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The Nuances of Stock, Broth, and Consommé

 What is the difference between stock, broth, and consommé?

 Needless to say, the words are often used interchangeably in our slapdash world, but there are distinctions. Stock is the basis of many dishes – soups, stews, sauces, and gravies. Broth and consommé are both types of soup.

Stock is composed of the strained liquid that remains after water has been simmered with bones, vegetables, and seasonings. (Vegetable stock, which is something of a newcomer to the world of stocks, omits the bones, of course.) The French word for stock is fond, or foundation, which indicates its importance as the basis of many classical dishes. It is lightly seasoned, so that it can be reduced substantially without being too salty.

Veal stock is the gold standard among stocks, being the most versatile, but it is rarely made by home cooks. Beef and chicken stock are also rarely made by home cooks (we're just being honest here), but are more common. Fish stock (fumet in French) becomes bitter from the bones if it is cooked too long, so, unlike the preceding stocks, which are simmered for hours, it is simmered for no more than 20 minutes. It also has little in the way of aromatic vegetables, generally including only onion or shallot. Vegetable stock is not considered a classic stock, but is the basis of many successful soups.

Broth is essentially a soup in its own right. The production of broth is similar to that of stock, including the long simmering of aromatic vegetables, herbs, and some form of meat. It is more highly seasoned and flavorful than stock, and because of this, it is not reduced, or it would be too intense. It tends to be lighter and less viscous than stock, however, because it is made less of bones (with all their gelatin-forming collagen) and more often with a whole chicken or pieces of lean meat. The water in which you poach a chicken or beef ribs is technically a broth. If you try to make a classic sauce with broth, it will be too light.

The French word for broth is bouillon, but that is not to be confused with the bouillon cubes that so many people use to make stock.

Broth can be served on its own or dressed up with vegetables, rice, pasta, etc. Most soups are broth-based although there are many that are not broths – cream soups that are thickened with flour, those thickened with pureed vegetables, rice, bread, etc., and bisques.

Consommé is the most refined soup made from stock. The stock is reduced. Then ground beef or chicken, additional aromatic vegetables, and frothy egg whites are added to the boiling stock. The egg whites coagulate on top, acting as a filter that collects impurities in the stock during 45 minutes to an hour of simmering. The consommé is strained through a towel, and, often, Madeira or sherry are added.

If the original stock was made with enough collagen-producing bones, there should be enough gelatin in the consommé so that it is smooth when hot, and sets as a jelly when cold. Additional gelatin can be added while the consommé is being clarified, however, if it needs a little boost.


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