I first read about chicken bone broth in Jessica Theroux's Cooking with Italian Grandmothers. The simplicity of the recipe — which consists of chicken bones, a half of a lemon, and some water — intrigued me, so I gave it a try. I was amazed to discover just how flavorful and rich this broth was! There is nothing muddling up the pure taste of chicken. Add a little salt and it becomes the most simplest of soups, a sipping broth for those cold inclement days best spent indoors.
People make all sorts of nutritional claims about bone broth, stating that the acid from the lemon (or cider vinegar) brings out the nutrients and that sipping this broth can help with conditions like arthritis. I have no way to verify this, so I'm going to just stick to what I know: This is deliciously tasty stuff.
But if that doesn't convince you, here are a few more reasons. It uses up parts of the chicken normally tossed away. It is extremely versatile and can be used in countless dishes, as well as simply sipped on its own. It freezes beautifully. It is a cinch to make, taking only minutes of actual hands-on time. It cooks while you sleep! It makes your whole house smell enticingly savory, like a roast chicken! It tastes like a million bucks but only costs pennies!
Take the bones from a chicken, either raw or leftover from a chicken roast (if you have heads, necks and feet this is an especially good way to use them) and place them in a large Dutch oven. Add water so that it covers the bones by about two inches. Put a half of a lemon in the pot (or a splash of cider vinegar if you don't have a lemon on hand).
Put into a 275°F oven for about 10-12 hours. I prefer to do this overnight, as I have a very small oven which is almost completely filled up by the Dutch oven. If your oven is larger and heating it all night seems wasteful, try making it in a slow cooker on its low setting or even keep it on a very low flame on the back of the stove.
It's important to not let the broth boil. A very, very gentle simmer is all that is needed. By very, very gentle, I mean that you should see a bubble pop up to the surface every now and then. Check the pot on occasion and add a little more water if needed.
Strain the solids out using a fine mesh strainer and there it is! You can keep your bone broth in the refrigerator for several days or freeze it indefinitely. It should congeal from all the gelatin in the bones when cool. Do not scrape off the fat!
While this is called a broth and not a stock, you can use it instead of stock in any recipe with fabulous results. But take into account that this is a richer product than your average stock since you haven't skimmed the fat away. (The definition of stock and broth and the differences between the two can be controversial, although Emma gives it a good shot here.) I've had great success using it as a base for all sorts of soups, risottos, and gravies. I also love cooking grains in it like rice or barley but my favorite thing is to just sip it, lightly salted, from an old, thick-walled mug when I'm feeling peckish. Ambrosia!
Note: This is a recipe in which I recommend using the best-raised chicken you can get your hands on since you will be pulling the essence of the chicken from the bones. If you've ponied up the cash to get a pasture-raised chicken, this is especially a good as they often come with their heads and feet still attached, and this gives you the chance to use up every last bit.
(Images: Dana Velden)