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How To Make Homemade, Italian, Traditional Meat Broth

How To Make Homemade, Italian, Traditional Meat Broth

The meat broth recipe is a basic recipe.
Although, for years, it had ended up in the yellowed pages of grandmas’ recipe books.

Then, something changed (and is changing).
More and more people are looking – again – for genuine tastes.
We went back to traditional dishes and discovered that in this way we eat better and waste less.

How To Make Homemade, Italian, Traditional Meat Broth

Home’s tastes

To me, the smell of meat broth is that of home kitchen on Sunday mornings since I was a child; its aroma is full of memories. And it’s still today one of my comfort foods and the perfect companion to serve tortellini or passatelli in brodo.

It nourishes and embraces. There’s nothing that a cup of hot meat broth can’t fix. A cup of hot broth is comforting and healing. On certain cold and grey days it is my heart’s comfort food.

For my husband and I, the traditional preparation of meat broth is a family habit.
Where we grew up and now ours.

When we want a good meat broth, we prepare it over the weekend. On Saturday morning we buy what we need, in the afternoon we put the pot on the heat, then we let the broth rest all the night and Sunday morning we filter and we are ready for a great Sunday lunch!

In addition to the recipe, I wrote a short guide for its preparation.

Good traditional cuisine, Monica

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Traditional Meat Broth: How to Make Italian Stock

Why a short guide to make meat broth

I wrote this post for many different reasons.
Meat broth is a basic recipe of traditional Italian cuisine that, once, grandmas prepared for the most important Sunday and Festive lunches. In Italian cuisine, it is also a staple recipe with a variety of uses, from cooking with pasta or risotto to using it to roast meat.

Last but not least, I discovered many friends often ask me how to make meat broth.Some people have forgotten the ingredients, others the method. This made me realize that, perhaps, there was a real need to share the recipe and all the tricks of my grandma Sara.

For all these reasons I have collected in this guide what I know about meat broth.
I hope it will be useful to you: it is divided into paragraphs and the subject is indicated in the title. At the end there is the recipe.

How To Make Homemade, Italian, Traditional Meat Broth

Meat broth: a classic of Italian cuisine.
How to make meat broth according to tradition.
Cold or hot water?

In Italy, any piece of meat cooked in broth are called lesso (in Italian ‘lessare’) or bollito.

The difference between lesso and bollito depends by the way the meat is cooked.
When the meat is placed in cold water and brought to the boil with the other ingredients, it is LESSO.
On the contrary, when the meat is put in water when it’s already boiling and before lowering the heat, this is BOLLITO, which refers to the long cooking time in hot water. It means to boil, in Italian ‘bollire’.

So, you know, the broth is a very precious liquid and the answer to the question of the title is very important.

But the answer is that it depends on what you need

If you’re making the broth to have a special broth put meat and bones -and aromi- in cold water so they will give more flavor to the broth.

On the contrary, if you’re looking for a great piece of meat, make bollito adding in the pot meat and bones, especially meat, when the liquid is boiling. The boiling will seal the meat and in this way all the flavor will be inside and in your mouth.

Be careful, to make bollito add the meat when the broth boils, cook in this way for a few minutes and then lower the heat because the broth must not boil but simmer.

Consequently, I choose different cuts of meat. It depends on the use.
If I need only the broth a piece of shoulder clod works well. But to make lesso and, above all, bollito, I ask to my butcher for hip sirloin. Once, it wasn’t unusual to find tongue or tail in the dish of bolliti (in some traditional restaurants, you can still find them).

Bollito have to be eaten hot, lesso warm or at room temperature. Both can be served with green sauce, Russian salad, mashed potatoes, mustard Bolognese, pickles, homemade mayonnaise. Or with friggione bolognese, a sauce made with onion and passata.

With leftovers you can make excellent sandwiches, meat pies or meatballs or ragù.

Lesso cooked in traditional broth

Capon, chicken and meat broth

There are several types of meat broth: classic (beef), capon and chicken broth.

To make traditional meat broth I don’t recommend using capon instead of hen or chicken.
The flavor of the beef is prevalent and that of the capon would disappear in the broth (but it’s more expensive than chicken!).

Capon broth is more delicate but, at the same time, it’s very rich and fat and it is most often used for cooking the classic tortellini in brodo (especially during Christmas time in Bologna and Northern Italy). If capon broth uses a beef bone in addition to some capon meat, meat broth requires beef bones, as well as pieces of beef and a small piece of chicken, specifically, that of the female chicken, called gallina. The beef flavor will completely overtake that of the capon, so no need to use this that is expensive.

Traditional Meat Broth: How to Make Italian Stock

Ingredients: basic ingredients and aromas

The basic ingredients of traditional meat broth are, in addition to water, a pinch of coarse salt, beef, bones, a piece of hen, carrot, celery with leaves and a whole onion (even with the skin).

The choice of aromas varies from family to family.

Some people like to add the rind from a piece of Parmigiano cheese or a fresh tomato to their broth. Personally, I don’t do either, the cheese rind could make the broth too salty (the best is to add the sea salt at the end of cooking), and the tomato could add a sour taste. In the end, it’s up to your personal preference and traditions.

There are those who add parsley, those who add laurel leaf, and those who bite the onion with a clove. I remain faithful to the flavors of home, those with which I grew up and use only the basic ingredients. In Bologna it is used to add the scent of nutmeg in the broth of tortellini. But you experiment and find your own recipe.

My tip is to flavor the broth with an ingredient that does not cover or contrast with what must be cooked in the broth afterwards.

How To Make Homemade, Italian, Traditional Meat Broth

Tools and pot preparation

To make the broth you need: large pot, lid, skimmer, two strainers, another pot to pour the broth (but you can also use one or more glass bottles if you plan to store in the refrigerator or freeze).

The pot must be BIG.
You will need to put a few liters of water, bones, meat and vegetables.

Put all the ingredients in the pot and pour the cold water (the reason is in the initial paragraph dedicated to the difference between broth and boiled).

I usually break the leg of celery in half so that everything, vegetables and meat, is well covered with about 3 cm of water (a couple of fingers).

Bologna recipes

Rest and cleaning the broth

Once the cooking is finished, remove meat, vegetables and bones from the broth NOW (the meat, in addition to getting undone, could give too much flavor to the broth).

Remove and discard bones and vegetables and store the meat in the refrigerator.

Then cover the pot with the lid.
The broth must cool and, above all, it must rest.
Better in a cold environment. Choose a sheltered balcony. If it is not cold enough or you do not have a balcony, let it rest in the refrigerator (but first let the broth temperature drop). You should rest at least half a day. The ideal would be all night.

The rest in a cool place serves the broth to take out the fat part that you have to eliminate.
First of all, without moving the pot too much so that the sediments deposited on the bottom do not rise to the surface, remove with a skimmer the impurities that float on the surface and the patina of fat that has formed during the cooling rest.

Put a strainer on the pot and pour in the broth twice. Use the sieve to degrease and clean the broth. My husband even uses two filters on top of each other.

The broth is ready to be used. Taste, and if necessary, adjust salt.

Bologna recipes

Cooking times

It has to cook on the heat for many hours but does not need special attention. While simmers, the meat broth doesn’t require any attention.
You just have to bring to the boil, lower and “ciao brodo” until the end of cooking.

In the past it took about 4 hours for capon and 6-7, even 8, for the classic meat one. Today you can reduce the boiling time: three hours for the capon and about 4 hours for the classic one.

Why? The explanation is in the meat. It is less tenacious and contains more water than in the past, so also the cooking time has been reduced.

Food Tips

In selecting which pieces of meat to use for meat broth, it all depends on whether or not you’ll be serving the meat as part of your meal; in this case, I recommend using what’s referred to in Italian as cappello del prete or shoulder meat (like noce or scamone pieces). Maybe the best is one or a combination of the following cuts of beef: chuck, hanger, round, flank steak, beef shank.

Meat broth can always be refrigerated or frozen after cooling.

The secret for a good broth is that it must never boil during the cooking, except for 1 minute!

You may conserve the broth in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 days, or you can freeze it

When you prepare pasta cooked in the broth, if you have any leftover that doesn’t make it to the plate, remove the pasta from the broth immediately so that it doesn’t over cook.

If you’re looking for inspiration to use broth, maybe you can give a look at the Soups section on the blog. You will find vegetable soups, minestre, vegetable cream and many recipes of the Emilia-Romagna tradition such as Zuppa Imperiale, the Minestra of Bologna.

Traditional Meat Broth Recipe

serves 4

chicken leg, one
one piece cow double muscled or one piece of beef brisket, about 400 g
beef shank, about 400 g
two beef bones
one yellow onion, one carrot, one stalk of celery with leaves
water, three and a half liters


Wash the vegetables, break the celery cut in half, remove the skin of the onion.

Put everything in a large, tall pot and add 3 ½ liters of water. Start out with low heat for a few minutes, then raise the heat to medium until boiling.

Then, reduce the heat to low and cook for about 4 hours without stirring, and with the lid cracked. Once you turn off the heat, I suggest removing meat, bones and vegetables immediately to prevent the meat from overcooking and to avoid that the broth becomes too salty.

Cover the broth and leave to cool down in an already cool place. I prefer the terrace for instance, over the refrigerator. The low temperature will help the fat solidify, making it easier to remove.

Once it has cooled down, remove the fat with a slotted spoon, and filter using two strainers one on top of the other and repeat the operation twice. Taste the broth, and, if necessary, adjust salt.

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