Beef Broth – What Went Wrong


Home-cooked Phở is my white whale. Anyway, before I can cook Phở, I need to be able to make beef broth, and so far I've failed completely.

My broth is greenish-gray in color, mostly flavorless, and smells like a swamp.

Here is what I did. Keep in mind, this happened TWICE:

  1. I purchased a few pounds of beef knuckles from the store.
  2. I placed them in a stock pot, and covered them with water.
  3. I boiled them for a half hour or so.
  4. I emptied the pot, along with all of the scum.
  5. I did my best to scrub all of the scum away from the knuckles (very difficult).
  6. I re-filled the pot with water.
  7. I brought it to a boil.
  8. I added some chunks of beef.
  9. I skimmed the top frequently.

3 hours later: disgusting pond water.

Since this process is so time-consuming, I am not keen on experimenting with it again until I have a pretty good idea of what went wrong. I've asked around for some advice. Some told me I should roast the knuckles first. Some told me I should start with cold water. Ok, this sounds like good advice, but these seem like small potatoes. They certainly don't seem like the sort of thing that could turn a pot of beautiful, delicious beef brother into pond water. I must be doing something horribly, horribly, horribly wrong.

I'm hoping to find someone who has had a similar experience, and has a pretty good idea of why this is happening to me. =(

Best Answer

Some of your 'shortcuts' are not good ideas. Definitely start with cold water. Definitely bring up the temp slowly. Definitely do not boil. Do add aromatics upfront to the broth, but remove them as they get mushy so they don't cloud it.

Standard ratio for beef broth would be: 8 pounds of bones to 6 quarts of water to 1 pound of veggies (onion, leek, carrot) to one 'boquet garni', essentially garlic, rosemary, anise flavoring for pho, and bay leaf, plus whatever else I forgot.

If you have 'pond water', which I interpret as thin-tasting, you probably put too much water in the second time -- this is fixable by slowly evaporating out the water until it gets to a good texture. If you skimmed properly, it will be clear as you do this. I will typically strain through a kitchen towel or cheesecloth as the liquid evaporates down.

I'm guessing you put in like a gallon of water, so you had like three or four times too much water.

As a warning which you probably already know, you are not going to be able to duplicate your local pho joint's broth -- the broth recipe is the thing for pho makers, and they probably have a bunch of tricks they use, including using a neverending supply of yesterdays pho, that you won't be able to do at home. That said, you should be able to get a good beef broth if you follow some basic rules for making stock.