Making bone broth is something I’ve grown to love over the last three or so years. It is so rich and tasty; and yes, in a pinch for a specific recipe, you can use one of those boxed (preferably low-sodium) broths you find in the supermarket — but this is so much richer, more delectable, and certainly more healthy!
This isn’t going to be a recipe in the sense that I give you precise measurements for things. It will simply be what I’ve discovered to be “best practices”, sometimes several “best practices”, to get the most out of my leftovers. What I do recommend is that you cook it with the minimal amount of side ingredients, since that will increase your flexibility when it comes to making soup, stews, or other dishes, using this creation. This is simply a highly nutritious base rich in bone-healthy gelatin and various minerals. (This may look complicated, because it is a long post, but seriously, it ain’t!! It simply comes with options and explanations!)
Also note that no one bone broth will taste EXACTLY like a previous batch — part of this is due to the fact that a little of the flavors you originally cooked your birds with will carry through, plus you will have different ratios of types of bone available. This is fine!
THE BIRDS: What you need at absolute minimum is your poultry carcasses (chicken, turkey, duck, quail…). I save them up until I have “enough” or until I want to make freezer room for other stuff — or if I have a big Holiday bird carcass raring to go. (Storing a whole turkey carcass taxes freezer space, so I’d go with it immediately.) It’s too late for this past Thanksgiving season, but more holidays are coming up. A lot of people do make a Christmas turkey.
Ideally the poultry should come from healthy, pasture-raised stock — you don’t want to be leaching nasties out into your broth from the joints and bones, if you can help it. You want to use the bones, and do include some meat — even if you choose not to eat any of the meat itself later; it will add more richness to the broth.
AND, if you find chicken feet — add them! Don’t be scared of them, they’ve been cleaned. (If not, then don’t add them — or clean them yourself!) Many of the folks who raise pastured chickens will have a side-supply of chicken feet. Ask. This is a rich source of healthy collagen. The Asian market is also a good source of these, but in that case I have little idea of their background. Check your personal priorities regarding this.
Also, add pan drippings if available (I typically de-fat them in the fridge overnight before freezing or use). I’ll usually pass on adding heavily spiced pan drippings, depending on my planned uses for the future stock. (Those heavily spiced pan drippings make for some good yum gravy, so don’t think they’ll be wasted if you don’t want them in your poultry stock/bone broth…)
For an additional depth of flavor, you can always roast the carcass/bones in your oven. If at high heat, I’d recommend covering them with foil — burning them will impart nasty unwanted flavors, and by keeping them covered, some level of steam protection is provided. At a moderate heat, you can go either way. Just watch them! Searing portions you haven’t already cooked for a previous meal in a skillet is also an option — this works for the chicken feet, certainly. But it’s not essential, but simply another tool to explore in your bone-broth arsenal. For a delicate, French-style consume, this is probably not the ideal way to go, but, honestly, you know best what you prefer to find in freezer or fridge.
VEGETABLES: Commonly, at least in Western cookery, is to add onion, celery and carrot to the stock pot. You may find other veggies, perhaps on their last legs in your fridge to add, but I’d steer clear of items from the broccoli family (kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and so forth) for extended cooking (they’ll eventually impart bitterness to the mix). When you get around to making soup from some of the actual stock, you can always add those veggies in, then. I’ve used parsnips in place of carrots with great success. I would avoid adding potatoes or sweet potatoes — they’ll just disintegrate, and turn everything, including the taste, murky. Again, save those, should you wish them, for actual soups or stews.
OTHER INGREDIENTS: I add about 2 teaspoons or so of apple cider vinegar to each gallon of water. This helps pull the minerals out of the bones and joints. You could add lemon juice instead. This small amount won’t really affect the flavor that much — and what it might affect, for me, happens in a favorable way.
A bundle of thyme is not amiss, but not entirely essential, either. A touch of ground pepper (white or black) is fine, too. White is better if you care about not seeing it in the broth. Basically, KISS — Keep it simple, stupid…
Whatever you do, DO NOT add salt! That’s for whatever recipe you use the stock in, later! This stuff is going to cook down. And, you’ll want enough water to just cover your carcass and other bones. As the stock pot method of cooking cooks down, the bones should collapse, so if you need to replenish water, you will need less than originally.
THE STOCK POT: Yes, you can use, and I have done so, a crock pot. My difficulty with the crock pot is that the stock doesn’t cook down and evaporate off nearly as much as I’d like, and so I have storage difficulties unless I later transfer the stuff to the stock pot to cook down the water — thus dirtying two pots. However, the plus point of the crock pot is that you don’t have to stay around and watch it, like you do a stock pot. Yes, sometimes things get a bit exuberant and you may need to add more water! So see lower, if you are planning to crock pot this broth. But if you are cooking atop your range:
COOKING THE BROTH: I bring it to a boil, remove any foam generated (this keeps the broth from developing bitterness, and helps with liquid clarity — although personally I really don’t care if my broths are crystal clear). Reduce to a simmer, cover but not tightly, and let it simmer away. Check periodically to see if extra water is needed.
I let simmer for about two hours, then I remove from heat and allow to cool enough that I can pull off some actual meat, reserving it aside to add back later should I wish (I usually do). The bones should have collapsed down in the pot — you certainly don’t need to add as much water as originally! Return to the range and simmer for another 2-3 hours. Strain and toss away the solids (I do save the onion fragments) — at this point any remaining meat will be unpleasantly tasteless and dry. I allow to cool, (optionally adding back in the reserved pieces of meat), refrigerate, and the next day I skim off any fat before using (or freezing) the stock. The stock will typically end up twice as concentrated as you will need — which helps with storage. I’ve sometimes concentrated it three-fold — you just please make sure not to burn any of it as the off-flavors will go through the entire pot. (Yes, I have done this. Ack, ick.)
If you use a crock pot, start it at “high”, and check back every fifteen minutes or so when the pot gets hot, and skim off any foam. When that’s done, you can let it cook – at “low” for about 2 – 2.5 hours, when you remove any meat you want to reserve, then let it continue crock potting at “low” until about the six-hour mark or so. Obviously, it’s not going to concentrate down much, so you probably won’t want to water soups down you make from it. (I still wouldn’t add much, if any, salt to the crock pot method — recipes you make later from the broth will dictate how much you will add.) Again, refrigerate to collect any fat at the top, which you can easily scrape off and dispose of.
I don’t own a pressure cooker, so I have no advice for that. (I don’t have the space for one at this point!)
You are done! Fill a few freezer containers, leave some in the fridge, check your favorite chicken soup recipe and add your favorite veggies plus this instead of the boxed stuff. For a nutritious beverage, warm up a mug-full with a little salt (NOW you can add it!), and whatever seasonings appeal to you at the moment. Tarragon? Cumin? Both? Choose. Or, mix with some steamed mushroom juices (I needed to make stuffed mushrooms recently… roasting shrooms for about 15 minutes prior to stuffing provided for a good amount of mushroom juice). Mushroom essence provides added unami. Or, maybe you could add a dollop of fermented miso paste and wakame seaweed. Or, perhaps, drizzle it and some water (and a pinch of salt and a crushed clove or two of garlic) into a frying pan, and water-sauté some kale and/or miscellaneous cooking greens.
In your fridge, it should last a good 4-5 days. In the freezer, a good eight or ten months.
PS: as an aside, some people will save duck or chicken fat, to fry with or other purposes. I DO save duck fat, but I have to be absolutely certain about the past history of that duck, before I’d considering doing so. I don’t bother with the rest of it.
PPS: The WordPress spell checker wanted me to change water-sauté to “water-butt”. I don’t want to know what THAT is. This is a family-friendly blog! water-sauté: you use a limited amount of a water-based liquid to cook something in a fry pan, even if some fats may be involved. Such as a vegetable or a meat based broth. Or just water (but that’s bland and boring).
Anyhow, happy bone broth (and future soup, etc.) makings with your leftover poultry bones and excess pan drippings!!!