Back to Basics: Brodo

It’s the very first recipe in Pellegrino Artusi’s 700-recipe cookbook. It’s what the older generation of nonni will tell you will make you feel better, no matter what. It’s also the basis of good Italian cooking and something that Elizabeth David said is “one of the most interesting and satisfactory of all cooking processes.”

Brodo (literally meaning ‘broth’) is essentially a beef or vegetable stock that is often used on its own as a broth, such as in the beloved tortellini in brodo, or as the base for sauces, stews and more.

Yes, it’s easy just to grab a stock cube, but it’s just as easy to make your own and a stock cube will never taste as good as the homemade version. There can be many undesirable additives (such as monosodium glutamate, MSG) in commercial stock cubes and stocks. I avoid MSG whenever I can, not only because it has a tendency to make everything taste the same but also because since the age of about eight I discovered I’m intolerant to it – avoiding it prevents getting pins and needles, headaches and intense heart palpitations, all of which contributes to a terrible, sleepless night and 24 hours of feeling a bit rough until it’s all out of my system.

When I don’t have stock, I prefer to use water (maybe enhanced with a bit of wine) rather than reach for a dreaded supermarket stock.

We make stock at home whenever we can and freeze it in smaller containers so there’s always something on hand. It’s something to think about when you have, say, a whole fish that you’re filleting or prawns that you’re shelling – don’t throw away the head and bones or shells, but use them to make a beautiful stock for your next seafood risotto. It’s not about treating the stock pot as a rubbish bin, but it’s about using prime ingredients – fresh, organic vegetables, fish or meat – that you choose purposefully for making a stock. And it helps make the most out of that good produce that you’ve spend your money on.

On the question ‘Will a stock cube do?” Elizabeth David said, “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it will do nothing.” The stock is what seeps a base note of flavour into your dish – make it from the best ingredients and make sure it tastes absolutely divine. I’m sure no one has ever thought a stock cube tasted divine.

In most Italian cooking, a beef stock is the default stock, but vegetable stocks were common when meat wasn’t available or for “lean” days. By the seaside (and Italy has a lot of seaside), a fumetto of fish stock is made with heads of fish and prawns. You will rarely need chicken stock in Italian cooking – the closest thing may just be for the one and only hand-reared capon broth, a tradition of the Christmas table that my in-laws still uphold.

The following is based loosely on Artusi’s beef stock (and when I say ‘loosely’ I mean his original is not so much a recipe but simply a banter about what type of pot to use, how to conserve it in in pre-referigator days and how brodo is not actually as nutritious as people in 1891 thought) but if you want to make it a vegetable stock, simply omit the beef.

For this beef stock, use a good marrow bone, a sponge bone for giving good flavour and fragrance and some beef chuck, a good cut for braising, slow cooking and stewing. Artusi points out that if you want to make a good stock, use cold water that you slowly bring to the boil. If you’re using a nice piece of meat that you’d like to eat afterwards, such as in bollito, begin with boiling water.

A note on the herbs – I like a bouquet garni composed of herbs from my garden such as bay leaves, thyme, sage and rosemary, but Artusi uses the Tuscan way of making brodo which doesn’t use herbs with little leaves that fall apart in cooking but instead the stalks of parsley and basil. Elizabeth David warns that rosemary and sage can be too strong for some recipes but for most dishes I would use my stock for they are most welcome herbs. The underlying rule here is: experiment and use what you like.

Brodo

Makes about 2 litres of beef stock

  • 1 kg of beef bones and chuck steak
  • A bouquet garni of your favourite herbs
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1 white or brown onion (apparently a charcoal-roasted onion is ideal)
  • 1 carrot
  • Several parsley stalks

Place the ingredients (whole or chopped in half to fit the saucepan) in a large pot with a lid and cover with cold water. Bring very, very slowly to the boil and when you first see some scum appearing, remove it with a slotted spoon, but then you can cover the pan and let it bubble away oh so slowly for the next couple of hours and up to three.

Add a pinch of salt if you like, but consider also leaving out salt so you have more control over your seasoning depending on the dish you’re using it with.

If you are using a piece of meat, remove it when it is tender and set it aside to use as you like. Remove the vegetables and herbs. If you’re in no rush, a good thing to do is to let the pot cool and remove the layer of fat on the surface when it has cooled and solidified. Then strain the broth through a muslin cloth over a colander for a nice, clear broth to use in risotto, soups, stews, sauces or for making tortellini in brodo. Transfer into small containers for freezing so you have some always on hand. Couldn’t be easier.

Bookmark and Share

Related posts:

Comments

17 Responses to “Back to Basics: Brodo”
  1. Rosa says:

    Homemade stock is indeed better than any stock cube! Basics are great.

    Though, if I stock cubes, I only cook with the organic kind as it has a better flavor than the nasty industrial stuff…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Thelittleloaf says:

    Fabulous post. Good stock is such an important part of a dish and homemade is infinitely superior to anything you can buy in the shops. Sometimes it feels like an effort but, as you say, if you freeze a big batch suddenly it becomes convenience food again :-)

  3. Making your own stock is so therapeutic – and as you say, tastes so much better. I usually freeze a portion of my stock in an ice cube tray (reduced a bit if I can be bothered) so I have small cubes to chuck into sauces and so on – obviously big bags for soups too – but it can be very useful to have smaller amounts too!

    • Emiko says:

      Great idea with the ice cube trays! I suppose it all boils down to what you use stock for the most, but with the ice cubes you can decide whether you want a little or a lot!

  4. Valeria says:

    I just made home-made dry vegetable bouillon with vegetable waste and coarse salt because it is handier than the actual stock, but whenever I can I make chicken or beef stock from scratch. Both ways, and also the home-made veggie bouillon are surely better than the cube for all the reasons you mentioned!

  5. I agree that “a stock cube will not do,” and it’s best just to use water rather than go with a stock cube or store bought stock. Proper stock made from boiling meat and bones isn’t just about flavor, but the rich texture collagen gives to the liquid. However, I do love making vegetable stock, and it’s a wonder to me that a liquid made of boiling veg can be so flavorful and rich.

  6. Hi Emiko, I try to always make my own stock including freezing leftover bones for making stock at a later time. However I generally make veal stock. I’m surprised that the Italians would opt for beef stock. Or is it a regional thing? loved you post either way I am just curious. xox K

    • Emiko says:

      Honestly, I’ve never heard of veal stock in any Italian recipes before! But now that you mention it, I’m curious and will see if I can find out more – my guess is that traditionally the older working cattle were used for stock because the tougher meat benefited being boiled for a long time and veal was reserved for more delicate cooking…

  7. Hello Emiko, this sounds just like the stock I made… so full of flavour, and good for you as well!

  8. Jo says:

    I must admit I mostly only make chicken stock and because I sometimes don’t have the time/energy to make it on the same evening as I’ve used the chicken, I am now in the habit of stripping the carcass and then freezing the bones until I have time to make the stock (as suggested by Hugh F-W). I wonder if this would be ok with fish bones/prawns heads etc too? Seafood risotto is one of my favourites and would certainly be better with a really good fish stock. Do you think it would be ok to collect the ingredients for a really good fish stock in this way and then make it when I have a decent frozen stash of goodies?

    • Emiko says:

      Absolutely! Except of course when the seafood (such as prawns) haven’t already been frozen, then thawed for sale – if that’s the case refreezing them again I wouldn’t advise but you can certainly throw the prawns into a stock (even a small amount) and then freeze the liquid to add to another later on. But definitely as with chicken and beef stock, I always have a habit of storing bits and pieces in the freezer until there’s a large potful worth (and with seafood stock it’s nice also to have a varied selection I think)!

  9. Sra. Minestra says:

    Yours is the first mention of Pellegrino Artusi I have ever seen in the US. Bought a copy of his book back in the 70s when I lived in Italy and am still using it!

  10. Sra. Minestra says:

    Um…just learned you’re Australian…my bad. Pls forgive my American myopia :-)

Leave A Comment