Which chicken broth should I use? This is maybe our most constant question from listeners. Homemade is ideal, yet even if your freezer is stocked, do you want to use your long-simmered nectar of gods in recipes where a laundry list of ingredients overcomes it's goodness? Enter the ever popular "canned low sodium chicken broth" and the perennial question of which one to buy.
In 2007 when Sally Swift and I were writing How to Eat Supper, we did a chicken broth tasting for the book.
Eating In begged the question of a rematch. I lined up a gathering of nationally available brands found in most supermarkets and went to work with the can opener and a flight of saucepans. Assumptions were poised for dashing.
The Standard: A chicken broth with so much all-out chicken flavor you want to sip a cupful on its own.
1. Kitchen Basics Chicken Cooking Stock: This sleeper and unexpected stand-out tasted nearest to homemade. Meaty chicken flavors come through loud and clear without overwhelming salt. When I first tasted it, I started plotting serving it for winter parties, hot in mugs finished off farmer style with Parmigiano cheese and a shot of wine.
2. Pacific Organic Free Range Chicken Broth All Natural: What a turn around. I don't know if my tastes have changed or Pacific has changed its formula. In the 2007 tasting, we couldn't believe a chicken got anywhere near the pot. Not now. Lots of delicate chicken character and no overage on the salt nominate this for brothy soups and subtle sauces. It being organic is a bonus.
3. Imagine Free Range Chicken Broth Low Fat No MSG: Where Pacific is delicate, the chicken here has more muscle, but so does the salt, so that's the aftertaste you get, not chicken. If only they'd held back the salt shaker.
4. Swanson's Natural Goodness Chicken Broth 100% Fat Free, No MSG: Chicken flavor is the first thing you taste, but the salt is what stays with you…for a very long time.
5. Campbell's Great for Cooking Chicken Broth: Wish it were "great." Instead, chicken comes across as a whisper, while salt and unappealing flavors take over.
6. Whole Foods 365 Organic Chicken Broth Free Range Chicken: There is too much salt and not enough chicken. Major flavor deprivation here. Not a poor broth, but not an outstanding one.
What is it about vegetable broths and soup manufacturers? In a home recipe a fast sauté and some simmering gets you vegetable broth that knocks it out of the park. Yet not one of the six major brands tasted good enough to sip straight. Why? What is so tricky here?
Here's a list of what I tasted, and until the manufacturers can figure out how to make a decent broth, here's a recipe for making your own.
1. Kitchen Basics Unsalted Vegetable Cooking Stock: So tasteless without salt, but after a few grains of added salt, carrot, onion and sweet flavors surfaced. Still, not much going on here, and this was my top pick.
2. Pacific Organic Vegetable Broth: Eau de celery hits as the spoon comes close. But the first taste is total salt, then sweet, then celery and then, more salt.
3. Imagine Organic Vegetable Broth -- Fat Free Gluten Free No Added MSG: Again, fresh celery aroma, but too much celery and overwhelming carrot. Over-salting is the final blow.
4. Whole Foods 365 Organic Vegetable Broth -- Vegan: Another bouillon cube wannabe.
5. Swanson Certified Organic Vegetable Broth 100% Fat Free, No MSG, 1/3 Less Sodium Than Our Regular Product: Buy a salt shaker instead.