Bone stock is one of the most important components of any meat-based soup and a special flavor enhancer for many other recipes. It’s also generically referred to as ‘stock’ in this blog, many cookbooks, and likely a good number of your most cherished family recipes. Unfortunately, most processed stock sold in stores contains allergens such as dairy or gluten or is made on lines and in plants that process undisclosed allergens. Therefore, making stock at home is crucial when trying to avoid allergens like we are. Luckily for us – and you – it’s also one of the easiest recipes possible, on par with white rice. At its most basic you simmer bones and aromatics in water for a long while.
Note that stock and broth are commonly used interchangeably although technically not the same thing. Stock is liquid without solids and usually made from cooking bones and other cuttings. Broth is made from (and usually includes) meat.
I always begin this recipe with fresh bones from a full service butcher, usually at one of the local Chinese markets here in Los Angeles. I also buy organic bones from Whole Foods when I can get them (otherwise it isn’t worth the extra cost: $0.99 versus $5.99 per pound).
I mostly use beef or pork for stock although you can use bones from any other animal you might eat such as venison or chicken. One other benefit of Chinese markets is that they usually sell de-boned chickens and sometimes have bones for less common animals (though I’ve yet to take advantage).
The best pork or beef bones to use are the long leg bones. You’ll find these bones advertised alternatively as “soup bones,” “marrow bones,” or sometimes simply “bones.” Shank pieces are also good to use when they’re mostly bone (the downside is that shank is usually more expensive). These leg bones pack in the greatest flavor per pound, which I attribute to marrow. This soft sponge-like tissue at the center of bones is where stem cells develop into blood cells. It’s also mostly (~80%) fat and gives credence to Julia Child saying “fat gives things flavor.” That said, I do remove most of the fat as you’ll see in the recipe below.
Here’s my basic stock recipe using a 6 qt (5.7 L) slow cooker. Try it then experiment to your heart’s delight with other aromatics that appeal to you.
Difficulty Level: super easy
Prep Time: 15 to 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 to 12 hours (in a slow cooker)
Makes about 2.75 quarts stock
Ingredients (and our sources)
- 2 to 4 lbs (1 to 2 kg) Marrow bones (fresh from the local full service butcher)
- 1 whole onion (local farmers market)
- black pepper (McCormick)
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce (Squid Brand)
- 2 bay leaves (McCormick)
- 1 inch piece ginger, sliced (local farmers market)
- 4 to 5 cloves garlic (local farmers market)
- Combine the bones and all dry ingredients in the slow cooker
- Add water to fill the remainder of the pot
- Cook on low for about 10 to 12 hours
- Strain the liquid (your stock) into a large metal or glass bowl
- Side note: Most bones come with meat or tendon still attached – see the photo, below – so pick out any edible parts to eat. You can put them into a soup or add to rice or other grains for a quick meal.
- When the stock container is warm to the touch cover the container and put it in the fridge overnight
As it cools, fat will rise to the surface and coagulate while the stock itself will become a semi-solid gelatin (think meat jello). The next day, you’ll be able to remove and discard a thick layer of fat from the top of your gelatinous stock, shown below (yes, that thick white sheet is fat). The gelatin will melt back into a liquid when heated.
- Soup base
- Substitute for half the water in grain recipes such as rice or quinoa.
- Stock takes very little effort or time to process despite the length of time from start to finish. Most time is spent doing other things – such as work or sleep – as the stock cooks or sets. I make stock regularly enough that I often – though it never seems often enough – have stock in the back of the fridge to use when needed.
- I don’t add salt to my recipe. The fish sauce is salty enough. You can substitute sea salt for fish sauce in the recipe.
- Stock isn’t intended as a stand-alone soup. In fact it will probably be bland, one-dimensional, and perhaps a bit tasteless.
- The fat layer will help preserve your stock gelatin, so leave it on top if you don’t need the stock for a few days.
- Stock is one of the most flexible recipes I know, so feel free to substitute other aromatics.
- When I have a particular soup in mind I’ll add the aromatics for that soup into the slow cooker for the stock. That is, when the aromatics can be cooked a long while. Some aromatics like cilantro or basil go in at the very end, just before serving. For example, I cut out a step in a recipe for Chinese beef stew by adding about 5 or 6 star anise pods (I’ll eventually post that recipe).
- Fresh bones from a full service butcher are best. I like to buy from the local Chinese supermarkets that have a full service counter, but will buy organic when I can get them from other sources such as Whole Foods.
- Organic is important and worth the extra cost because many of the toxins from pesticides are concentrated in fat.
- If you’re in Los Angeles, Shun Fat Supermarket in Monterey Park and Hawaii Supermarket in San Gabriel are my go-to markets.
- The Glendale Whole Foods regularly stocks organic marrow bones because it serves a thriving immigrant population from Armenia, Eastern Europe, and Korea who provide sufficient demand. It also regularly sells other meats such as cow tongue and organic beef liver I rarely see elsewhere. I haven’t had as much luck at other Whole Foods in the area.