Vastly improved

I was planning on making this post about how I tried Mark Bittman’s “Vastly Improved Canned Chicken Broth” from his book How to Cook Everything. But, I don’t want to keep harping on the chicken broth thing. I’ll just say that at least he recognizes that sometimes we have to use canned broth, but this is how to make it better.

The V.I.C.C.B. recipe is as follows:
4 cups broth, low sodium
1 carrot, peeled, sliced thin
1 onion, roughly chopped, unpeeled ok
1 clove garlic, unpeeled
3 peppercorns
several sprigs fresh parsley, if available
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in saucepan, bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Strain, adjust seasoning.

I tried it (without parsley), and yes, the broth was improved. “Vastly?” I’d be more like “definitely” (maybe parsley would have made it a “vastly”).

Here’s a tip: save the cooked carrots and onion. It’ll go great in your chicken soup, or, as an (admittedly drab) appetizer.

So, with improved broth at hand, I made the Smitten Kitchen’s matzo ball soup that I posted about on Dec. 24. Here’s how it turned out:


A few observations:

  • The matzo ball batter turned out rather loose, even after refrigerating it, so the balls were not totally spherical. I probably could/should have added more matzo meal, but I was able to get them into the pot in one piece.
  • I skipped the carrot in the soup part of the recipe; I just used the leftover carrot and onion (see tip above) from making the broth.
  • I didn’t use any dill, but I think that might have, er, vastly improved the soup.

Bittman, on broth

This is funny, in a giving-me-the-finger kind of way: Mark Bittman, in his New York Times Minimalist column here, advises against the use of canned chicken broth, or any kind of insta-broth, and suggests the following:

Simmer a carrot, a celery stalk and half an onion in a couple of cups of water for 10 minutes and you’re better off; if you have any chicken scraps, even a half-hour of cooking with those same vegetables will give you something 10 times better than any canned stock.

I totally agree with this from a flavor standpoint, but I’m just trying to be realistic: sometimes we just don’t have some, or any, of these items on hand when we want to make something involving chicken broth. And even if we did, sometimes we’d rather spend 30 seconds on the instant than even 30 minutes on real broth.

Goo is good

I bought this product at a Trader Joe’s the other day (cell phone for size comparison).


Let me now just say the following, to quote a Whitney Houston song: It’s not right, but it’s OK.

We “chefs” are not supposed to do it, right? If a recipe calls for chicken broth (or stock), it’s hoping that we’re going to use homemade chicken stock. We start with a mirepoix (carrots, onion, celery), brown that up (caramelization … extra flavor), then maybe add some thyme, parsley, a bay leaf, salt, then a whole chicken, water, and cook it for an hour – preferably more, depending on how full-flavored you want it to be. That’s just for the broth.

Do you have time for this?

Most of us need to use the canned stuff, which is, admittedly, a rather weak substitute for homemade, but certainly acceptable when time is of the essence. Now there’s this product, a broth concentrate with the consistency of goo (And who doesn’t love goo?). When I saw it in the store, I wondered: are my days of lugging around canned chicken broth over forever? Not an unappealing thought!

Among the advantages this product has over the canned stuff is that the package is smaller and lighter, and it gives you more control over how much you want to use. With the concentrate, you can make as little as a cup (8 oz.) of broth, while a can forces 14.5 oz. on you (an awkward measurement as well). The canned (at least, the supermarket brand) and the concentrate are about the same price – 4 cents per ounce. The canned will be slightly more expensive if you go for a name brand, such as Swanson’s, though it will offer a better taste.

My panel of expert taste testers (me) thought that the goo broth had more authentic chicken flavor than the canned market brand, though you will have to squeeze the goo into hot water, which I suppose is slightly more work. Cook’s Illustrated prefers Swanson Certified Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, which was not on my tasting panel today, but I’d say go with it, if you need to impress somebody, and impress them in a hurry.

So all the broths have their merits. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how we can kick pre-made broth up a notch, and test out some recipes with it over the next couple of days.