What's Fabulous: Better Than Bouillon
Even though folks who have cooking bullhorns argue for using homemade chicken stock, the fact is that it takes time, and some expense, to make. Still, I do make stock several times a year, especially in the winter, and I freeze it, saving these few quarts of golden liquid for chicken soup and for the once or twice a year when I make a very special sauce that is the star in the amazing Roasted Duck With Olives from Chez Allard, the famed Paris restaurant.
Here's its recipe in Saveur, plus Patricia Wells has it in her wonderful classic, Bistro Cooking. This dish is 100 percent worth the effort and I'd argue that for this dish, please, yes, make homemade chicken stock. (A recipe tip: I concentrate on making the sauce but then serve it with slices of pan roasted duck breasts instead of a whole duck, which means better portion control, no carving, and since ducks shrink when they roast, more meat -- and it's just as tasty). Make this for guests who will appreciate this tour de force and who will then stand up and salute you. Yes, it is that good.
Chicken stock shows up in lots of recipes, both the fancy and the everyday. But I have neither the time, nor the freezer space, to be always making my own. So I buy it. In boxes. I usually buy the Whole Foods brand or if I'm shopping elsewhere, I'll get another good organic brand like Pacific or Swanson. I've also always kept on hand a stockpile of Maggi, Star or Knorr bouillon cubes (mostly chicken but also porcini mushroom). But the bouillon cubes are very high in sodium and the boxed stocks and broths have such a faded taste that I often wish for something better.
So when my friend and excellent home cook, Karin, recommended that I try Better Than Bouillon, I listened. In all candor, when she first introduced it to me, I had my doubts, thinking that it was simply a bouillon cube in another, less convenient form. Plus I'm trying to use less processed ingredients in my cooking, not more. But I trust Karin's palate and her healthy eating and cooking practices, and so I gave it a try. And she was right -- its flavor is excellent, it's made with quality ingredients, and it's an appealing alternative to the boxes and the cubes.
Better Than Bouillon is a paste of concentrated flavors made from real food that you dissolve in boiling water or other liquid -- one teaspoon of paste to one cup of hot liquid -- to create a broth. You can also use it to boost the flavor of sauces, soups, braises, or other recipes. The jar is shelf-stable until you open it and then it can be refrigerated for up to a year.
It comes in about 20 flavors, five of which are organic -- Roasted Chicken, Turkey, Roasted Beef, Mushroom, and Seasoned Vegetable; four are certified vegan -- Seasoned Vegetable, No Chicken, No Beef, and Roasted Garlic; and three are low-sodium -- Roasted Beef, Seasoned Vegetable, and Roasted Chicken. The rest are flavor bases that while not certified in any way, are still made from real ingredients -- Chili, Clam, Fish, Ham, Lobster, Roasted Garlic, and Au Jus.
The one I've fallen hard for is the organic Roasted Chicken. It actually tastes like chicken, maybe because it's actually made from chicken. Most of the others I've not yet tried, although I love the idea of using the Fish or Lobster base to make a stock to use in seafood risotto. Many are not sold in every grocery market (there seems to be some variances in regional product demand that makes certain of the bases available more easily in some areas but not others). But at my small neighborhood grocer, they sell all of the organic bases and all of the low sodium bases. To help find the flavors you want, the Better Than Bouillon website lets you search by flavor and zip code for where they're sold.
What I particularly like is that I can adjust the flavor intensity of the broth I make. For example, if I have a cold and want the comfort of a cup of hot chicken broth, I can add a bit more than a teaspoon to a cup of boiling water in my favorite mug for a heartier taste. But if I'm just adding a mildly flavored liquid to a braise, I'll stick to the one teaspoon to one cup of water. Trial and error will guide you.
The nutrient information for each base varies and particularly for anyone who is watching their sodium intake, you can check the ingredients and nutrition facts, product by product, at the product website and also on each jar.
Better Than Bouillon is made by Southeastern Mills, a food company located in Georgia that also makes, among other things, a product called Better Than Gravy which I've not tried or yet seen in a grocery market although given my enthusiasm for the bouillon product, I'm on the hunt.
The cost per jar of Better Than Bouillon varies by where you live, which base you're buying, and the size of the jar. Most of the bases come in 8 oz. jars, but a few, including the Organic Roasted Chicken, are sold in 3.5 oz. jars. At my neighborhood grocer it's sold in the same section of the store as soups and bouillon cubes.
In the New York area, it costs about $5 to $7 per 8 oz. jar, which if you consider that each jar makes about 12 quarts of broth (8 oz. = 48 teaspoons), is a much better value than buying boxes of already made stock. The product is sold in grocery stores nationwide, plus on Amazon.
Stock is made with bones, sometimes roasted bones, which are simmered to extract their gelatin and flavor. Broth is a flavored liquid made by simmering ingredients like vegetables, meat, chicken, or aromatics.