Thinking inside the box

As I cracked open a box of organic, low-sodium broth earlier today I recalled Michael Ruhlman saying that one should never use canned or boxed chicken broth, that homemade was the only way to go, and that even water would be better than commercial broth. Despite his admonition, I glugged the box straight into the sausage and potato soup with collard greens that I was making for lunch. So it goes.

Shortly after making the soup, I ran across an article from Food & Wine that provided a list of boxed or convenience ingredients that chefs always keep in their own pantries. Wouldn’t you know it, boxed chicken broth is one of the items chefs swear by. I guess it shows that even culinary professionals have differences of opinion about ingredients, so us mere kitchen mortals should not feel bad about the shortcuts we might take to get dinner on the table.

One item on the list that I discovered rather recently is mushroom powder, which, as chef Forrest Brunton notes, is “great for giving an extra umami boost to everything from ramen broth to beef bourguignon.” Several other items mentioned in the article have also earned a permanent spot in my pantry, including sweetened condensed milk, anchovy paste, panko, and breakfast cereal, which is my favorite too-tired-to-cook option, probably because of the fond childhood memories it conjures.

I agree with Ruhlman that homemade chicken stock is a superior product, but I count using the boxed version as not letting perfect get in the way of good. I’ve tried just using water, but it doesn’t provide body to the dish the way a high quality commercial broth does. Today’s soup turned out great, so I will continue to ignore Ruhlman’s admonition. Boxed broth will remain in my pantry for those times I do not have a lovely, jiggly, homemade stock to use.

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  • Fyretigger  on  September 27, 2023

    Now that I’m retired, I do make my own chicken and vegetable stocks. But I swear by a store of Better Than Bouillon in the fridge for emergencies and quick fixes, and, when making my stock, I don’t salt it, I Better Than Bouillon it! And if I use it in a recipe, I don’t salt the recipe until later, to taste.

    When I travel and visit family, I frequently used boxed stock. Use whatever works, and do it guilt free.

    I’ll add my thumbs up to mushroom powder, particularly shiitake (if you have a spice grinder, make your own). Add a generous tablespoon to any mushroom forward recipes you have and prepare for a wonderful surprise.

    My choice of Better Than Bouillon vs boxed stocks is two fold. The biggest issue is that I’m severely limited on pantry space. The secondary issue is the number of chefs in articles I’ve read who swear by it over boxed, with the caveat of adjusting salt

  • FuzzyChef  on  September 27, 2023

    Fyretigger: just stay away from BtB’s vegetarian version. Not good.

  • Rinshin  on  September 27, 2023

    I have all if these items on hand. Except, once bucatini is gone, not buying anymore as I do not care for it.

  • Jane  on  September 27, 2023

    Since I got in the habit of buying rotisserie chickens I always make chicken stock with the carcass then freeze it in 1/2 litre bags. I do believe it has a better flavor than boxed stock. It also makes the already a bargain chicken even more of one. I also always have a large bag of vegetable peelings and scraps on the go in the freezer and make vegetable stock from that whenever the bag is full. And a separate bag of asparagus stalks and peelings for making that stock for asparagus risotto. It’s partly a no-waste drive, partly saving money and partly better quality stock.

  • sanfrannative  on  September 28, 2023

    There is that story in Kitchen Confidential where AB is in culinary school and gets top marks on his stock because he sneaks in a boullion cube! So let’s face it…lots of those stocks are very good!
    As for mushroom powder…I was reading a WWII era Polish American cookbook and there was a recipe for making your own mushroom powder. Several recipes called for it. Tradition!

  • pitterpat4  on  September 28, 2023

    I say to each their own. I don’t have the time nor interest to make my own stock. I have done it but am happy with the store-bought stocks. I seldom make soup, I use broth for other dishes. I keep various flavors of Better Than Bouillon on hand. It’s great when I only need a cup of stock.

    For years I’ve tried to not use convenience products but if the taste is acceptable, I’m going to use them. If I want to use a canned cream of glop soup, that’s my choice. I’m only cooking for myself.

    The list is interesting. Of course, I have quick grits on hand – I’m a southerner. I use both quick and slow cooking grits. I also keep powdered milk on hand since I seldom have fresh milk.

  • FromScratch  on  September 28, 2023

    Boxed chicken stock is crappy. Boxed beef stock is inedible. I save the carcasses and bones from any chicken that passes through the kitchen, throw them in the freezer and when I have enough, into the instant pot with water and put the results in the freezer. I don’t add any vegetables or spices or aromatics, except a few dried mushrooms, and the results are STILL better than anything you can buy.

    I too try to not let the best get in the way of good, but I will always let the best get in the way of mediocre.

  • demomcook  on  September 28, 2023

    Another vote for Better Than Bouillon.

  • ellabee  on  September 28, 2023

    I use boxed broth, the low-sodium version, to make pressure cooker broth from a roast chicken carcass (with some water to cover the bones). Makes a consistent, good stock that I always have on hand in the freezer.

  • sallylarhette  on  September 28, 2023

    Very funny story! Thanks for posting it!


  • Esylvia  on  September 30, 2023

    Boxed/canned chicken broth is ok, but every kind of boxed or canned vegetable broth I have tried is horrible. I’d rather just use water, which I do often since my husband is a vegetarian.

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