17 Tips for Easy Homemade Broth

Chicken, vegetable, and other broths are some of the most versatile and easy-to-make staples in the kitchen. They turn a spent carcass or papery onion skins into one more meal– almost for free! Most importantly, homemade broth is dramatically superior to what you can buy in a can or box at the market, and without the additives and preservatives.

There are myriad ways to make great broth, and here are some tips from our kitchen.

Save bones and trimmings in the freezer. Keep separate bags for cooked and raw; different meats; and smoked or non-smoked, which impart flavors best for different dishes. Be sure to date your bags or containers, so you use the oldest first and within a few months of freezing.

Save veggies, too! Stick to aromatic leftovers, like onion skins and root, carrot ends and skin, celery trimmings, mushroom stems, pea pods, and corn cobs. Skins are the most nutritious parts of most vegetables, so broth salvages nutrients otherwise lost in peeling.

Season as you go. This can be contentious, but I’m a firm believer in producing a broth that’s immediately drinkable. Otherwise, you don’t know what you’ve got until the soup or dish is done. You can always omit salt from the final recipe. So salt the meat before cooking, salt the liquid, and adjust seasoning on the finished product. You don’t want “salty,” but you do want full flavor.

Sweat your meat and vegetables. The key is drawing out the flavorful juices from the meat, bones, and veggies. So if you’re using raw chicken, brown it in a little oil (or better yet, rendered fat) in the stew pot. Add the onions and brown those, too, then cover and sweat for 10 minutes over low heat. Don’t open the lid. At the end, the ingredients will be swimming in rich juices. Sweating is especially useful for a quick broth. If you’re using cooked meat or bones, or are making vegetable broth, sweat the onions– and mushrooms if you’re using fresh ones.

For a nice rich stock, break up the bones, keep it slow, and skim often. At the end of several hours over low heat, the resulting stock should turn to firm jelly when cooled. Skimming improves clarity.

For vegetarian broth, keep dehydrated mushrooms on-hand. Leftover stems are great, too. Fungi offer great umami and depth of flavor.

Don’t add garlic (until the end.) Garlic can turn bitter if cooked too long. Too much celery can do the same, as will brassicas, potatoes, and a number of other vegetables.

Plan ahead and vary flavors for different uses. For an Asian noodle soup I love to make, I add lemongrass and basil to the broth. For many others I add dried chilis or coriander. It’s a great way to inject flavor from something you don’t want winding up in your soup spoon, like a bay leaf.

On the other hand, for standard uses, stick to the basic recipe. I don’t add herbs or other special seasonings unless I know how I want my dish flavored. For basic chicken broth, I use chicken, onions, carrots, celery, peppercorns, and salt. That’s it.

Don’t peel your onions. Do wash them. When using whole onions, there’s no need to peel them since the skins have good flavor, too. Just chop them up like a potato before tossing in the pot. However, be sure to wash them since the outside can have germs and pesticides. On that note, for this use in particular, I highly recommend buying organic.

Grill the odd bits. If you remove the back or breastbone of the chicken when you’re piecing it, or if no one likes to eat the neck or giblets, cook them up anyway along with the parts for dinner. That way they’re ready to go for broth. Giblets and feet make great, flavorful broth. If your family isn’t into eating the offal, save them up in the freezer for this.

After skimming your broth, give the spent meat to the dog. Our dogs are always happy when I’m picking through the leftovers. They like the carrots, too.

Best of all, if you keep delicious homemade broth on-hand, whenever you’re sick (or hung over) it’s a piece of cake to make a lifesaving mug of spicy garlic broth. Nothing like it!

Fine Dining: Wild Salad

Every day when I get home, or before lunch on weekends, I put my daughter in the Ergo carrier or pull on her boots, and we go out to the field to pick greens. Most goes into salad, which we enjoy with simple chutney vinaigrette or oil and vinegar at least once every day. Others we sauté.

The pleasure I glean from gathering, washing, arranging, and eating is immense. Knowing that the earth is feeding us of its own plants and short, bountiful season is both gratifying and awesome. And to know that for most of my life I marched past these free wild vegetables makes me almost regretful.

If you’re on the West coast, and probably even if you’re not, five of my favorite greens are undoubtedly familiar to you, and I’ve got photos and descriptions in my guest post at Cold Creek Homestead.

Leftover Spaghetti “Lasagna”

When we make a big batch of spaghetti and meatballs, we usually have abundant leftovers. I like to have dinner leftovers, because they make the best easy lunches and quick snacks for our toddler.

However, we don’t use a microwave, and some foods are more amenable to stovetop reheating than others. Some leftovers I just pop into the oven or toaster oven to heat; others I steam. Pasta tends to get mushy on the stovetop and dry out in the oven. So whatever we don’t eat cold, we like to make a baked spaghetti “lasagna” for a second dinner round.

This can easily be done with other pastas, like penne or macaroni, with or without meatballs. Pasta with hearty vegetables is great, and you can always fry up a little ground lamb or sausage or blanch some fresh veggies to layer in on whatever pasta you’ve got in the fridge.

We happened to have a nice selection of cheeses in the fridge last night, so we used a combination of sheep’s milk gouda and young asiago with a sprinkle of parmesan over the top. We’ve done it with cheddar or mozzarella before, too. Fresh ricotta would be a fantastic addition.

To assemble the casserole, we slice the meatballs into 1/3-inch-thick rounds. We spread a very small amount of olive oil over the bottom of a casserole or Dutch oven and tuck in about a 3/4- or inch-thick layer of sauced noodles. In go the meatball rounds, arranged in the next layer, and grated cheese goes over the top. We repeat these layers to fill the dish and sprinkle the top with parmesan and crumbled dried oregano.

The casserole bakes at 375 degrees for 20 or 25 minutes, until it’s heated through and the cheese is beginning to brown.

We serve it with a great heap of fresh salad greens drizzled with a simple vinaigrette or olive oil and vinegar for perfect balance.

As we ate dinner last night, we asked ourselves why we would ever go out. We rarely do, but even special occasions turn out best spent at home with real food, even if it’s just repurposed pasta and greens picked fresh from the backyard.