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Help, bland broth using marrow bones

I attempted to make a Vietnamese Pho using marrow bones. I initially brought the bones to a boil, discarded the water and rinsed the bones as the recipe required. Then I added fresh water and all the seasonings and simmered for about 10 hours. The broth barely had any flavor from the bones. What did I do wrong?

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  1. Take a couple of spoonfuls and taste it with a bit of salt and see what you have.
    If there is still no flavor all I can think of is that the bone to water ratio was too low.

    1 Reply
    1. re: steamer

      Steamer's advice sounds right to me--taste a small amount, hot & with salt! how much water/bones did you work with? also you can get more flavor out of any stock bones if you roast them first, although this can lead to a (perhaps) undesirable dark colored stock.

      some stocks/broths don't really sing until you complete the recipe. try making pho with your homemade stock and compare to a storebought stock. (freeze your stock if nec and make the soup later). you may notice that a very good flavor comes through with the homemade stock, which was too subtle to taste right away when you sampled it by itself.

    2. How many #'s of bones and how much water?

      3 Replies
      1. re: KTinNYC

        A little over 4 lbs of bones and 4 quarts of water. It reduced down to almost halve. I haven't salted it so I'll try that. The other thing about the broth is that when I refrigerated it, it wasn't very gelatinous which made me think I did something wrong or used the wrong bones. I can smell and taste a little of the anise and cinnamon I put in it but that is it.

        1. re: foodiefromfl

          Four pounds of bones for four pounds of water should be plenty. I've never heard of using marrow bones for pho before. People traditionally use oxtails. Here is a good recipe from CH poster Carb Lover.


          1. re: foodiefromfl

            Were these bare bones, just marrow, but not meat? I suspect cartilage, tendon, and other connective tissue are a better source of gelatin. I know skin, as on a pig or cow foot, is an excellent source. For flavor that comes from the maillard reaction you probably need some meat on the bones.

        2. Having been making copious amounts of broth/stock recently, I agree with the advice to add salt. I was pretty amazed at how much more intense the meat flavor was after I adjusted the salt in mine.

          1. My local Asian meat counter always has 5 lb. bags of beef bones, with lots of cartilage, marrow, and meat on each bone. These bags are a steal, at $1.00, and much better than scrawny supermarket bones.

            I add water only to the top level of bones in the stock pot, and the stock is always rich and gelatinous. No reduction needed unless it is going to become demi glace.

            And yes, I add salt to the broth, just enough to bring out the flavor, never oversalted like a commercial product.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jayt90

              Ditto for my Asian market.All of the above is spot on.One additional idea,my
              Vietnamese neighbor frequently pre- roasts the bones with a lot of connective
              tissue.About 45 minutes,at 300f on a flat open pan.About twice that long is what I do for meaty bones to make stock>glace.Along with salt seems to
              boost complexity and flavour.

            2. I am a little confused why you brought the boned to a boil and then dumped the water. It seems to me if you are missing flavor a bunch of it might be lost there. I've never made pho, so i'm not sure what you are shooting for, but i never discard the water from the first part of making beef stock.. that's where a majority of the flavor is. Unless you are unsure of the safety of your bones.. then roasting would be a good first step.

              3 Replies
              1. re: nothingman

                How much flavor do you think there was in that first boil? What would I taste if I sampled it? Probably not much. Skimming the scum might be better, but I suspect only marginally so. This is especially true if the bones are bare of meat and not roasted.

                1. re: nothingman

                  Blanching the bones is standard in Japan and China, it removes off tastes.

                  1. re: nothingman

                    It's called blanching, and is pretty much standard procedure for stock making all over the place, included the french kitchen. It removes off tastes, boils off blood, albumen and loose particles of proteins that would otherwise cloud up your stock later.
                    When making stock from veal shanks it's absolutely mandatory. If yo chose not to, prepare for an hour or two of intensive skimming.

                  2. Not to be hypertechnical, but you can't make broth without meat. What you made is stock, which is more about mouthfeel than flavor. Roasting the bones will add a little flavor, as will skimming scum as it rises instead of dumping out the first pot full of water. But for a good, beefy broth you've got to have some meat in the pot.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Yup, that's why oxtail is a better choice. American and European markets typically clean all the stuff off of marrow-bones to prepare them for roasting; for your purposes what you were getting was mostly bone and fat. Neck or tail will give you rich, well-connected and well-exercised meat - just what you need for a vibrant broth.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        The recipe called for the first boil, then dumping of the water. I guess was it would make the broth clearer. I think the problem, as several of you have commented, was that I should have used bones with meat or connective tissue attached.
                        My mother made pho quite often when I was growing up and I just never paid enough attention to her details. One thing I do remember is that she never roasted the bones. I think I might try that next time. Went to the closes Asian market today and all they had was marrow bones. I am going to freeze the stock I made and wait until I come across some meaty bones. Or, I'll try the oxtail. Never tried that before.
                        Wow!! Thanks so much for the tips. Great feedback and much appreciated.

                        1. re: foodiefromfl

                          Yes, you do need some meat with the bone, but roasting the bone is not necessary.

                          1. re: kobetobiko

                            Roasting makes for a darker broth, not something I look for in pho.

                          2. re: foodiefromfl

                            I've seen the bare marrow bones in my nearest large Asian grocery (99 Ranch). But right next them are things like tendon, beef shank (several cuts), beef rib bones, plus every part of the pig. I suspect that the tendon and other tough cuts that restaurants offer as toppings for the soup, were first used to make the broth.

                            If you think about, a Vietnamese or Thai woman making pho broth on a house boat is not going to have access to an oven to roast the bones. The idea of roasting the meat and bones before hand comes more from the classical French cooking tradition.

                            1. re: paulj

                              I went to Market 88 in Allston and didin't see any shank bones. All they had were marrow bones. I'll have to check out 99 Ranch. Hope it's not too far from where I'm living.

                              1. re: foodiefromfl

                                One of things Koreans do when when making broth/stock is dual purpose - when there will be slices of meat added to a soup, brisket, flank, or other stew meat is added in after several hours of boiling the bones, then the meat is removed after cooking to desired doneness, and the broth is continued for another hour or two.
                                The cooked meat is sliced and returned to the final soup just minutes before serving.

                      2. You need to salt thoroughly, especially at the beginning, and throughout the cooking process