Meat Broth Recipe: How to Make Italian, Traditional Stock

For me, the smell of meat broth is that of home Kitchen on Sunday mornings since I was a child; its scent is full of memories. It’s still today comfort food and the perfect companion to serve tortellini or passatelli in brodo. It nourishes and embraces. Among my comfort food is the favorite. There’s nothing that a cup of hot meat broth can’t fix.

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 on the pot, at night we let the broth rest, on Sunday morning we filter and we are ready for a great Sunday lunch!

A cup of hot broth is comforting and healing. On certain cold and grey days it is my heart’s comfort food.

Good traditional cuisine, Monica

Traditional Meat Broth: How to Make Italian Stock

Why a Short Guide to Meat Broth
The Italian Recipe of Traditional Meat Broth is not only a stock recipe. It’s the typical recipe that for many people means family, Sunday and Festive lunches, food memories.

But in Italian cuisine, meat broth is also a staple recipe with a variety of uses, from cooking with pasta (fresh, dry and filled like tortellini) or risotto to using it to roast meat.

I wrote this post for both these reasons: it is a basic recipe of traditional Italian cuisine that, once, grandmothers prepared for the most important lunch, Sunday lunch.

And for another reason. Many friends often ask me how to make meat broth. Some people have forgotten the ingredients, others have forgotten the method. This made me realize that, perhaps, there was a real need to share the recipe and all the secrets of my grandmother Sara.

But first, one last, quick and important sidebar on meat and broth. In Italy, any piece of meat cooked in broth is called bollito (literally to boil, in Italian ‘bollire’) or lesso (which refers to the long cooking time in hot water, in Italian ‘lessare’).

If you visit Bologna during the winter months, you must absolutely try a typical lunch of this period: tortellini in brodo, lesso or bollito and one of the typical sides that usually accompanied the meat cooked in broth. That are Russian Salad, Salsa Verde, Mostarda Bolognese, mashed potatoes or a good and rich homemade mayonnaise.

What is the difference between lesso and bollito?

Principally it 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.

Bollito have to be eaten hot, lesso warm or at room temperature.

Bollito and lesso are made using different cuts of meat, and once, it wasn’t unusual to find tongue or tail in the mix (in some traditional restaurants, you can still find this in classic bollito).

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

Usually, at home, I make always lesso. In this way, if the meat is cooked in the water from the beginning, the broth has more flavor.

Traditional Meat Broth: How to Make Italian Stock

Capon, Chicken and Meat Broth. What’s the difference?

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

Chicken broth is very basic, light and easy to prepare. It is perfect for when you’re short on time, or have a patient at home to comfort. Among the three is the least expensive, particularly suitable as a base for cooking other dishes

Capon broth is more delicate but, at the same time, very rich and fat and is most often used for cooking the classic tortellini in brodo (especially during Christmas time in Bologna and Northern Italy).

What in Italy is generically called Meat Broth is made with beef, meat and bone (ok, and a hen leg). It is the most widely used and is the one that usually accompanies pasta in brodo. And like the chicken one it can be used for a thousand other preparations.

Capon and meat broth share the same key ingredients and preparation method: cold water, vegetables (always one stick of celery with the leaves, one skinless white onion and one whole carrot) and beef bones. Again, for both, the cooking is slow: once it comes to an initial boil, it should immediately be put on low, with the lid just cracked, and never come to a complete boil again. Also, it should never be stirred with a spoon!

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.

Basic Ingredients and Aromas to Make Meat Broth

Traditional Meat Broth: How to Make Italian Stock

The basic ingredients of traditional meat broth are: cold water, a pinch of coarse salt, beef and beef bones, a piece of chicken, carrot, celery with leaves and whole onion (even with peel).

The choice of aromas varies from family to family.

Some people like to add the rind from a piece of parmeggiano 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.

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.

How to make broth and what tools you need

Although the long cooking time required for broth may be a little off-putting to some cooks, other than collecting the ingredients, the preparation is fairly low maintenance…and no stirring! I believe the cooking time for either broth can be a lot shorter than most recipes indicate; I recommend 2 to 3 hours for capon broth and 3 to 4 for beef broth.


A few more tips:

  • As long as the broth simmers (but does not come to a boil), you’ll still obtain just a little less than 3 liters of broth (based on the initial 3 liters of cooking water).
  • Meat broth can always be refrigerated or frozen after cooling.

A few suggestions:

  • the secret to a good broth is that it must never boil during the cooking, except for 1 minute!
  • once you turn off the heat, I suggest removing the bones and vegetables immediately, both to prevent the meat from overcooking, and to avoid that the broth becomes too salty
  • leave the broth 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
  • 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.

serves 4
about 3 liters of meat broth

1 chicken leg
1 piece cow double muscled or 1 piece of beef brisket, about 400 g
1 piece beef shank, about 400 g
2 beef bone
1 yellow onion
1 stalk of celery with leaves
1 carrot


Clean all of the vegetables and leave whole all of them but remove the onion peel.

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.

Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 4 to 6 hours without stirring, and with the lid cracked. Turn off the heat, remove meat and vegetables, cover and leave to cool down.

Once it has cooled down, remove the fat with a slotted spoon, and filter the broth at least 3 times using a simple strainer. Taste the broth, and add a bit of salt if needed.

Articolo disponibile anche in Ita


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here