In a perfect world, I would always have freshly made stock on hand in my fridge. But in reality I sometimes run out of fresh stock, and so I keep a variety of fill-ins of commercially available products. Here are the products I use and how I use them.
First of all, I consider all of these products aids to my cooking but consider none of them as direct replacements for homemade stock. The majority of them are labeled as “broth” and are not true stocks. Broths are lighter in texture than stocks, with little to no gelatin. A good quality stock will jell when chilled, but these broths won’t.
I believe the makers of boxed or canned broths are trying to produce a product that tastes appealing to the consumer at first sip directly from the box or can. Most of these broths have a stronger vegetable taste than homemade stock; because of this, the majority don’t taste good when they’re reduced, as it concentrates the stronger vegetable flavors. However, I did discover an exception when I was tasting and testing broths for this entry. The Pacific Natural Foods low sodium brand had a fairly pleasant taste when I reduced it by half. The chicken flavors were concentrated, but the vegetable flavors did not get so strong as to be unpleasant. You’ll need to experiment with the brand you’re using if you want to reduce it in order to concentrate its flavor.
I prefer to use broths that are made only with combinations of chicken, vegetables, herbs, spices, or yeast. All of the boxed brands in the picture above meet this criteria. I was able to gather Tabatchnick, Manischewitz, Pacific Natural Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods 365 from my local supermarkets. You’ll need to search out the ones available to you in your area. I prefer to use the low sodium, organic brands of boxed or canned broths when available. I use these boxed broths in soups, risottos, and other grain dishes, or a tomato sauce: all dishes in which I want a bit of supplementation without a strong or definite taste of stock.
Bouillon cubes and/or granules are handy but high in salt. Most contain ingredients I’d prefer to avoid, like monosodium glutamate, disodium inosinate, and colorings. However, if you’re interested in using them, they can be diluted and then added to dishes or stirred directly into a dish. Just make sure to taste as you add the granules or stock cubes, or you’ll end up with an extremely salty dish.
Semi-solid meat extracts are available in jars. They are concentrated, partially dried stocks. These are very practical but can be very salty as well, and they may contain additives, so read the labels. Many years ago I gave my mother some wonderful stock/sauce bases with no preservatives from Williams Sonoma. Dilute them, tasting as you go, and use them to flavor soups, etc. Some of these meat extracts can be used as a base for quick sauces.
Yeast extract is also available as an enrichment. I use Marmite. In the past, I used Marmite to add that final bit of missing enrichment to sauces in Madeleine Kamman’s restaurant kitchen. When I was observing at a three star, Michelin rated restaurant in France, I saw Marmite used to finish off sauces as well.
What all of these products are providing is a bit of Umami, a savory taste (some more than others).
In sum, you can use commercially available broths and stocks to supplement and round out your cooking, but keep in mind that these products are a supplement not a true replacement for good homemade stock.