So what's the proper bone to water ratio for a great broth?

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Assistant Cook
Nov 16, 2004
So what's the proper bone to water ratio for a great broth? I want the proper amount of water for full collagen extraction without dilution.
I usually see about 1 lb of bone per quart. So if I want to make 20 quarts, do I really need 20 lbs?
Dunno. Never thought about it. I usually just add liquid to cover the bones.

Beef, poultry, veal stocks: For every gallon of stock, use 8 pounds of bones, 6 quarts water, 1 pound mirepoix, and 1 bouquet garni.

Fish stock or fumet: For every gallon of finished stock, use 11 pounds of bones, 5 quarts water, 1 pound mirepoix, and 1 standard bouquet garni.
Siniquezu, there are so many variables in stockmaking that using a set formula doesn't always provide the best results.

Species of animal
Type of bone
Amount of meat on it
Age of the animal
Amount of skin (for poultry)

These all impact collagen output. The species of the animal changes the playing field so drastically that stock related questions should always be qualified from a species perspective. Since collagen is concentrated in the skin, achieving maximum collagen extraction for poultry stocks is about obtaining parts of the bird that have the greatest skin surface area (feet best, wings second best).

With beef stock, the collagen from the skin is not an option. Working with just bones, the collagen output is fairly minimal. Meat stuck to the bones helps. If you encounter a good sale on beef meat, that is ideal. My experience has shown me that bones won't provide the same amount of collagen as connective tissue. Generally speaking, good beef stock ain't cheap.

Veal, on the other hand, is an entirely different scenario. Although I don't add veal to stocks, veal bones are supposed to be extremely collagen rich. The biggest drawback to veal bones, though, is when you brown them you don't get the same intensity of flavor as with beef, which for some applications is a good thing, but not when you're goal is a rich flavorful beefy stock.

Great stock involves the proper balance of three components:

Collagen (body)
Maillard compounds (flavor)

Sufficient time for simmering is essential to extract all the collagen from the components. How long? Well, no two chefs ever agree on that.

I go to great lengths to achieve a good shade of color to my stock ingredients. Because of this, I almost always end up with a greater proportion of flavor than body. If I'm making something where I need the mouthfeel of the additional collagen, I'll add powdered gelatin. At some point, I may end up utilizing a small portion of veal bones for this role (in beef stock).

The final reduction is crucial as well. There is no set ratio for that either. As you make more and more stocks, reducing it to the proper consistency will become second nature.
Thanks scott123. You mention that you try to get "good shade of color to my stock." Is that how you can tell that the broth has a very good amount of collogen in it? I know you can tell that you have a good amount of collagen in the broth when you are finished and it cools, it forms a gelatinous mass. Since there is no set amount of time for broth cooking, how can you tell when the broth has reached it maximum potential? Is it the color, the texture, the taste, or all of the above?
What has been said by other posters are good guidelines but not laws.

What is proper and what is not for a stock is not a code written in is good judgement and individual preferences.

Experience, and your own taste as to what a good stock should be --determines whether you brown your bones, how many bones to use per quart of water, whether you add vinegar to help leach calcium from the bones, what bones to use, whether you will add meat or not, whether or not you use vegetables and how much of which ones, etc.

There is no best, only what you like.
In order to extract the goodies form the bones, they have to be covered with water. Fill a pot with bones and mirepoix, etc. then add cold water to cover the bones by an inch or two.

After you strain the simmered stock, you can reduce it some to concentrate the flavor and the collagen. Never add salt to a stock.
siniquezu said:
Thanks scott123. You mention that you try to get "good shade of color to my stock." Is that how you can tell that the broth has a very good amount of collogen in it? I know you can tell that you have a good amount of collagen in the broth when you are finished and it cools, it forms a gelatinous mass. Since there is no set amount of time for broth cooking, how can you tell when the broth has reached it maximum potential? Is it the color, the texture, the taste, or all of the above?
Siniquezu, what I said was I try to get a good color to my stock 'ingredients'. In other words, I roast my bones/meat/skin very carefully to achieve a nice deep dark color, without burning anything. This is strictly from a flavor (maillard compound) perspective.

As far as how long to simmer a stock for full collagen extraction, well... there's very little agreement on that. Some chefs swear by 3 hours, some 6, some 24 and everything in between. Escoffier said 12 hours (or more). Here's my take on it.

As you simmer stock, collagen is being melted, maillard compounds (color/flavor) are being formed and, in the later stages, bone is being disintegrated.

So, if a perfectly white, clear stock is your goal, you don't roast the poultry bones/meat/skin, and you simmer it for a minimal amount of time to prevent bone disintegration (cloudiness) and color occuring. You also keep reduction to a minimum as that will produce color as well. From a perspective of collagen extraction, this approach is very ineffecient. It does produce a very delicate broth with a particular aesthetic that is appropriate for certain applications.

I, personally, am not that into white stocks. I like squeezing as much flavor and as much body as I can out of the materials at hand. I also tend to focus less on delicate cooking and more on rustic, hearty peasant food.

For me, a cloudy stock isn't the end of the world if I can pull more collagen out of my ingredients, so some bone disintegration is okay in my book. I do feel, though, that dissolved bone doesn't taste good (chalky, gamey) so when I simmer my stocks I strive for maximum collagen extraction with minimum bone disintegration.

For poultry stock, I use soft cartilage as my guide. The leg joint, the wing joint and the piece separating the two breasts. Once the soft cartilage is completely melted, that's when the first straining occurs. Sometimes it takes 6 hours to achieve this, sometimes longer, up to 8 or even 9 hours. If I go past that I find the bones will start falling apart and the taste of the stock compromised.

For beef stock, I don't have the cartilage for a visual clue, but I do have grizzle if I'm using meat (which I almost always do), so I try to dissolve all the grizzle. I also find beef bones a little less prone to dissolving than poultry so my beef stocks are simmered for longer periods of time, usually in the 9 hour realm.

I don't cover my bones completely with water as I find they collapse a bit/become submerged with a very brief amount of simmering. This decreased amount of water results in less time reducing down the line. If you're just starting to make stocks, then sure, cover your bones with water.

If your stock ingredients have either a good amount of skin (poultry) or connective tissue (beef) or veal bones, a final reduction to about 1/2 it's original volume should give you a good gel. If you're stuck with collagen deficient ingredients like clean beef bones, than I'd say 1/4 it's original volume will give you a good gel. Also, as you reduce stock, it will have subtle changes in viscosity that you'll be able to detect once you do it a few times.

As I said before, as you make more stocks, this will all be second nature to you. There is nothing better on this planet than homemade stock, so even if you don't get every bit of collagen possible, it will still raise the level of any dish you use it in.
I'm with PSI (not for the first time). I take my big stock pot, put in the bones, a couple carrots, ribs of celerly, onions and tons of garlic, a bay leaf. If the season is such, I grab big branches of sage (if it is poultry) and thyme. Then I just fill the pot with water to cover it all. Have never measured. If the bones aren't covered, it won't work, and if you go more than an inch over, it will be too weak. After I've strained it all, I taste, then boil it down if it is too weak (rare, but has happened).
A big cue for color is whether or not you roast the fixens. Even a good vegtable broth (puh-leeze, not stock when you're talking vegetarian. Stock by definition has bones in it) can be taken to a beautiful dark brown color. For some soups you want a lighter colored, more clear broth/stock. For others you want dark brown. ROAST your meat, bones and veggies first if you want that darker color (and to me, a richer flavor).
Although new to this site, I do have a suggestion for poultry broth... To help achieve that beautiful golden yellow color I add a whole yellow sweet onion or two while making the broth. It also adds a great flavor.
To achieve a darker color you can also (I know this is going ot sound weird but it's what is done) you can take a yellow onion or two depending on the amount you are making, cut in half leaving the skin on, it doesn't matter, and place on griddle cut side down and actually burn them. This imparts a darker color in the broth and it does NOT taste burned.
The mirapoix spoken of is an excellent way to help extract the nutrients from the bone. Acidic water will extract the collagen and other nutrients from the bone. These include such items as root veggies like ptatoes or rutabega, celery, celery root, tomatoes, etc.

Chicken bones contain the most nutrients of the bunch. But they must be fractured before boiling to get everything available. It also adds tremendous flavor.

Typically, the veggies and bones are boild together with extra water added as needed. Then the broth is strained through a fine wire sieve and either served, or used as a base for soups, stews, gravies, chowders, or as a nourishing hot drink on a cold day.

If you allow the broth to cool in the refrigerator, it should turn into a solid gell. This is called an aspic. It melts back into liquid when re-heated.

This hot broth is called by the orient "The Soup of Longevity"

Seeeeeeya; Goodweed of the North
I've been doing my own stock for a while now, and can attest to it's superior taste. personally I think longer is better, and straining several times is critical at the end. also, for some reason (I'm really not sure, would love to know) Anthony Boudin (?) in Les Halles cookbook warns to NEVER, EVER boil your stock.....a simmer only please.
And please don't forget. For vegetarians or those folk who simply don't like ham (not me, I'm a confirmed omnivore). Anything you cook over charcoal will make a wonderful smokey broth or stock. Any time we cook out (I used to say barbecue), I throw a ton of veggies of all sorts on the grill. I use them for a myriad of dishes, but always keep a bag in the freezer for soup fixins. Those grilled veggies (chicken, beef, pork) will make you swear you're eating a great smoked ham bean/pea/lentil soup.

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