Back in the day, when I had much more free time than I do now, I would make chicken stock. Chicken stock is made by slow-simmering chicken with bones (i.e. the whole bird). The bones release a gelatin-like substance when they simmer, making stock a richer and more flavorful option than broth (made by simmering chicken without bones).
Today, I don’t have the time or inclination to make homemade stock or broth. But since much of what I cook for my family (soups, stews, casseroles, rice and vegetable dishes) calls for chicken broth, I decided to come up with an alternative to homemade.
Enter store bought chicken broth. It is a busy cook’s best friend. With little effort, it can be tweaked and doctored to the point that your family won’t know you didn’t slave all day simmering a whole chicken.
In making my switch from homemade to store bought broth, I was faced with a huge array of choices in the soup aisle. My head would spin when I saw all the choices. Canned or boxed? Liquid, base, or bouillon? Progresso, Swanson, or College Inn?
I had no clue how to choose, so I turned to Cook’s Illustrated taste tests to see which chicken broths they recommend. Cook’s Illustrated taste testers rate thousands of products and give the unbiased results in their magazines or online at cooksillustrated.com.
Below are the top three that garnered “recommended” status.
Cook’s Illustrated taste test: “very chickeny, straightforward, and honest flavors.” “A hearty aroma,” and restrained “hints of roastiness.”
My take: I keep this as my go-to chicken broth. I stock up when Publix has it on sale (buy one get one free). By adding my favorite seasonings, spices, and other condiments, this can be doctored to taste just like homemade.
Cook’s Illustrated taste test: “fairly salty” but with a “straightforward” profile.
My take: I love this product and keep it in my fridge. I throw spoonfuls of this into the pot when cooking peas, beans, or other veggies. For soups and stews, I throw in spoonfuls to add flavor, but I don’t use it solely as the base. It takes too much time to reconstitute, and one jar of this is almost $5.00. I basically use this as a “chicken seasoning” to add complexity and richness to boxed broth.
Swanson Natural Goodness Chicken Broth
Cook’s Illustrated taste test: “tasted almost as good as the winner” though some panelists found it “overly roasted.” It was found to have a “very full chicken flavor,” but several tasters noted an “out-of-place tartness reminiscent of lemon.”
My take: This is the low-sodium version of Swanson chicken broth, and I often buy this to offset some of the sodium that I’ll be adding once I start throwing all my favorite seasonings into the pot.
Bottom line: Both of these Swanson choices were recommended by Cook’s Illustrated, so they are the ones I keep in my pantry. I try to stock up on these during Publix buy one get one free sales.