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Chicken Stock

Tuesday, 3 February 2009 | Tags: ,

Not only useful for making soups and sauces, chicken stock can also stand in for water or fat in many recipes as a more flavourful and healthy alternative. But since many people don't have time or resources to make their own these days, we find out more about commercially available chicken stocks.

The Basics

  • Chicken stock and broth are different, even though grocery store packaging and recipes wrongly interchange them. They’re both made by simmering chicken parts with aromatic and vegetables and spices to produce a liquid infused with chicken flavour. The main differences are:

    • Stock contains more bones than meat (often only bones), especially the gelatinous back, neck, wing, and breast bones, producing a subtly-flavoured, full-bodied liquid. Chicken stock is good for deglazing pans and binding ingredients together for sauce-making and is usually left unsalted (or very lightly salted).

    • Broth contains a high ratio of chicken meat to bones. This produces a more full-flavoured, lighter-bodied liquid. Broth can be served as-is, or with added vegetables, herbs and seasonings, rice, pasta, etc. The meat is often pulled from the bones after it is cooked and added back into the finished soup, or saved for another recipe. Broth is salted more than stock because it is used as a finished product, rather than for reducing.

  • Stock can be found at the grocery store in many formats, from most to least dehydrated: dried, paste, condensed, and fresh.

  • Look for stock (dried or fresh) with the most classic and natural ingredients: carrots, celery, onions, leeks, herbs, etc.

  • Watch the sodium content. Try to find a stock with under 500-600 mg of sodium per one-cup serving, which should be enough to provide full flavour without being too salty. This is still about ¼ of your daily recommended sodium intake. Fresh stocks available at gourmet shops often contain much less sodium.

  • Use stock cubes and powders for quick soups or to add flavour to a stirfry. Use the more expensive, low-sodium cartons or fresh stock from a gourmet store to make a risotto, sauce, or braised dish in which the stock will become reduced. This will help avoid excess salt and additives throwing the flavour off in your recipes.

  • Call around to gourmet and specialty shops in your area to find out if they sell fresh stock. You can also ask questions about ingredients, production methods, and any other concerns you might have.

Other Considerations

  • Chicken stock is a fairly good source of protein and B vitamins, and it has been believed for hundreds of years it can help cure the common cold.

Be Aware

  • Always read the ingredients label on commercial stock. Commercial dehydration involves heavy processing, with the common addition of large amounts of salt, additives, and preservatives.

  • Some brands contain well over 1000 mg of sodium per 1 cup serving (about half your daily recommended intake). Look for sodium-reduced varieties to help balance your salt intake.

  • Rancid fat can also be a big problem in chicken stocks. Commercial varieties can develop a major “off” flavour if improperly stored during processing. Large manufacturers tend to have higher quality control measures for processing fats and other ingredients than small manufacturers do, so consider sticking to major brands.

TEST CRITERIA

We recruited some biathletes after a chilly ocean swim workout to help us test these chicken stocks:

  • Knorr Chicken Bouillon Cubes (6-pack): $3.19
  • Campbell’s Condensed (284 ml can): $1.89
  • Imagine Organic Free Range (1 L carton): $4.62
  • Superior Touch “Better than Bouillon” Organic Base (227 gram jar): $9.99

Taste Test

We were surprised at how different they all tasted, looked, and smelled.

  • Campbell’s tasted like there was too much salt, and it had strong mushroomy overtones.

  • Superior Touch “Better than Bouillon” tasted really salty, almost like the ocean.

  • Knorr wasn’t as salty. You could taste the chicken. It had a thicker consistency and a pleasing texture.

  • The Imagine Organic was bland, with very little flavour. One tester said it tasted like you just boiled a bone by itself.

OUR TOP PICK

Well preferred the taste of the Knorr concoction the best, but when we examined the ingredients, MSG was second in the list, which means there’s a lot of it. That made us think twice. Our second choice on flavour was Campbell’s. Just be sure to adjust the salt in the rest of your recipe to compensate for salty stock flavours.

 

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