Most people would just throw away the bones of their rotisserie chicken or spare ribs, seeing only trash, but the right eyes will recognize in them the worth of precious pearls. If, at this very moment, you were to pull open our freezer, you would discover three or four gallon-bags of various kinds of bones. The smooth ball and socket of a severed shoulder pressed up against the frosty plastic. Tiny femurs, loosely clustered together underneath the protective curve of a breast bone. It’s literally an ossuarium—a mini Catacombs in our kitchen. But this is where the sea-change happens, and the bones are waiting to prove their power.
They’re waiting to breathe life into your soups, your sauces, your braised meats…the list goes on. Nothing in a grocery store beats a homemade stock (also known as “bone broth”), and it costs next to nothing to make (which is great, because my fiancé and I make due with a shoestring budget). You just save the bones of the various kinds of meat you’re consuming in separate bags and throw in the vegetable scraps that come from the preparation of other meals along the way. I personally take great comfort in this apparent hoarding of trash: this way, even if I’m doing the fancy French knife cuts that end up wasting large chunks of the vegetable, I know that those scraps will have a second life, and nothing’s really wasted. Once one of the gallon bags in the freezer is full, you’re ready to make your stock.
The recipe below is the one I use to make a generic base stock. There’s always a container of this stuff in my fridge and usually a few in reserve in the freezer. Accordingly, it’s very simple. If you have a particular use in mind for your stock, add in other spices: ginger and extra garlic for an eastern flair; oregano, thyme, savory, marjoram, and a pinch of sage for an Italian soup, etc. I don’t add any salt, so that I have full control over the salt level once I’m actually cooking the dish that the stock is being used for.
For more on the science and history of bone broth-making, see “‘…Into something rich and strange’ Part II: The Science and History Behind Bone Broth-Making.”[
Makes about 12 cups
The mixed contents of a gallon bag of bones and vegetable scraps
2 bay leaves
1 tsp whole peppercorns
Preheat an oven to 425F. Spread the contents of the gallon bag of bones and vegetable scraps evenly onto a lightly greased sheet pan. You may want to add some extra celery, onion, carrot and/or garlic, depending on how much in the way of vegetable scraps were in the bag. Roast for about 15 minutes, stir and flip the bones and scraps, then roast for about another 10 minutes, until golden brown and even slightly charred in places. Allow the bones to cool slightly, so that they and the pan they’re on are not dangerous to handle, and then pour into a large stockpot.
As an optional extra step, deglaze the sheet pan over both the front and back burners on your stove over medium high heat, pouring water over the browned and blackened bits (that’s referred to as fond in French cuisine, and it’s flavor stuck to the bottom of the pan!) and scraping gently with a spatula to loosen. Do this step only if you are very careful, as it’s easy for the sheet pan to slide or the water to spill over. If you choose to do this, then go ahead and then add the deglazing liquid to the stockpot.
Cover the bones with cold water and add the seasonings. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for at least 3 hours. When you’ve given them as much time as you are able and willing to allow, strain the stock and pour into containers, letting them cool before putting them into the fridge or freezer. You can now, at last, discard the bones and allow them to rest in peace.
If you want to remove the fat from the stock, let it cool in the refrigerator overnight and then scoop the fat that has risen off with a spoon. I usually keep the fat in my stocks (because fat equals flavor), but if you wanted to remove it, you could reserve it to use as cooking fat.
Realize that your stock will be gelatinous and wobbly (which I find highly amusing) when cool. Don’t worry! That’s a good thing, because it means you’ve extracted all the healthy, flavorful collagen from the bones.