As winter weather inches closer, I feel an intense pull toward hearty soups and stews. An underappreciated element of a good soup or stew is the broth from which it is composed. It is the foundation of a delicious winter weather meal, yet it has somehow come to be seen as an auxiliary ingredient. No more, I say! Not only is a good broth very simple to make, it is economical as well. It is easy to overlook the number of useful scraps we throw away when cooking over the course of a week. Many of us resort to bullion or packaged stock as a staple ingredient (sometimes at $3 to $4 a quart), when we could easily make an abundance of the stuff, for nearly free, from our cooking scraps.
I have attempted to make good broth many times but failed to appreciate what makes a broth hearty, wholesome, and delicious—color. Without color, there is no flavor. This is the fundamental mistake I had been making over many failed attempts at broth making, resulting in a sad, cloudy, grey liquid that more closely resembled dishwater than my intended product. Ladies and gentlemen, break out the cooking trays, preheat your ovens to 500 degrees, and let’s get cooking!
The ingredients will vary depending on the scraps you have collected throughout the week, however, for a three to four-quart batch you will need:
Bones of your choice (2-3 lbs will typically do)
½ a bunch of celery (inner leaves, ends etc.)
1 large onion, with skin (save the ends and skins from your weekly cooking expeditions)
1 bulb of garlic cut in half
Mushroom stems (optional but good)
Depending on how crazy you want to get with this, you can add really anything you like. These are mostly traditional additions, but you could easily add cilantro stems, tomato, ginger, and other such scraps. Just be aware that some of the flavors may not meld well with all recipes. Any herb or spice additions should be added after the main additions (bones and vegetables) are sufficiently roasted.
The first step is to slice the vegetables. I generally slice the carrots and onions into about ¾ inch pieces. The idea is to create as much surface area as possible to evaporate water, concentrate flavors, and brown the ingredients. Be mindful of the number of vegetables on the tray. Overcrowding the ingredients will cause the water to seep out of the vegetables and steam them rather than browning them.
It is important to remember the role fat has in creating color on the ingredients. Fat can be heated to very high temperatures quite quickly. When the vegetables are coated in fat, better browning occurs. Some of the fat can come from the bones, but if fat looks sparse, add a little oil and toss the ingredients to coat.
Put the trays in a 500-degree oven and let them cook for 20-30 minutes turning ingredients at the halfway mark. Ovens can vary in heat so those are rough estimates. If you feel like the vegetables have cooked well on the bottom of the tray, but haven’t developed many colors on top, turn the oven on broil and cook until they are a beautiful golden brown.
Transfer ingredients from the tray to a large pot. Take some of the water or wine and deglaze the trays. This will pull up much of the flavor that would otherwise be wasted. If needed, throw them back in the oven until the fond loosens up. scrape well to loosen all the browned bits. Add the rest of the ingredients and let it simmer for four to five hours, skimming the top periodically will remove unwanted scum and fat.
The final step is to remove all the ingredients with a mesh sieve. You can wait until it has cooled to avoid injury. Once it is strained, you can season with salt. It is delicious to drink by the cup.
For a delicious drinking broth, add fresh turmeric root and ginger to hot broth, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Allow it to cool and transfer to a blender. Blend thoroughly and pass through a mesh sieve to remove any fibrous particles from the ginger and turmeric. Heat again if needed, add a small part of grass-fed butter, and enjoy! It is a delicious warm drink for when you’ve had one too many cups of coffee.