There’s a South American proverb that claims, “Good broth will resurrect the dead.” And notable French chef, Auguste Escoffier, once said, “Stock is everything in cooking. Without it, nothing can be done.”
Broth and stock are key ingredients in our kitchens, but they’re also indispensable in other cuisines too—no cuisine exists without some sort of broth or stock in its repertoire. The Japanese make dashi from shaved bonito flakes (a type of dried, smoked tuna), seaweed and water. It’s the essential base of miso soup but also adds briny flavor to marinades, noodle dishes and dipping sauces. In Mexico, traditional tripe soup starts with a base made by simmering marrow bones, tripe and cow’s feet with onion and seasonings, while the Chinese rely on chicken carcasses (wings, backs and, sometimes, feet) for making a rich base for soups, stir-fries and braises.
The terms “stock” and “broth” are often used interchangeably, but the reality is, there is a distinct culinary difference between the two. Here’s what makes each one special as well as a few tips on ways to use them to get the best flavor possible from your culinary creations.
Stock: Stock has played a pivotal role in cooking for many years, and in classic French cuisine it is the base upon which almost all sauces are built. From braises and stir-fries to basting liquids and gravies, stock is your go-to ingredient when you want to build layers of flavor in a recipe that features meat. Its meat-focused, lightly seasoned flavor profile and rich taste allow you to control the seasonings in a dish, as well as help enhance the natural juices of chicken, beef and pork. Stock is the best base on which to build a robust-tasting pan sauce or gravy: after searing steaks or chops in a skillet, remove them from the pan and add a splash of stock. Simmer to reduce slightly to thicken, then pour over the meat before serving.
Restaurant chefs often make stock to use in sauces. For beef stock, chefs start by coating veal or beef bones with tomato paste, roasting until richly browned, then simmering slowly in water with vegetables and seasonings. Chicken stock is made with roasted chicken bones—no tomato paste—and vegetables slowly simmered in water. Cooking times vary depending on the type of stock: beef stock is often simmered for at least eight hours (sometimes overnight), while chicken stock takes about half that time. It’s the bones that give the stock its distinct flavor characteristics, and the collagen extracted from them during simmering gives stock a slightly gelatinous texture which creates body and depth.
Broth: Broth takes on a slightly broader role in the kitchen than stock, enhancing the flavor of everything from soup to side dishes. While the technique for making broth is similar to that of making stock, there are enough differences in the flavor to make it better suited to certain recipes than others.
Broth is different from stock because it’s made by mainly simmering meat and bones (sometimes roasted, sometimes not) with herbs and mirepoix (a mix of onions, carrots and celery) for less time. It’s a bit more subtle-tasting and has more of a finished seasoning level so it’s ready to eat as is. Besides being a wonderful base for soups, its balanced seasoning profile makes it great for adding flavor to side dishes like mashed potatoes, stuffing, rice, pasta and vegetables—use broth as the cooking liquid instead of water and see how delicious your favorite side dishes become. We also sometimes sip warm broth when we’re feeling a little under the weather or need to take the chill off with a steamy drink.
While stock can be used for broth and vice versa, you’ll get the most well-rounded flavor in your recipes if you use stock anytime you’re creating meat-based dishes. When making soups and side dishes, opt for the balanced, subtle flavor of broth—it complements but won’t overpower other ingredients, and enhances the taste of rice, potatoes and vegetables.