Bone Broth: A How-To

Stock Pot

Homemade chicken broth, or bone broth of any kind, is a highly nutritious food and one that’s been in the press quite a bit lately (New York Times, Forbes, etc.). Essentially, it is the liquid that results from cooking down bones/meat + vegetables + water for anywhere from 6 to 24 hours (if you add salt and seasoning to it, it’s called broth; if you don’t, it’s called stock).

Bone broth dates back to prehistoric times, but has recently been rediscovered for its health benefits. While there are a lot of magical claims swirling around on the subject, here are the top three reasons I love it and consider it an important food:

  • Homemade broth is full of nutrients, including calcium and magnesium, two important minerals that we can absorb easily through drinking/eating it. Bone broth also contains glucosamine and chondroiton, which are thought to help ease arthritis and joint pain (many people take these in supplement form, but broth is an excellent all-natural source).
  • Bone broth is rich in gelatin. Gelatin is source of protein, helps support digestive health (many say it can help heal digestive disorders), and keeps our skin, hair, and fingernails healthy and strong. Everyone benefits from adding gelatin to their diet.
  • Bone broth proves our Moms are always right. Studies now show that chicken soup does indeed help cure colds and flu. Why did we ever doubt them? 

To summarize, bone broth is good for our guts, bones, joints, and skin (and soul if you’re still following Jack Canfield). It also happens to taste great and turns every soup we make into something remarkable… which is probably why I make a huge batch of the stuff every other week. The flavor of homemade broth is rich and decidely umami. Store-bought versions just don’t compare, from both a health and taste perspective. Just check out the ingredients next time you buy a can or carton; it’s full of flavorings and preservatives that try to mimic the flavor of the real stuff, but always fall short.

The good news is that you can make your own homemade broth for next to nothing, using ingredients you probably discard otherwise. Just how do you it? Here is my simple and easy method: I keep a gallon-size “broth bag” in my freezer at all times. Whenever we have bones left over from a meal, such as roasted chicken, they go in the bag. Whenever I have vegetable cores and scraps leftover from food prep, they go in the bag. When they bag is full—I try to fill it with roughly half bones and half veggies—I dump the contents into a big pot, cover it with water, add some peppercorns, and let it simmer all day or night. In the end, the bones are so broken down you can easily snap or crush them, all the veggies are spent, and the resulting liquid is full of both nutrients and flavor. I strain and discard all the solids, add salt, and refrigerate or freeze the broth, using it throughout the week to make soups and stews, braise other meats and vegetables, and cook rice in. It’s indispensable in our kitchen.

Any combination of meat/bones and veggies will work. In the broth pictured, for instance, the following is what I used. The first three items were leftover from cutting up a whole (organic) chicken, which is super easy and cost-effective once you get the hang of it. All of these items filled one gallon-size freezer bag:

  • two raw chicken wings, including tips
  • one raw chicken back (the part between the breasts)
  • one giblet pack that was inside the whole chicken (I took out the liver piece—it’s too strong for broth)
  • one pork bone shoulder (leftover from slow cooker pulled pork we had made)
  • roasted chicken thigh bones (meat had already been eaten off; we had baked the thighs)
  • kale stems
  • carrot peels
  • outer leaves of a cabbage
  • base of a bunch of celery, including leaves
  • base and tops of a few summer squash/zucchini
  • onion skins
  • ginger peels
  • turmeric peels

I realize that some people may wrinkle their noses at this list and the prospect of cooking down chicken bones and other otherwise-unsavory parts, but I actually find it to be quite a beautiful and respectful act. Using all these parts allows us to use the whole animal—not just the all-mighty “boneless, skinless chicken breast”—which is much more considerate and ethical to both the animal and our environment as a whole. It goes without saying that choosing and using organic meats (preferably pastured and local too) is also part of this. The good news here is that most of these items are quite cheap, and very often on sale. I never pay more than $10 to $12 for a whole, organic chicken; chicken thighs on the bone are usually under $5 for a pack of 5 to 6; and sometimes you can even find “chicken backs,” which are sold expressly for making broth, for just a few bucks.

I’ve provided a template recipe for making your own bone broth below, which I encourage you to use as a jumping off point. Try it once and I promise you’ll be a convert.

[Hover over the photos for captions.]


Bone Broth
You really can’t “mess up” broth—basically any bones or meat-on-the-bone you can save/use are great. The meat can be either cooked or uncooked; I usually use a combination. As for vegetable scraps, with the exception of potatoes and tomatoes, any sort are welcome. // All this said, if you really want to make things easy on yourself: buy an organic rotisserie chicken from the store, remove all the meat and use it in other meals, and cook whatever remains along with a bunch of carrots, celery, and an onion. You could also do this with a raw whole chicken too. // Yield: About 16 cups

Meat Parts (cooked or uncooked; with or without meat attached; organic highly preferred):
Leftover pieces of rotisserie or roasted chicken, including bones with or without meat on them (eaten or uneaten—you will be boiling it for hours so you really needn’t worry about contamination)
Chicken wings, including tips
Chicken backs and/or feet (I realize this sounds weird, but they make great broth!)
Beef, lamb, or pork bones

Vegetable Parts (basically anything you’d put in the compost bin; organic wherever possible):
Kale, chard, or any other hearty greens, stems especially
Cabbage, outer leaves and core especially
Celery, including bottom core and leaves
Carrots, including peels and tops
Cilantro or parsley stems
Onion and garlic skins (or just a whole onion, quartered)
Leeks, especially the (typically inedible) green tops
Lemon peels

Other Add-Ins (for Flavor):
Whole peppercorns
Bay Leaf
Any herbs you may have, such as rosemary or thyme
Kosher salt

Save up any of the above items in a gallon-size plastic bag, keeping it in the freezer.

Once the bag is full, pull out the largest stock pot you have, and dump it all in (no need to thaw). Cover with filtered water and add any of the “Other” items you like. I usually just do a handful of peppercorns, and add the salt at the end. You could also do this in a slow cooker instead, and just cook on low overnight or all day. Both methods are great; I’ve just been doing the stove-top version lately as the smell of the broth cooking literally wakes me up in the middle of night when it’s in the slow cooker, ha. (I have a ridiculously sensitive sense of smell.)

Bring to a boil then reduce to very low simmer and cook for at least 4 hours, ideally 6 to 10. Add water as needed if it looks like it’s cooking down too much. By the end of cooking, the liquid should be a rich golden color, with some oil drops on top (this is a great sign and = flavor).

Strain all the liquid (broth) and discard the solids. Add salt to taste—if you think your broth is too strong, add additional water until it’s as you like. I usually don’t though, even it’s really rich, because I like to freeze it in this “condensed” form, and then just add more water once I’m actually using it to make soup or other things. It takes up less space in my freezer this way.

Allow to cool and then transfer to large glass jars or other storage containers; refrigerate until needed. If your jars develop a layer of fat on top after chilling, that is great (see photo below). This actually helps seal in the broth and allows it to keep in the fridge for longer (just don’t break the seal). I just mix this layer back into the broth once I’m ready to use.

If freezing, carefully pour the strained liquid into gallon size freezer bags. Lay flat on a baking tray and freeze until “sheets” are solid (see photo below), then just stack them in your freezer. Run under warm water to defrost.

Use your broth any and everywhere! (Or be super trendy and drink it plain.)

Final Broth

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Ribollita Soup

Ribollita Lunch

We are a soup-loving household. I grew up on homemade chicken noodle soup; Suraj on dal and sambar. The roots run deep.

Soup ticks all our boxes. Can it be made in advance?—check. Is it a one pot meal?—check. Does it contain vegetables?—check. Does it contain protein?—check. Can it be eaten with bread?—check check check (okay, this last one may just be me…).

Ribollita is one of our very favorite soups and on an almost weekly rotation here. It’s Italian—Tuscan, to be precise—and features veggies, beans, and bread, which in my mind, is the ultimate trifecta. We add sausage as well (mostly to satisfy Suraj’s usual “Where’s the meat?” question), but seeing as it’s a soup with peasant origins, this can easily be skipped should you so choose. I’ve made both versions, and neither lasted long.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the leftovers here are actually better than the first serving, which makes the next day’s lunch something to really look forward to. I have one last bowl left for tomorrow, expertly hidden in the back corner of the fridge. Territorial? Maybe. Smart? Hell yes.

Ribollita Bowl

Pre-crouton dousing.


Ribollita
Quite a few ingredients here can be substituted as you like. You can use either hot, mild, or sweet Italian sausage, or skip entirely if you’re vegetarian, and just start with sauteing the vegetables in a little olive oil, and then using vegetable stock later. You could use celery instead of kale stalks (as is traditional—I just didn’t have any and didn’t want to waste the stalks). And/or you can skip the white wine and use more broth instead (though most of it cooks off anyway—and it imparts a perfect tang, in my opinion). You can also add in any other veggies you like, such as diced zucchini or cubed potato (which is especially good if you’re doing a vegetarian version). Play around! It’s only soup! // Adapted from Bon Appetit. // Serves 6 to 8.

2 cups coarsely torn day-old hearty bread, such as sourdough*
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more
1 pound Italian sausage (we like hot), casings removed
1 cup dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, finely chopped
5 to 6 kale stems, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 bunch Tuscan kale, stems/ribs removed, leaves torn into small pieces
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups cooked white beans (I used some from my freezer, which I had previously soaked and cooked; you can use canned if that’s what you have)
8 cups chicken broth (I used homemade)
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan, shaved or grated, for serving

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss bread cubes and olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast, tossing occasionally, until golden brown and crunchy, about 15 minutes. Let croutons cool.

Using your hands, mix sausage and wine in a medium bowl until smooth. Transfer to a large soup pot set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until firm but not browned, about 4 minutes.

Add onion, carrots, kale stems, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender but still hold their shape, 20 to 25 minutes. Add kale leaves, tomatoes, beans, and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors have melded, about 1 hour. Add kosher salt and pepper to taste.

Divide soup among bowls and top with croutons and a grating of Parmesan.

*Ribollita is the landing place of all the little knobs and crusts of sourdough that don’t make the toast cut but that I can’t bear to throw away either.  I save them up in my freezer, and when my bag is full, the soup pot immediately gets turned on. That said, any type of hearty bread will work just fine. We recently used some garlic Tuscan from Wegman’s (!) and it was perfection.


Homemade Breakfast Cereal

Cereal Bowl Final

I went home to upstate New York last week for Easter. It’s about an eight-hour drive from New Hampshire if I only stop once for gas, and every hour that passes feels like five. Flying there is much faster, of course, but this time around I had five GALLONS of olive oil in my trunk to deliver to family members (we did a bulk buy, as I mentioned here). I kept imagining the scenario in which I would be pulled over and would have to explain what, exactly, I was doing with a car full of olive oil, but gladly that never happened.

Going home was nice. My mom and most of my siblings still live in the area, so it’s always busy/lively when I go back. I’m still getting used to the idea of my Dad not being there though. It’s been six months since he (unexpectedly) passed away, and I still have a hard time believing he’s not just going to walk back in the door or come sit down at the table with us. I want to talk about him, but most times I can’t do so without a huge lump jumping into my throat and my eyes welling up. In time.

…so back to Easter. There was a lot of food—as always. With nearly everyone in my family being food-obsessed (my brother is a chef and the rest of us are just avid cooks/bakers), there’s always a full spread. Ham, Polish sausage, scalloped potatoes, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, you name it. I decided to add a panzanella bread salad to the mix (loosely based off this recipe, with a lot of garlic and feta added in), using a loaf of homemade sourdough I had brought with me. It was excellent and we ate the leftovers for days. I made a cake for dessert too, following Dorie Greenspan’s celebration cake recipe (a favorite), and filling it with fresh orange curd made from my sister’s abundant CSA citrus share. It was all so good.

Aside from the things we made while I was there, I brought along several jars of my homemade cereal. I’ve been making it for years now, and everyone likes it so much that I literally give it to my mom as a Christmas present.

Why do I make my own cereal? Well, you can probably guess—most cereals on the store shelf, even the “healthy ones,” are filled with unpronounceable things you probably want to avoid. Here’s what my homemade version contains: spelt flour, almond meal, kefir, coconut oil, maple syrup, salt, cinnamon, baking soda, vanilla and maple extracts. All healthy, recognizable ingredients, right? Plus, it’s easy to make and yields a huge batch. Stored in the freezer, it lasts months.

As for the taste, think nutty granola meets muesli (or Great Grains meets Oatmeal Crisp if you want a brand-name comparison). Crunchy and slightly sweet upon first bite, then softening like porridge or oats as it absorbs the milk (I like it best this way). It’s the only breakfast cereal I’ll ever need. And, coincidentally, my best Christmas gift.

[Hover over photos for captions.]


Homemade Breakfast Cereal
Start this recipe the night before you want to make it; I usually start it on a Friday night and finish it on Saturday. The process is this: Soak your ingredients the night before (I talk about the importance of soaking grains/flours in this post), bake it into a cake the next day, then crumble and dry the cake pieces out. Voilà, cereal! It’s really a simple and fun process. Recipe adapted from here. | Yield: About 14 cups.

To soak the night or day before:
4 1/2 cups spelt flour (or regular whole wheat)
1 1/2 cups finely ground almonds/almond meal/almond flour
3 cups plain kefir, buttermilk, or yogurt (thinned with water)

To mix in after soaking:
3/4 cup melted coconut oil
1 cup maple syrup or honey (or 1/2 cup each, or 1/2 cup maple syrup and 10-15 drops liquid stevia)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon maple flavoring, optional

To serve:
Dried fruit and chopped nuts (I like chopped dried plums, dried cherries, walnuts, and toasted hazelnuts; pictured is just sliced almonds as it was for my mom)

The night or day before you want to bake the cereal: Mix flour, ground almonds, and soaking medium of choice in a large glass bowl. Mix just until no dry flour remains, but don’t overdo it—you want to keep it loose so it’s easy to combine with the other ingredients the next day. Cover with a loose lid and leave on the counter for 12 to 24 hours. (Mine bubbles up quite a bit and grows in size because my kefir is so active; see first photo in series above.)

The next day: Once soaking is complete, preheat oven to 350º F (175º C). Lightly grease two 9×13-inch pans or one large 11×17-inch pan, which is what I used.

In a mixer, combine the second group of ingredients, then add the soaked flour mixture a cup or so at a time, beating until fully blended. I work slowly here, so it all incorporates well.

Pour batter into pans and bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake is lightly golden in color.

Let cool then crumble the cake into small pieces, about the size of marbles or a little larger. Spread on cookie sheets if drying in the oven, or dehydrator sheets if using a dehydrator (I’ve used both with success). In oven, dry at 200º F (95º C) for at least 4 to 5 hours, rotating sheets and turning cereal every hour or so. The cereal is done when the pieces feel completely dry (like granola), with no moisture remaining. In dehydrator, dry at around 135º F (60º C) overnight.

Once cool, add in any dried fruit or chopped nuts you like. Store in the freezer if not using immediately.

Eat with either warm or cold milk (dairy, almond, or otherwise), with blueberries or sliced bananas if you have them. [Note that I usually have about 1/2 cup or less of the cereal itself, as it’s super filling!]


Cereal with milk

Cucumber Roti (Flatbread)

Cucumber Roti

Breakfast is easily my favorite meal of the day. (You’ll be seeing a lot of it on this blog, I assure you.)

It’s also one my favorite parts of the weekend. I love the gentle pace that comes along with it, the rituals behind it (for us: tea, then more tea), and the stretch of the day ahead. It’s comforting. It’s warm. It’s that place where you want to sit and stay awhile.

Aside from eggs in all forms (omelet for Suraj, scrambled for me), we gravitate toward Indian breakfast items. Dosa/iddly, poha, and savory pancakes like moong dal cheela and cucumber roti (recipe below) are our top picks. I think if I ever actually wrote a cookbook myself (aside from just hiring people to do it), it would be on Indian breakfasts. There is just SO much to love when it comes to this cuisine, this meal. Wholesome ingredients, a light touch of spice, veg-centric, filling-but-not-coma-inducing (and often fermented, like dosa)—addicting, in a word. My “to blog” list includes dozens of these recipes, and I hope to one day share them all here (check out my Instagram in the meantime for photos of most of them, and proof that I am in fact obsessed).

Our weekend breakfasts all take more time to prepare than pouring a bowl of cereal, but that’s what I like about them. I like listening to Sunday Morning while pulling things together, and having Suraj come join me to finish the tea while I take things off the stove, or cut up some fruit. When we sit down together, we’re both relaxed, but hungry, and can look forward to a warm meal in front of us, and the day ahead.

In the case of this cucumber roti, or flatbread, it’s one I posted about to friends on Facebook a few weeks ago, when I was once again waxing poetic about this very subject (I’m fast becoming a broken record, aren’t I?). A few people asked for the recipe, which I’m more than happy to share here. It’s rather easy to prepare, gluten-free by nature, and full of flavors that work beautifully together (cucumber, coconut, rice, cilantro). The cucumber and coconut help keep the interior soft and subtly sweet, while the outside crisps up in beautiful contrast—it’s a savory pancake/flatbread like no other. I hope it finds its way into one of your weekend mornings.

Cucumber Roti 2


Cucumber Roti (Flatbread)
This savory flatbread is made simply from grated cucumber mixed with rice flour, coconut, and a few spices/herbs (cumin, cilantro, chili). There is no water or other liquid added; the cucumber itself hydrates the dough. It is light on the stomach, yet filling at the same time. You can find grated, frozen coconut at any Indian grocery store. It’s pretty cheap, requires no prep, and tastes amazing; I just defrost it in the microwave for about 45 seconds. If you can’t find it, you can use unsweetened, dried, shredded coconut—just soak it in 1/2 cup of hot water for 20 minutes or so, then add it to the dough along with the soaking water (I haven’t tried this personally, so you may need to play with the water ratio).

2 cups rice flour (I use white rice flour, as it’s easier to digest than brown)
1 english cucumber, peeled and grated
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh coconut
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (the salt helps draw out the moisture)
4 green chillies, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Coconut oil, ghee, or other cooking oil
Butter, for serving

Combine all the ingredients (except for the oil and butter) in large bowl. Don’t add any water, just start kneading it all together with your hands. As you work, the moisture from the cucumber will start releasing and hydrate the flour. After a few minutes, it should start coming together into a ball and feel like play dough. If it still feels too crumbly, add a couple of drops of water and keep kneading (I’ve never had to do this, but if you had a small cucumber, maybe you’ll need to).

Divide the dough into equal portions, making each one about the size of an orange. Working with one piece at a time, place on top of a sheet of waxed paper and press down with your fingers to flatten to about 1/4 inch thickness. You may need to wet your hands with a little water if they’re sticking. Conversely, you can lay a second piece of waxed paper on top of the dough (flattening slightly) and gently roll it out with a rolling pin (or use a tortilla press).

Heat a cast iron pan or skillet with a few teaspoons of coconut oil or ghee over medium heat. It’s hot enough when a drop of water sizzles. Gently transfer the roti to the skillet; I do this by taking off the top sheet of waxed paper (if using), then picking up the whole thing by the bottom piece of waxed paper and flipping it over onto the skillet, so the waxed paper sheet is now on top—I then quickly and gently peel off the top paper.

Cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until lightly browned in spots. Remove and serve hot with butter and a sprinkle of salt. We like to have ours with hard-boiled eggs, avocado, Greek yogurt, Indian pickle, and chutney.

If you have any leftovers, just keep them in the fridge and reheat in the toaster. They make a great weekday breakfast this way!