Most good soups begin with broth or stock. Stock is thicker and more gelatinous; it is the richest layer of broth, made from plenty of bones and other cartilaginous material. Broth is thinner and, while still rich-tasting, doesn't gel when cooled. Many people ignore the differences between stock and broth, however, especially on labels and packaging. And when we do have real homemade stock we tend to sip it straight, unadorned, or use it in thick sauces, and use thinner storebought broths for our soups.
But many chefs and cookbook authors completely trash the idea of storebought broths; they feel that it's better to use water or a quick herb broth than anything pre-packaged. I am not sure that I completely agree with this; many storebought broths are indeed too salty or strange-tasting, but they are not all bad.
Personally I usually buy Pacific Natural Foods' organic, low-sodium chicken broth, or a similar product from Trader Joe's. Do they taste as good as homemade? Nope. But lately I just haven't been making enough broth to keep up with demand, and these are economical and tasty enough for soups and sauces.
As far as other brands go, there was a good article at Serious Eats on the best chicken stock here:
To sum up, a few tips:
• Buy organic broth - It's not too much more expensive and there is usually a little more flavor.
• Buy low-sodium broth - Low-sodium always tastes better, and it allows you to season your soup yourself. Full-sodium broth is usually way too salty.
• Chicken broth is the best buy - My own personal opinion is that most commercial vegetable stocks are sour-tasting and dull. Vegetable stock is quick and easy to make (cheap, too! Just use your scraps) and I feel that if I want vegetable stock it really isn't worth buying. Commercial beef stock, on the other hand, is never rich enough. If you really want beef stock, go to the trouble of making it yourself; it's worth the expense to have a truly rich and awesome beef stock. Or buy a demi-glace and reconstitute it into stock. So, if I am buying broth, it's probably going to be chicken; it just seems to be the most well-done, in terms of commercial options.
Those are my own thoughts and tips on buying broth. What about you? Do you have a favorite brand of storebought broth (or stock)? Any brands to avoid?
Related: How To Make Homemade Chicken Stock
(Image: Michele Humes/Serious Eats)