The Winners!Best Overall:
Swanson's Chicken Cooking Stock Kitchen Basics Natural Chicken Stock Best for Sauces: Glace de Poulet Gold
Not all of us have tubs of homemade stock hanging out in the freezer. So when your stuffing or sauce recipes call for stock this year, and you have plenty of other pans to dirty, it's alright to grab the canned or boxed kind. Surely Mark Bittman is somewhere shaking his fist right now. The New York Times recipe columnist pointed out in this piece from January of 2009 that the homemade version—just a half-hour of simmering a carrot, celery stalk, half an onion, and some chicken scraps in water—would be ten times better than any insta-stock. But, we won't judge if you use one of these.
For those of you who missed Michele Humes's stock tasting last year, here's a summary of the results. The brand contenders: College Inn Chicken Broth, Emeril's Chicken Stock, Swanson's Chicken Broth, Swanson's Chicken Cooking Stock, Herb-ox Instant Chicken Bouillon and Seasoning, Glace de Poulet Gold, and Kitchen Basics Natural Chicken Stock. Each contender was tasted warm, then reduced by half and tasted again.
- Flavor: Clean, aromatic flavor.
- Salt content: We like our salt in this office (oh, do we) but when it comes to chicken stock, you shouldn't be able to detect. Especially since we'll be adding fresh herbs that want to taste.
- Body: The gelatin in homemade stock provides a rich mouthfeel that gets even richer as it reduces. The store-bought stock probably won't ever reach that, but it should come as close as possible.
Why the Losers Lost
It shouldn't be so aggressively salty that there's no evidence of the aromatic vegetables listed in the ingredients. Salty broths are less versatile—we prefer less salty broths because they allow you to reduce the broth, or salt it to your own taste. If you reduce a couple cups to make a richly flavored gravy, you really concentrate that salt, so if it's too salty to being with, you're screwed. It also shouldn't taste so artificial that you're thinking about sour cream and onion Pringles. Metallic aftertastes, also not good. As far as texture goes, it shouldn't be powdery like disintegrated chicken.
Winner: Swanson's Chicken Cooking Stock
Note: this is not Swanson's regular chicken broth. It's a newer product, and far superior. It has a pronounced chicken flavor with sweet carrots and onions. Though flavorful, it's a tad on the salty side, so stick to stuffings on this one; it wouldn't be a fine candidate for sauces.
Winner: Kitchen Basics Natural Chicken Stock
The least salty of all the brands in the tasting, this would act as a good base to all the stuffing herbs and potential add-ins, like sausage. It's not flavorless though--there are perceptible notes of black pepper, bay and thyme. But it tastes clean, even respectable.
Best for Sauces: Glace de Poulet Gold
This gelatinized hockey puck of chicken essence is dissolved in water to make 2 pints of stock. I'd expect more sweetness from the carrots and onions, but, otherwise, the flavor is rich and round. The added gelatin gives a decent amount of body, making this a top contender for saucemaking. I'd be even more enthusiastic about this product if they omitted the salt; fortunately, the amount is not overwhelming.