I honestly thought something might have died in kitchen when I woke up that morning. The smell was awful and the whole house reeked. I had just started my first bone broth in the crock pot the prior afternoon, but apparently at some point after I’d gone to bed something had sneaked into the kitchen, slithered its way into my crock pot, and died. And was now slowly decaying in the simmering juices that was supposed to have been a nice warm comforting bone broth. At least that is what I imagined must have happened, because surely a bone broth was not supposed to smell like that! Right?
Just to be clear, I am a carnivore. I like meat. Eating meat was not one of the hard adjustments I had to make when switching to a paleo diet. One of my favorite ways to eat meat is in a nice hearty stew. I have very fond memories of my grandmother’s stew. She would make her stews from homemade stock that came from boiling bones for hours on end. And her stews were amazing. So when I read about bone broths on the paleo diet and how healthy they are, I didn’t have any of the reservations that I hear some people have about trying them. There was no “ick factor” for me. On the contrary, I was really looking forward to making my first bone broth and trying that “nice warm cup of broth” for breakfast that is apparently a staple for some. So, when I went to bed that evening, the crock pot simmering away with my grass-fed knuckle bone and fresh garlic, I fully expected to wake up the next morning with the house smelling of savory, beefy yumminess. So, imagine my surprise, when instead I woke to a smell so putrid and overwhelming that I rushed to open every window in the house, despite the brisk 50 degree morning. I immediately went to computer and Googled “bone broth smells bad”. Sure enough, I got a number of hits, mostly forum discussions of people asking if bone broth is supposed to smell bad. The responses ranged from “Its so bad, I can’t make it” to “I really like the smell of it”. Most were a general consensus of “It doesn’t smell quite like you might expect and might be mildly unpleasant, but don’t worry, your soups will taste great when you use it”. I decided maybe I had over-reacted, maybe just the aroma in the air was bad, but the broth itself would be tasty. I opened the crock pot to investigate. And nearly vomited into it. I quickly closed it again, unplugged it and hauled it onto the back deck. This stuff could not stay in the house any longer.
Still, there was a part of me that could not accept the fact that I, being such a big fan of all things meat, couldn’t take the smell, let alone the taste of bone broth. I went back to my reliable resource Google and found one gal who, like me, was shocked by the stench of her bone broth, but insisted that after she had strained all the solids out, left in the fridge overnight and then removed the fat that solidified at the top, that the resulting clarified broth did not smell bad at all and ended up making a great soup. Ok, I had some hope. I just might be able to keep my carnivore membership card. I strained out the bones, chunks of meat, fat, marrow, and other unidentifiables. Luckily I have a dog, I don’t know what people without dogs do with this stuff. I can’t imagine putting it in my trash. Maybe, they plan bone broth day around trash pickup day? In any case, my dog thought he had died and gone to heaven. I put the strained broth into a clean pot and into the fridge overnight. The next day, I optimistically pulled out the pot, carefully removed the solid layer of fat off the top and gingerly sniffed at the gelatinous goo that remained. Then I unceremoniously dumped it down the sink drain. I decided I just shouldn’t be forced to ingest something that makes me physically gag. I didn’t think there was any way I would be able to force myself to even taste anything made from it. The crock pot and the pot I used in the fridge over night sat out on the porch filled with dish soap, baking soda and lemon juice for 3 days. This experiment had not gone as planned.
After recovering from the trauma of it all, I did more research into making bone broths and identified some of the things I did which may or may not have been the reason my broth turned out so nauseatingly awful. I had used the first recipe I’d come across which called for one to simply plunk the bones into the pot with a couple tablespoons of cider vinegar, some crushed garlic and enough water to cover everything and cook on low for 8-24hrs. After reading more about it, I found the majority of sources recommend first roasting the bones in the oven and then simmering with a bunch of carrots, celery and onions. I also read the especially fatty bones (which my knuckle bone most certainly was) tend to smell much less pleasant than others. And, finally, I discovered, quite by accident that fresh garlic when cooked a long time in the crock pot takes on a certain character which I personally find exceptionally unpleasant. In the meantime, I had made another meal in the crock pot with fresh garlic and although my husband raved about it and ate it up, I couldn’t stomach it. So, armed with this new information and a new strategy in mind, it was off to the natural food store to find the freshest grass-fed marrow bones I could find.
Bone broth, round 2. I roasted my 2 pounds of marrow bones in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Then I added them to my crock pot along with some chopped carrots and onions. (I didn’t use celery, I really despise celery and don’t see that it has any redeeming qualities. Any culinary professionals, feel free to try and convince me I am wrong). I tossed in a couple tablespoons of vinegar and pinch of rosemary and thyme. No garlic this time. I put the crock pot right under the kitchen window, opened the window wide, programed the cooker for 24hrs on low, and crossed my fingers. The next morning there was a faintly unpleasant smell in the air, but it was not overwhelming. Thank God for windows. I got up the courage to open the crock pot and smelled what I had created. It definitely wasn’t what I would call a pleasant smell, but it wasn’t terrible either. At the very least I didn’t gag. I strained out all the solid gunk and tossed it outside for the dog. The dog wonders why he gets two birthdays in one month. I might need to get a second dog. Paleo eating is definitely generating more meat scraps than my little 35 pound Shiba can keep up with. In any case, after removing all the solid stuff, the smell of the remaining broth although still not pleasant, is at least very faint. This was definitely not something that I was going to warm in a mug for breakfast, but I decided I would attempt to make it into a stew. I used a recipe I’ve used many times before because I know how it comes out and know that I like it a lot. It would be easy to tell how the bone broth affected it one way or the other. And let me just say, the stew turned out amazing! It was so rich and flavorful, far better than any of the times I had made it in the past with store bought broth. And it didn’t have even a trace of the unpleasant character of the original bone broth. And so, for any of you wondering about making a bone broth, or for those of you who like me have tried and thought that the result couldn’t possibly be anything edible, I tell you there is hope. It works, and it can be made into something super tasty. I still don’t think I will be able to drink the stuff straight anytime soon, but I am looking forward to a winter filled with soups and stews on the menu a couple of times a week.
I would love to hear any tips, advice or comments on different/better ways to do a bone broth from any professional cooks or other foodies out there. Maybe I am still missing something that would make the cup of broth palatable?