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The Best Broth Comes From a Butcher Shop

DATE POSTED:February 29, 2024
Photo: Hugo Yu

The last time I made a beef broth from scratch, I came to regret the decision: I started in the morning, roasting beef bones in a hot oven to caramelize them before adding them to a pot of water so they could simmer throughout the day. Periodically, I’d skim off the foam and add water back to keep the liquid level even. Then, hours after I’d begun, I strained out the heavy bones to get my broth, at which point I hadn’t even started the real recipe I’d wanted to make: French onion soup.

I love to cook, and I’m not opposed to a project — for lasagna, I make the pasta from scratch and grind the meat myself — but broth is such a drag. Better to leave it to the professionals. Something like a stock for cooking is one thing, but the broth I’m after, with just a few weeks left before warmer spring weather, is unadulterated, rich, and warming and tastes of little more than the hours that it’s simmered. (Okay, some mirepoix is fine, too.)

Yes, there are businesses that specialize in just such a thing, but the white-washed chains tend to focus more on add-ins and subscription programs. There’s nothing wrong with them, but I’m personally not interested in turmeric and coconut milk, or even the dubious wellness-speak that tends to pepper the menus at these places. Instead, I go straight to the source: a butcher shop.

A nose-to-tail purveyor of local meats is the ideal broth hookup, not only because they can likely tell you exactly where their animals were raised — as in the actual farm — but because the broth is made as a matter of course to reduce waste. “We get between two and four cows a week, and every single bone is used,” says Jade Hennessee-Golden, a butcher at Williamsburg’s the Meat Hook. She estimates around two pounds of bones go into every quart of her shop’s beef broth, which runs $12 — not as cheap as a jar of bouillon, but better in every way imaginable.

In Park Slope, Winner Butcher sells its unseasoned meat stocks for $10 (they also have their own flavored soups, like a gelatinous tonkotsu and a gingery “drunken chicken” broth fortified with shaoxing wine and peppercorns). I also enjoyed diluting their pucks of beef demi-glace with boiling water for something closer to instant soup. Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market sells demi-glace, too, plus to-go cups of the “broth of the day” for $5.

Even the narrowest shop, like Prospect Butcher Co. in Prospect Heights, will have multiple varieties of broth stacked in the freezer. My favorite was barnyard broth, $14, which was boosted by the distinct flavor of the lamb bones. It also sells $6 cups of “hot sippin bone broth,” made from the previous day’s leftover rotisserie chickens and spiced with star anise. I think of it as an amuse-bouche: Even through a lid, it’s aromatic with a gravy-like depth.

The real goal is to, ahem, stock up, so a bunch of frozen quarts can be stacked into your own freezer. I was stuck at home with a cold the other week, and I could just grab what I needed from my own supply without having to worry about shopping, cooking, or even really doing many dishes. The hardest part was waiting for the frozen block of broth to heat up on my stove — essentially as much work as I would have had to do for concentrated soup from a can. I suppose I could sacrifice a quart or two from my own supply for egg-drop or a quick bowl of pastina, but I usually just take it straight, in a mug with a wedge of lemon, like a hot cup of tea.