There’s been a lot of talk about bone broth lately in the news, like this article highlighting a small take-away window that sells it by the cup and has customers lining up. It isn’t a passing craze, but a time-old tradition that is recently reappearing due to the science of it finally catching up.
As the name implies, bone broth is made primarily with bones (although vegetables are often used in conjunction), whereas the terms broth or stock refer to a liquid often made with meat or just a small amount of bones. Using somewhat meaty but collagen-dense bones like marrow or knuckle bones (or even chicken feet) yields a far more collagen-rich liquid. Bone broth is also generally simmered for a much longer amount of time than other stocks. 8-12 hours (sometimes less) is all that is needed to generate a flavorful broth/stock but is not sufficient to pull the minerals out of the bones and break down the collagen fibers.
Simmering collagen-dense bones for a longer period of time, generally a minimum of 24 hours, will begin to break down the bones to the point where they may even become a bit crumbly. This effectively pulls out the numerous vitamins and minerals, as well as gives the surrounding collagen fibers time to break down and release all those amino acids throughout your broth. The addition of a small amount of acid (apple cider vinegar is my favorite) will aid in breaking down the fibers, which helps to give you that gelling texture you may have heard mention of.
Bone broth will gel up when chilled if there are sufficient amino acids present (in the form of marrow/elastic tissues) and the heat and time simmered are great enough. I always ere on the side of caution and run mine a minimum 40 hours. My slow cooker has a 20-hour timer so sometimes I will just set it twice and call it good since I am familiar with ratios and have made it plenty of times. If you are new to broth making or can just turn your cooker on and forget it, I’d recommend aiming for 48 hours just to be safe.
The ratios of bones to liquid is one of the most important aspects of the recipe. But the bones you use can also impact whether or not it gels. If your bone broth doesn’t gel, it isn’t the end of the world! You will likely still end up with a far more nutrient-dense broth than you could buy in stores. You also have the option of adding various extra vegetables if you cooker will fit them. Carrots, celery, leeks, etc. Make it your own and experiment with just how much garlic you can stand.
Foolproof Bone Broth
Yields: about 8 c. broth
12 c. filtered water
½ c. apple cider vinegar
1 onion, roughly chopped
4-6 sprigs fresh herbs (thyme and sage are used here but rosemary is my favorite)
4+ cloves garlic
sea salt, to taste
Place all the ingredients into a large slow cooker (it may fit in a minimum 4 QT size but I use a 6 QT). Cook on ‘high’ for 48 hours. If your crockpot has a timer that doesn’t go up to 48, just keep resetting it when it stops. After it’s done, allow it to come to room temperature before pouring the broth through a strainer. Discard the cooked bits and bones (unless you have dogs, they love them!) and pour the strained broth into glass jars.
Once refrigerated, the fat will solidify on top and can be used for high heat cooking needs or added a little at a time to the broth when consumed. I like to add my sea salt as I use it to better gauge what it needs for flavor. Usually ½ tsp. per 12 oz. mug of straight broth works well. That amount will vary if you the bone broth is being used for soups or stews instead.
*Note: if choosing to use chicken bones, use an entire chicken carcass, or two. You can use chicken feet for the extra collagen tissues, which will help the broth gel up more.
*Edit: I now use my 6-QT Instant Pot to make all my bone broth. I’ll run the recipe above through on a 90-minute, high-pressure cycle. Then pour out the broth and run it again with the same bones, but new aromatics (onion, herbs, garlic), water and ACV and set it for 120 minutes the second round. The second batch never gels nearly as much as the first but it still tastes delicious and makes a great stock for soups.