones into smaller pieces for free.
Then one day I got the idea that if I started saving ALL the bones from the meals that we eat, I wouldn’t need to buy much — if any at all — from a grocer when it came time to make stock. I started keeping two large plastic bags in the freezer for bones. One is marked poultry, where I store duck, chicken and turkey bones. The other is marked meat, where I store beef, lamb and pork bones. I never buy boneless/skinless anything, so the bones add up fairly quickly. Since I usually trim the meat off bones before serving a meal and knowing the amount of time these bones are going to be boiling anyway, I don't feel squeamish about saving and using the leftover bones from meals.
Putting together the ingredients in the stock pot is a breeze. I just throw in chunks of onions, carrots, celery with their leaves, garlic, add some vinegar (to leach minerals from the bones), toss the bones on top and then fill with enough filtered water to cover everything by an inch or so. Once the water boils I drop it to a simmer and find the “sweet spot” on the burner knob that will keep the water simmering but not boiling. I will cook poultry stock for 24 hours or more. Beef stock gets 48 hours or more. During the last hour or so, I throw in the parsley.
When the stock is done, I turn off the heat and let it cool for about half an hour. Then, using a slotted spoon, I remove as much of the vegetables, bones and meat as possible, placing them in a strainer over a large bowl (or a bowl with a steamer rack in the bottom). The bones will look weathered and chicken bones will be soft enough to break apart by finger.
Next I set up a few bowls so I can separate the vegetables (for composting), bits of meat (can be frozen for chicken salad; I feed the beef to my chickens) and bones (for the trash). You don’t have to go through this process, it’s just the way I do things.
By the time the strainer is empty, there will be a puddle of more stock in the bottom of the bowl. I pour this into the big pot of stock, then pour the entire pot contents through a fine mesh strainer into another pot or bowl. If you want even the smallest bits of meat removed from your stock, line the strainer with cheesecloth or some other straining fabric (I prefer tea towels or cloth diapers).
At this time salt and pepper are added, to taste. I tend to go very easy on the salt, as I can always add more when I use the stock in recipes. With the beef stock, I will refrigerate the stock so the fat will rise to the top and solidify, which is easy to just lift off. This can be frozen and saved for other cooking purposes. The chicken stock has a lot less fat, so I generally just mix it in well so when separating the stock into jars—they each get a somewhat equal amount.
Now the stock is ready to be put into containers for the freezer or to be pressure canned. If you're planning to freeze your stock, you must use wide-mouth pint canning jars, that are labeled as freezer safe. More info can be found on my No More Canned Soup page.
You’ll need to follow pressure canning instructions to can your stock if you're going that route.
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