Making your own broth takes some time, but it's relatively easy and has some real health advantages over using most store-bought brands. One of the biggest is that it contains no monosodium glutamate (MSG). A neurotoxin that is found in processed foods of all kinds, MSG has many aliases and contains a long list of substances that can cause adverse reactions in humans (visit truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources). Granted, using store-bought stock is a quick, easy way to boost flavor in soups, sauces, stews (heck, just about anything savory), so if you don’t seem to experience negative effects from their presence in food, you can probably use it safely (I would still be aware about using too much). However, if you suffer from migraines or other conditions that can be triggered by the chemicals in MSG, you should be looking carefully at the labels of every food product you buy. You’ll be amazed how many contain one or more of these substances, everything from canned goods and frozen entrees to bread and ice cream. It’s one more good reason to prepare as many meals as you can from scratch so you know exactly what’s in them, and homemade broth is an excellent base for many home-cooked meals. Besides being an excellent starter for soups, stews, and sauces, it’s great for steaming vegetables and cooking rice or pasta.
The two essential ingredients in a good stock are bones with a little meat on them and water. You can use poultry carcasses or pieces, ham bones or hocks, pork or beef ribs, soup bones, wild game or steak leftovers—whatever you have on hand. You can also start with uncooked meat or poultry, boiling it until cooked and then removing most of it to be used for other meals or added back later to a soup or stew. Whatever meat you choose, bones make your broth richer and more nutritious, especially if you cook it long enough. A whole onion, some celery, a bay leaf, salt, and pepper make it super flavorful and ready to use in just about anything you’re cooking. I usually start mine in a large stock pot on the stove with all the ingredients mentioned above and then finish it in my crockpot so I don’t have to monitor it for so long. Start with the water an inch or two above your soup bones. Chop the onion and add it to the pot along with the tops or leafy center stalks of the celery, saving the outer stalks for other purposes. Then add the bay leaf, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for two to three hours, checking about every half hour to see if you need more water. You can continue cooking it on the stove for another two to three hours or you can carefully move it all to your crockpot to continue cooking on low for 8 to 10 hours—overnight is perfect!
An even lower maintenance alternative is to put everything in the crockpot from the start and let it simmer for about 24 hours. I start it on High to get it boiling then turn it to Low to keep it simmering. You can remove choice pieces of meat as they fall from the bones to use later. The rest continue to flavor and nourish your marvelous, MSG-free broth. When you’re satisfied that you have a rich, marrow-infused stock turn off the heat and remove the crockpot from the heating element to speed cooling. Carefully remove the bones and larger chunks of meat and continue to cool. Once the stock reaches a safe temperature, pour it through a strainer into another large pot or metal bowl and allow it to cool some more.
Mason jars are great for storing your homemade stock because they come in precisely measured sizes (my favorites for this purpose are pint and quart sizes) and they are designed to withstand fairly extreme temperatures, but you can use other types of jars, plastic storage containers, or even Ziploc freezer bags if your stock is sufficiently cool. Pour the broth into jars or plastic containers, leaving about an inch of space at the top to allow for expansion, and screw the lids on loosely. If using a freezer bag, remove as much air as possible before sealing. Next, put them into the refrigerator to allow the fat to rise to the top. You can easily strain it off at this point to either store in the frig and use for cooking fat or you can discard it. I let mine remain in the jar with the broth as a ready supply of cooking fat perfectly suited for whatever dish I’m making when I thaw it. Whatever you decide to do with the fat, tighten the lids and place the jars in your freezer. It will keep for several months, so you can enjoy your healthy, delicious stock long after you’ve made it.