The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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Save Those Bones! Meat Stock to the Rescue

By Vicki McClure Davidson


When you bake a chicken or a beef or pork roast, do you save the bones? Do you use them to make stock for homemade soup? If you do, big kudos to you and feel free to skip this article. If you aren't, please read on. We're going to show you how to save A LOT of money on your food bill.

The bones of different animals offer incredible flavor to stocks and soups. | Photo credit: MS Office
The bones of different animals offer incredible flavor to stocks and soups. | Photo credit: MS Office

Making soup from leftover bones has been a cheap and nutritious dinner solution for our family for years. I don't even need to remind the kids anymore to "save those bones" when they are clearing the table after any dinner that had meat with bones. What many folks regard as garbage has a tremendous amount of untapped flavor and nutritional value. Don't throw away those bones!

American pioneers knew the wisdom in using everything that was edible from an animal. Aside from the meat and fur, simmering the bones from whatever meat was eaten rendered incredible flavor in the resulting stock—oxtails were one of the most prized. The rich goodness that is extracted from the marrow can be used in many recipes. Homemade stock is better tasting, lower in salt, and MUCH cheaper than store bought. Asian recipes like Vietnamese pho demand good beef stock.

In James Beard's American Cooking, the late renowned chef noted, "In the late nineteenth and first part of the present century, soups played a much more important part in diet than they now do. Many families had a soup every night at dinner, and soup and salad luncheons or dinners were common. Nearly every kitchen boasted a stockpot, and soup bones were given away by the family butcher for the asking."

Soup is coming back into fashion, which is a good thing. When economic times are tough like they are now, people rediscover the simpler foods that our ancestors ate. Soup is so inexpensive to make from scratch.

All our leftover bones—chicken, turkey, beef, fish, pork—are put into freezer bags and then popped into the freezer. Once we have an ample amount of bones, it's soup time.

To make soup with leftover bones, meat, and tendons, fill a large pot with enough water to cover the bones, simmer them on the stove for a few hours, add some bay leaves and other herbs during the last half hour or so, to make a savory, low-cal broth. A bit of added salt (not much is needed) will really intensify the flavor. Roasting the bones before popping them into a pot of water will increase their flavor and deepen the color of the stock. It's been said by some health experts that there are therapeutic properties derived from simmered chicken bones for homemade chicken soup that help minimize the symptoms of the common cold (one hundred million chicken-soup-making moms over the decades can't be that off base!). Even if that can't be proven, simmered bones make the broth so much more flavorful.

Extract the bones from the broth about 10-20 minutes before dinner to remove any meat clinging to them. Let them cool down a bit for a few minutes so you don't burn your fingers. Put these meaty morsels back into the broth. When cooking the broth, be sure to not let it rapidly boil or it will take on a cloudy, murky appearance. While still nutritious and edible, cloudy broth isn't as appealing as shimmering, clear broth.

Toss in any vegetables you desire—you can also chop up and use limp, but still perfectly good, veggies you've rescued from the back of the refrigerator crisper (thus eliminating waste and boosting vitamin content). Click here to read about prepping vegetables to make vegetable stock.

You can also buy soup bones from your butcher. They're much meatier than leftover bones and will make an incredible broth.

Feeling a bit frisky and creative about maybe combining the bones of several meats, like chicken with fish or beef with pork? Well, go for it! Experiment and cater to the tastes of your family.

For a heartier consistency, toss in several handfuls of rice, pasta, diced potatoes, edamame, and/or dehydrated mushrooms. Let it all simmer until whatever you added is al dente (softened enough for eating). There is no limit of choices of herbs and spices for you to add (our favorites include garlic, cumin, or ground marjoram), warm up a loaf of Italian or French bread or make a batch of buttermilk biscuits, and ta-dah! Dinner for four or five for scant pennies a serving— each batch usually lasts for two, sometimes three, meals. Don't worry about how the chicken was originally spiced. Just experiment!

Simmering leftover chicken wings that have traces of hot wing sauce give the soup a nice kick. Adding a few drops of Tabasco sauce or a small can of diced jalapeño chilies will make any meat stock fabulous. You're limited only by the boundaries of your imagination and the contents of your larder when making meat stock.

Freeze leftover stock, or make a really big batch so that you will definitely have enough to save in the freezer. One method for saving leftover stock is filling it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop all the meaty stock cubes into a ziplock bag. When needed, pop a few cubes into the dish you're cooking. For bigger frozen stock cubes, use a muffin tin.

I save all pork chop bones for my own special homemade pork and white bean soup seasoned with tarragon. My hubby just doesn't like pork broth, which means more for the rest of us... his loss!

Here's a trick I do once in a while to create a totally different flavor to the broth. When it's just about done, I put in a few drops of sesame seed oil. Not much is needed to pack a punch of twanged-taste-bud heaven! Sesame seed oil is VERY strong and distinctive, so use it sparingly. Remember that "less is more" with sesame seed oil. It is excellent with chicken and beef.

NEVER, EVER buy anything as insane or overpriced as "soup/broth starter stuff." Everyone has the makings of a delicious, hearty budget soup in his or her pantry and fridge. And please, don't remind me of the muddle-headed lunacy of people who actually BUY a box of that brand-name "dinner assistance stuff" that has a few spices, artificial colors, preservatives, and a few cents' worth of pasta or rice that is then added to cooked ground beef. (I originally included the actual names of the two products in there, but chickened out at the last minute. Don't want to rock any boats. But you know what I meant, I'm sure.)

DIY in the kitchen is not only frugal, but waaaay smarter.



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