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Substituting Bouillon for Canned (and Homemade) Broth

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Q. When a recipe calls for chicken broth (presumably the canned variety), can I use a bouillon cube dissolved in water? Does it have the same content and flavor as the canned broth? Cost-wise, it would be more efficient.

A. OK, first of all, as you know, The Hallowed Establishment of Food Organizers & Orderlies Determined to Prevent the Outrage of Liberty in Cooking for Everyone (better known by its acronym THE FOOD POLICE) requires us to write at least three paragraphs telling you that homemade stock is better. So here goes:

is better.

Members of THE FOOD POLICE and all inflexible food snobs should stop reading NOW.

Phew. We hate being in trouble with the law.

There is a growing variety of convenience products on the market to use when you need stock or broth. Canned broth, concentrated canned broth, bouillon cubes, bouillon powder, liquid bouillon, and concentrated stock bases come in a variety of flavors, including chicken, turkey, beef, ham, fish, and vegetable, and in a variety of versions, including low-fat and low-sodium. There is also quite a range of quality between various products. And in answer to your question, they are also all over the map when it comes to their ingredients and their flavor.

You'll find a certain amount of variation in the nutritional breakdown of these products. A cup of College Inn's canned chicken broth has 20 calories and 1 gram of fat (none saturated) and 880 mg of sodium. A cup of chicken broth made from Knorr's bouillon cubes has 20 calories, 1.5 grams of fat (1/2 gram of which is saturated), and 1,270 mg of sodium. A cup of chicken broth made from Better Than Bouillon chicken base has 10 calories, no fat, and 690 mg of sodium. Finally, a cup of chicken broth made with Bovril concentrated flavored liquid bouillon has 10 calories, no fat, and 930 mg of sodium. As you can tell from the previous sentences, salt is a leading ingredient in many of these products.

Some people believe that bouillon cubes are the work of the devil, and some of them probably are. But we are partial to the cubes and powders. They have much better flavor than a lot of the other cubes we've tried. We also like the Better than Bouillon products, and the Bovril chicken and beef liquid bouillons (also produced by Knorr). We find that the plainer, cheaper cubes and powders don't have very good flavor.

One place where we find bouillon cubes or stock concentrate particularly useful is when a recipe tells you to reduce the stock or boil it down by half or some other percentage. In that case, it's much easier to make a concentrated stock with only half the water and save 10 or 15 minutes of boiling time.

Now seriously, a homemade stock tastes much better, isn't packed with preservatives, has a controllable amount of salt in the mix — and is a great luxury to have on hand. It is also not hard to make. At the same time, most of the really basic cookbooks on the market — those from Betty Crocker, Good Housekeeping, and others — don't even include recipes for making stock at home. But in case you're game to try it, we'll make a basic chicken stock recipe available. Do with it what you will.

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