A few years ago, for the culinary timeline equivalent of an eye-blink, broth became chic. Hip bistros, frou-frou takeout shops, and coffee emporiums all jumped on the paleo diet-inspired “bone broth” craze and ladled their way into the hearts and wallets of health-conscious consumers.
Bone broth, an elixir made from meat, poultry, or fish bones with occasional vegetables and herbs, has been touted as a cure for inflammation, a source of cell-rejuvenating collagen, and a wellspring of minerals. Of course, now bone broth has become another staple on the grocery shelf—a commercially available product designed to be sipped, spooned, or poured. And the real boost from the bone broth fad has been awareness.
But there’s really nothing new about broth (bone or vegetable), stock, bouillon, consommé, or any of the other related concoctions. Broths and stocks are really the ultimate subsistence food, drawing nutrients and comfort from what otherwise might be discarded. As an ingredient, they add flavor to other dishes, and served solo, they can be both satisfying and fortifying.
Best of all, as a cook, you know exactly what goes into a broth you make yourself. You control the bone mix, the aromatics, the seasonings, and the strength. And if a barista-turned-saucier can brew a batch, so can you.
Food Is Medicine
The earliest broths weren’t deliberately prepared as such—they were just the happy byproduct of making meats and tough plants more palatable via boiling. Eventually, however, broth became a purposeful effort, and a way to get the most nutrition out of available ingredients.
It is believed that Chinese healers were the first to recommend broth as a restorative, and Greek physician Hippocrates proposed broth as an aid to digestive ailments. (In fact, herbalists often tout a potassium-rich, vegetable-based broth as “Hippocrates soup.”) Later, Egyptian physician Maimonides recommended broth as a palatable and easy-to-eat dish suitable for the sick or merely weary.
In theory, any liquid in which food has been cooked is a broth, but it’s simply not human nature to leave well-enough alone. The evolving preferences and preparations of cooking liquid has evolved into a variety of dishes.
Common parlance uses the words stock and broth interchangeably. However, there is a difference.
Chefs reference liquids made by cooking meaty bones or vegetables as broth, while stock is made from cooking primarily bones, resulting in a liquid rich in gelatinous collagen. Broth can be served alone or as the base for a translucent soup, while stock primarily functions as an ingredient, added to heartier soups and stews, as well as sauces and other dishes.
And that brings us to bone broth, which is actually a stock you drink. Bone broth begins with a selection of bones, from one or more different animals, that are cooked slowly for many hours. To facilitate the breakdown of the bones and cartilage, an acid is added to the mix. A bit of vinegar, wine, lemons, or even tomatoes will do the trick.
Strained bone broth can be flavored with herbs and spices, defatted, and served in a cup for sipping, or a bowl for spooning. Aspic, though rarely prepared from scratch (or at all) these days, can be made from concentrated, chilled bone broth.
Consommé is a double-strength clear soup, made by cooking bones in a previously prepared broth, that has been clarified with egg whites and careful straining. The egg whites draw impurities and solids from the stock. Straining the liquid through triple layers of cheesecloth ensures no solids break into the consommé. The final soup can be studded with additional ingredients such as meat slices, shaved vegetables, a poached egg, or herb sprigs.
Making Your Own Broth
There are several approaches to making stocks and broths, depending on whether you want the end result to be white or brown, clear or dense, strongly flavored or mild.
The most common homemade broths incorporate the meaty leftover carcass or bones of roasted poultry or meat, plus a few aromatic vegetables like carrots, celery, onion, and herbs. Clean potato peelings, mushroom stems, parsley stems, and even a corn cob can be added. (Avoid adding bell peppers and outer celery leaves, both of which make broth bitter.)
All ingredients go into a tall soup pot or Dutch oven with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and during the first half hour of cooking, skim off any foam that rises to the top. Simmer the broth for four to six hours—more for a concentrated broth and less for a milder, ready-to-use broth. Cool, strain, and chill the liquid. Fat will rise to the top and harden, and if desired, can be removed from the broth.
The result of this basic recipe is a golden broth—lighter or darker depending on the meat used—that’s probably a bit cloudy. It’s a perfect base for any number of homemade soups and stews.
Broth perfectionists are more likely to use a whole raw chicken with aromatics, simmered for about an hour before removing and reserving the breast meat, then returning the chicken to the pot for several more hours of very gentle simmering. This yields a light, translucent broth.
White stock is made from the blanched bones of poultry or veal, while brown stock is made from the roasted bones of beef or other meats.
Bone broth generally follows the rules for either homemade broth or stock, with a longer cooking time and the addition of two to three tablespoons of an acidic liquid.
Vegetable stock also can be simmered from scratch or made from roasted vegetables. Unlike meat versions, veggie stocks and broths have no collagen, so they don’t gel. Avoid adding cruciferous vegetables to veggie broth unless you really want a strongly flavored brew.
It’s perfectly alright to take creative license while developing your signature broth or stock, but for those of you who prefer specific instructions, several recipes follow.
Louisiana native Belinda Hulin Crissman writes cookbooks and food articles from her adopted hometown of Atlantic Beach, Fla. She’s the author of five cookbooks, including “Roux Memories: A Cajun-Creole Love Story with Recipes.” When she’s not writing, you’ll find her scoping out old and new culinary delights.
RECIPE: Brown Stock
RECIPE: Basic Chicken Broth
RECIPE: Slow Cooker Turkey Broth
RECIPE: Bone Broth