Bone Broth on a Bone-Chilling Day

It’s winter again here in New Hampshire and absolutely bone-chilling cold outside.

I’m taking advantage of some time cooped up in the house due to cold and (impending) snow to catch up on long-overdue office work and to strike a few things off of my kitchen to-do list. By this evening I will be defrosting about 20 gallon bags of tomatoes in my bathtub for some canning… in the meantime, I am warming up with some bone broth!

Bone Broth has become all the rage the last couple of years, but it’s also just known as good ole’ fashioned stock made from vegetables or meat bones and simmered for an impossibly long time on low heat. Some people advocate for drinking warmed bone broth straight from a mug – talk about bottoms up! In my house, broth is the base for many soups and stews or for starting certain pasta, rice or bean dishes. Everything benefits from a good broth.

Everything benefits from a good broth, and everyone has the ability to make it. Bone broth can be made with few resources other than some time and planning. In the days before I had a large stock pot (a gift from a friend of my parent’s who was retiring/moving), I used two smaller pots that I had for pasta or sometimes my jumbo canning pot. Bone broth is also made for the food-rescuers and scrap savers among us. You can use fresh ingredients, but broths do just as well with a roast chicken carcass from last night’s dinner, some pantry items and either on-the-edge-of-goodness vegetables and/or frozen vegetable scraps and peels that have been squirreled away in a freezer bag. You can make your broth cost $50 or more if you like, but with a little foresight and planning, your broth can be just as good at virtually no cost. 

This past weekend I took advantage of a sale at Riverslea Farm: $1/lb lamb soup bones! Below are my guidelines for warming up the house with a delicious bone broth during this final winter blast:

  1. Start with the bare bones!

Any bones will do. Use what you have, what is on sale, or what is readily available to you. In this case, I used lamb bones because.. that’s right… they were on sale. You need 3-5 pounds of bones for a good batch of broth. If you are using a chicken or turkey, simply use any leftovers and/or the carcass from a roasted bird. In this case, skip the roasting step. If you prefer vegetable broth, there are many good recipes out there. Gather what’s around the house and consider adding some less-thought-of veggies, like a head of fennel, for added flavor. I prefer to make vegetable broths in summer/early fall when the most ingredients are in season and often cheaper than other times of year.

2. Roast em’ Up

Spread the bones in a deep baking dish and sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in an oven heated to between 400-450 degrees. I have seen recipes for broth calling for temperatures all within this range. I split the difference at 425. My bones were still frozen, so I put them right in the pan in a big frozen ball and broke them apart once they had been in the oven long enough for me to take a shower. NOTE: In my experience, this can be a smoky process. If you, like me, suffer from a poorly vented stove/kitchen and are notoriously faint of heart- be prepared. I roasted my bones for about an hour, stirring them up or turning them occasionally when things got a little smoky.

3. Transfer to a Stock Pot

This isn’t the time to be stingy. Use the biggest, heaviest stock pot you have. Transfer the bones to your stock pot and then scrape up any remaining bits from the roasting pan. Rinse with water and pour all the goodness into the pot with the bones. If you’re like me and realize your stock pot is still dirty from when you boiled maple syrup over the weekend, go clean it up while your bones roast. In my younger, poorer, smaller-kitchen, less-well-equipped days, I often used two pots for one batch so that the ingredients had some room to move around and I wasn’t overflowing the pots with liquid — it worked just fine!

4. Add What You Have, but Keep It Simple!

Remind yourself of how the tradition of broth making started in the first place… hundreds if not thousands and thousands of years ago. It was a method for using up everything available, sucking out every last nutritious morsel and leaving no waste. No special trips to the store, no buying items to add to your broth.  Keep it simple. Use what you have. I added 2 onions and 2 garlic heads that I had in the house already (skins and all), 2 whole starting-to-get-soft carrots, a pinch of whole peppercorns, a couple bay leaves and a bit of dried seaweed I found in the pantry (because why not.. but be careful, seaweed is SALTY!). If you are one of those great people who keep a frozen bag of veggies and other scraps in your freezer, now is your time to shine/gloat. Cover with a couple inches of water.

5. Patience is a Virtue

I bring my pot to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer on low…. basically forever. All told, it took me about an hour and 15 minutes to get to this point, but only about 15 minutes of this time was ‘active.’ Now it’s time to set and forget. Bone broth recipes call for cooking times between 12 and 48 hours.

“48 hours!” you say!? Several recipes out there advocate for leaving your oven or stovetop on while you leave the house, go to sleep etc… I say, do what you are comfortable doing. If it’s 6 hours or 12 or 25… the end product will still be good. The longer the cook time, the more opportunity the bones have to break down and release their greatness. Add water to your pot if needed, but a covered pot should not lose volume.

6. Get Your Containers Ready… and Filled!

Go out, right now, and invest in decent freezer-safe tupperware if you do not already have some. Get it in as many sizes as you can. If it’s stackable, you get a gold star. When your broth is ‘done,’ strain out the ingredients, cool it down and ladle it into containers for freezing. This is also an opportunity for skimming. Let the broth cool in the fridge and then skim off fat if desired. If you are out of time, you can put the stock pot in the fridge for a day or two before this step. I like to ladle my broth into single serving containers that hold about 1 cup, as well as containers that hold 3-4 and also 6 cups. These are the perfect amounts for rice/pasta, dishes that call for a small amount of broth and then larger soups and stews. Label and freeze.. then use as needed!

There you have it… bone broth made on a bone chilling day and for less than $10 (actually, half that!). It’ll be keeping me warm and happy for the rest of this long, long winter!

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