The other day I braised a chicken from a local farm. Delicious, but what I relished just as much as the meat on the plate was the chance–the obligation, really– to make brodo from the trimmings.
Once I’d cut up the chicken, my pile of broth makings included the wing tips and back, plus the neck and gizzard from the neck cavity. I had an “Oh well” moment thinking about the head and neck an Italian butcher might have given me, and then got going.
Assembling the makings in a soup pot and and checking the simmering broth a few times called for about 15 minutes of my active attention. I used the broth three ways: in the chicken’s braising liquid, to cook a lentil-and-couscous dish, and for a brothy soup with egg noodles and garlic.
Tasting this broth, you’d never mistake it for broth from a box or can. Even if you choose one that’s organic, without a mile-long list of ingredients, it’s likely to taste insipid, if not insanely salty. We all settle for that some of that time, but I promised myself I’d make brodo more often.
There’s no good reason not to, because broth made the Italian way is dead easy. The idea is simply to simmer the chicken or other protein component with odori–typically onion, celery, carrot, maybe some parsley sprigs or stems–together with bay leaves and peppercorns. The goal is a rich tasting but mild broth, quite different from the intensely meaty, almost caramelized flavor of French stock made from browned bones and vegetables.
Some brodo making know-how I’ve picked up over the years:
Dark meat produces a richer-tasting broth. If I don’t have trimmings from a whole chicken, I’ll buy a package of good-quality wings or thighs.
For broth, choose white, mild-flavored fish. Avoid dark or oily fish, which impart too strong a flavor. Ask your fishmonger for undersized or slightly damaged fish, which might be a bit cheaper–they must be as fresh as any other fish you’d buy, however.
Bones add flavor and body. Start with whole fish or chicken on the bone. Slow cooking turns the collagen in bones gelatinous, adding deep flavor notes and body to the broth.
Don’t worry if you’re missing a flavoring ingredient or two. If I’m in a hurry, I might add only an onion and bay leaf to the stock pot. Also, salt lightly or leave it out altogether–salt can be added later to whatever dish is made with the broth.
Forget the bouquet garni. That’s a fussy French idea. Unless you have some cheesecloth you’re dying to use, just add the peppercorns and other seasonings to the liquid and strain them out at the end.
For vegetable broth, use the same odori as for meat or fish brodo. In fact, you can make a light but flavorful vegetable broth just with the onion, carrot and other flavorings mentioned above. Onion skins, celery ends and vegetable trimmings are good additions too, but avoid strongly flavored or bitter vegetables such as kale and turnips. For a more robust broth, slowly saute onions and crimini mushrooms until soft and golden before adding other ingredients and water.
Skim the scum. The proteins thrown off by poultry or fish in the form of scum that rises to the top can give broth a bitter taste. Skim and discard it.
Cooking broth for hours? Not always a good idea. One to two hours is nice for poultry or beef, but a fish or vegetable broth may be ready in as little as half an hour.
Leftover broth is like money in the bank. Divvy it up into pint containers, label and freeze.
In case you’re new to brodo making, or out of practice, here’s a recipe. After you’ve made it a few times, you won’t need my recipe or any other.
Easy Meat Broth
(from Piatto Unico)
Makes about 2 quarts
3 or 4 chicken wings or bone-in chicken thighs
1 or 2 beef bones
1 medium carrot, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 medium celery stalk, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 small onion, thickly sliced
1 bay leaf
Sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Combine the chicken wings, beef bones, carrot, celery, onion and bay leaf in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water to a depth several inches above the ingredients. Bring to a boil.
2. Lower the heat and simmer slowly, skimming off any scum that rises to the top during the first few minutes. Continue to cook at a slow simmer, partially covered, for an hour or longer, until the broth looks rich and golden. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Cool the broth until warm, and strain into a bowl or another saucepan. The broth can be used immediately or, if time permits, chilled; afterwards, scoop off any fat that has solidified on top. The broth will keep, refrigerated, for up to a week, or freeze it in 1- or 2-cup containers.