It’s no secret — I don’t buy commercial broth whether in the form of liquid, powder or bouillon. I make broth at home from scrap bones, whole chicken, vegetables, herbs and spices. I make broth in the hugest pot I have, I strain the liquid, pour it into containers and freeze. Whenever I need broth for a dish, I take one or two out and thaw the frozen broth. Obviously, I make broth pretty often — at least twice a month. And I must have learned a thing or two about making broth.
Oh, yes, I’ve learned some things, mostly, by observing. Things like free range chickens make tastier broth than one made with a bird raised in a coop, and that broth made with meat with no bones has far less flavor than broth made with a lot of bones.
But let’s start at the very beginning of the process.
You need bones… lots of bones
You need parts of chicken, pork, duck, turkey or beef with lots of bones in them. You can use the bones from one animal (chicken, for instance) or go for a combination (lovely). The flavor is in the bones.
What’s best for making broth — chicken, pork, beef…??
Let’s differentiate between meat broth and broth made with seafood. Let’s start with meat broth.
Chicken broth is the most popular among meat broths. See tips for making chicken bone broth.
The most accessible are pork and beef bones which are widely sold as “scrap” or “soup bones” by the kilo. So, those two are what I use most often for making broth. When I chance upon scrap ham bones, I buy up. They don’t make a neutral-tasting broth but for making pasta sauce and chunky soups, ham bones are great.
The best meat broth, however, at least according to my taste buds, is made with duck bones. But duck bones aren’t sold as scrap. And a whole duck is expensive. So when we buy a whole duck for a special occasion, after all the meat has been carved out, I make the most out of the carcass.
For seafood-based broth, no, I don’t use shrimps or prawns or crabs or any crustacean at all. I’m allergic to all crustaceans. When I want a seafood-based broth, my first choice is always a combination of clams and mussels. My, goodness… have you tried cooking rice with seasoned mussel and clam broth instead of plain water? It’s so, so good!
For fish broth, I use the fish heads. When I buy fish and I have the flesh filleted, I bring home the heads and the bones, and use them to make fish broth.
Professional cooks recommend starting with cold water (and its relation to scum)
The reason we start with cold water is that certain proteins, notably albumin, will only dissolve in cold water. And albumin helps clarify a stock. Therefore, starting with cold water helps release the albumin, giving us a clearer stock. [The Basics of Making Stock: Bones, Vegetables & More]
Now, I don’t know how scientifically accurate that claim is but I have noticed a marked difference when bones are added before or after the water in the pot boils. Four letters; one word. Scum. Less scum rises when the bones are added after the water boils. It’s not something I can explain; it’s just something I have repeatedly noticed.
So, as a matter of practice, do I add the bones before or after the water boils?
Let me be totally honest. That depends on how lazy I feel on the day that I’m making broth. If it’s a terribly hot and humid day, and I don’t feel like spending a long time in front of the stove skimming off the neverending scum that rises, then, I drop the bones after the water boils. If I’m relaxed and channeling a Stepford Wife, I put the bones in the pot, pour in enough cold water to cover and then I stand in front of the stove leisurely scooping out the ugly scum until the liquid is crystal clear.
Is it necessary to roast the bones before using them to make broth?
Some say roasted bones make a more flavorful broth. Lay out the bones on a tray, roast in a hot oven until lightly browned and then use them for making broth. And the roasting adds flavor to the broth? Yes and no. “Add” probably is not the most accurate word. Roasting changes the chemical make-up of the bones (the natural sugars get caramelized and that’s what is responsible for the browning) so broth made with roasted bones tastes different from broth made with unroasted bones. Whether that makes the broth better or not is a matter for your taste buds to decide.
The real difference between broth made with roasted or unroasted bones is in the color. The browned bones make a darker broth which is preferred for making sauces and gravies. It’s a visual thing.
Does blanching the bones make the broth tastier?
There are recipes that call for blanching the bones. The bones are covered with water, boiled, the water is thrown out, the bones are rinsed and then the actual process of making broth begins.
Why blanch the bones? Just like with roasting, it’s a visual thing. Blanching the bones will yield a clearer broth, the kind preferred for making noodle soups and vegetable soups.
How long should the bones simmer?
The general rule is that the longer the bones simmer, the more flavorful the broth. The long and slow cooking squeezes out every bit of flavor from the bones. The liquid is reduced but the flavors become more concentrated.
Making bone broth with the slow cooker
Whether you roast or blanch the bones (or even if you don’t), you can put them in the slow cooker, cover with water, add herbs and spices, and slow cook for six to eight hours. This, for me, is the best and most convenient method.
Note, however, that the general rule that “the more the liquid is reduced, the more concentrated the flavors” does not apply in this case. Very little liquid is lost when using a slow cooker. Despite that, the longer the bones sit in the liquid, barely simmering, the tastier the broth will be. That’s why making broth in the slow cooker is the best of both worlds — lots of broth with lots of flavor.