Friday, August 31, 2012

Crock Pot Beef Broth

As you have seen in a few of my recipes, when broth is called for, I use broth that I made myself.  I became interested in making my own broth this past winter while I was preparing for a swim meet and trying not to catch the many illnesses that my coworkers were spreading around the office.  I began to feel a little under the weather and my dietitian suggested broth.

I know what you’re thinking- but Rachael, I can buy broth at the store.  

Sure you can, but have you actually tasted store bought broth lately?  Does it taste anything like anything other than salty water?  If you look at the actual ingredient list on many of these pre-made “broths” you’ll likely find salt as a top ingredient and chemical preservatives. When you make your own broth, you’ll find that it actually has real beef, chicken or vegetable flavor.  I was shocked at the incredible flavor of my first cup of homemade beef broth.  

I am the last person on earth to want to spend more time in the kitchen than is necessary, and I believe this is worth the time.  

If the taste difference alone isn’t enough to get you to make your own broth, the vitamin and mineral content of homemade broth should convince you to at least try it once.  Here is a great article at by Diane Sanfilippo at about the nutritional benefits of broth and it also provides the recipe I used as a starting place for my broth making.  

My first batch of broth tasted great, but it did not gel.  Having your broth gel is desirable because you know your broth contains the natural gelatin from the bones. Here is an article about why you want natural gelatin in your diet from the Weston A. Price Foundation website.  This is also where I found Sally Fallon’s recipe that I am using currently for my broth making.

When I first saw Sally Fallon’s recipe, I did not use a calf’s foot which was denoted as optional, but I did roast some of the bones and soaked some of the bones in vinegar water for a full hour.  You’ll see in Diane’s recipe she mentions browning the bones but says this is an optional step and that she doesn’t think it adds flavor.  I have to disagree with her statement that browning the bones doesn’t add flavor to the stock.  Here is a picture of one of my first broth attempts without browning the some of the bones and one of my most recent attempts where I have browned the bones.  You’ll note the color difference, but I also think the broth tastes more beefy and I prefer that.  

Left: Beef Broth made without roasted bones. Right: Broth made with roasted bones.
 I made my first batch using Sally Fallon’s recipe on the stove top.  It gelled after about 30 hours in the refrigerator.  I was happy it gelled but committing to be at home to watch a pot on the stove for 12 hours is hard for me.  I made a second batch using my crock pot and it did not gel.  

Being the type A person that I am, this just would not do.  I needed to find a method of broth making that I could make preferably in a crock pot, but would gel every time.   I then found a great website called Traditional Foods where Amanda Rose  has complied quite a resource for broth making.  

In one of the videos on her site, she describes using “beef feet” bones as the key to getting your broth to gel.  She was able to get 12 batches of broth to gel from the same bones using the "beef feet."  She describes these bones as being “the bone right above the hoof.”  I started to search for “beef feet.”  I called several local Austin butchers and was near laughed at giving that description.  Don’t kid yourselves, the bones you are looking for are the actual hooves.  The butcher cleans them up, so when confronted with the actual feet, they really didn't seem any more "icky" than any other piece of meat or bone.  

I made a trip to a nearby Asian market and found them easily.  In fact, this market is going to be my first stop for broth ingredients in the future as a big bag of marrow bones and the beef feet were so reasonably priced (both around $3).  I decided it was time to get past the gross factor of the idea of the hooves, put my big girl pants on and make some serious broth.  

Without further adieu, here are some pictures of my most recent beef broth making attempt using the crock pot using Sally Fallon’s recipe with the beef feet.  I scale back the amounts as my crock pot cannot hold as much as a stock pot that her recipe uses.  

First, I placed some of my marrow bones in the crock pot and added just enough water to cover them and the vinegar.  I placed the meaty bones in the oven to brown.    

Who's afraid of a few bones?
So sad to sacrifice that pretty shank.

You’ll note that there's actually a full beef shank in the picture of the roasted bones.  That was not used in the crock pot batch.  I used that in a test batch of pressure cooker bone broth using the recipe from which can be found here.    I was intrigued by this method and actually asked my mom for a pressure cooker for my last birthday so I could try it.  I did and was disappointed.  It had no flavor.  It was so tasteless to me that I threw it out.  

That first time I tried the pressure cooker method, I didn’t use any meaty bones, so I decided I would give it one more try with meaty bones: the roasted shank.  I was so hoping this would make the difference, but it did not.  Again, the broth did not taste good. I admit my standard after making that great stove cooked batch is probably very high, but I wont use this recipe again and do not recommend it. is typically a great resource for recipes, and this is only the third time I’ve not liked my results from a recipe from that site.  

Back to the crock pot batch at hand.  While waiting for the bones to soak and roast, I gathered my vegetable ingredients. 

Once the bones were roasted (about 45 minutes) and an hour had passed, I added the roasted bones, vegetables and herbs into the crock pot added more water.  Be careful not to overfill your crock pot! I've settled on cooking my broth for 24 hours, though recipes say you can go as long as two days or even have a continuous crock pot of broth on your counter all week.

After 24 hours in the crock pot, the broth will look absolutely disgusting.  Do not get grossed out or discouraged.  The next step, straining, will leave you with golden broth goodness.  I strained the broth through a mesh sieve.  At this point you can use your broth, but it may taste a little greasy due to the fat content.  I recommend refrigerating it over night so that the a lot of the fat will solidify on top for easy removal.  

Beautiful gelled beefy broth!
This batch gelled beautifully.  After scraping off the fat, I poured the gelled broth into silicone muffin “tins” and ice cube trays and put them in my freezer.  Once frozen, I remove them from the tins and trays and store them in large plastic freezer bags in the freezer.  This does take a little time, but you will be rewarded with  nice easily defrosted portions for recipes or just to sip. You’ll see in my broth comparison picture earlier in the post that the bag of frozen broth on the right was frozen using the silicone muffin “tins.”  I froze the early batch in the picture in a block.  While it's easier to just freeze it in a block, it makes it harder to use, especially when recipes call for a cup or two of broth at a time.

Just for the sake of testing, I decided to make a second batch using the same bones to see if the broth would gel.  Unfortunately, my power went out during the night and I woke up to the crock pot being on “warm” and the broth seeming quite cold, so I threw  it out.  Better safe than sorry.  Next time, I’ll see if I can complete a true second batch test.

Cost and Accessibility of Ingredients:  Most grocery stores with a meat department will have beef bones.  You may have to ask for them, but they will have them.  In fact, if a meat department doesn't have any, I might think twice about buying meat there.  They often have them with the frozen meat items.  I've bought bones at whole foods, sprouts, and the Asian grocery.  Beef feet are a little more difficult to come by, but if you have any ethnic grocery stores around, you should be able to find them there.

Prep/Cooking Time:  The next time I make broth, I will pay more attention to this and update this post, but prep time is basically an hour since you need to wait for some of the bones to soak in water.  Then you have 24 hours while the crock pot works its magic.  The straining takes no more than 30 minutes, and then an other inactive period for the stock to cool.  Then if you freeze them like I do, I estimate that it takes no more than 30 minutes to portion and then no more than 30 minutes to remove from the pans once frozen.

I usually have dueling crock pots going when I make broth:  one beef and one chicken.  I have a special chicken broth post coming soon!

Clean up:  I recommend having an empty dishwasher ready to go.  

The Paleo Review:  Thumbs up!  Make your own broth!  My broth making is a work in progress, but I  think I may have come across a solid method for making gelled tasty nutritious beef broth with little actual effort on my part.  

If you cant get past the ick factor of the beef feet or don't want to take the time to roast your bones before hand, skip those steps and make your own broth!  Making your own broth with any recipe is still far better tasting and better for you than store bought.  

Have you made your own broth?  Do you have any suggestions for me?