The art of stock and broth making is one of the first subjects you’re taught in culinary school. Bones, you learn, are what make a stock a stock and not a broth. The bones, with little to no meat on them, lend gelatin to the stock, giving it “body.” (For me, breaking huge halibut skeletons in half to fit them into the kettle was a memorable introduction to the visceral side of cooking.) Stock may or may not also contain aromatics, like vegetables or herbs.
Broth, on the other hand, is made from meat, vegetables, and aromatics. Though it’s sometimes made with meat still on the bone (as in broth made from a whole chicken, like the our recipe), broth’s distinguishing flavor comes from the meat itself. Compared with stock, it has a lighter body and a more distinctly meaty (or vegetal) flavor.
Broth is more or less ready to eat, whereas stock typically needs some enhancement from additional ingredients or further cooking to turn it into something you’d want to eat. So if you’re making a quick soup, broth is your best bet, but if it’s a long-cooking soup, then either would work.
In a reduction sauce, stock may be the better option because it will produce a nice consistency without needing additional thickeners. Reduced broth becomes very flavorful, but it lacks the body of reduced stock, and if the broth was highly seasoned to begin with, reduction may make it overly salty. This is especially true of commercially produced broths, which tend to be much saltier than homemade versions.
Our favorite store-bought broth
Fine Cooking recipes usually call for broth, not stock—few stores sell “soup bones” these days, so it’s easier to find the ingredients for homemade broth. In a perfect world, we’d cook with homemade broth all the time, but some brands of store-bought broth are a solid alternative in our time-crunched society.
In recipes calling for chicken broth, we test with Swanson Natural Goodness, which has less sodium than Swanson’s standard chicken broth. It was the top pick in our January 2003 Tasting Panel, and it retained its crown when we recently retasted chicken broths. We like it because it’s all natural (no msg), and it’s full-flavored, with a good balance of chicken, vegetable, and herb flavors.