As much as I'd like my refrigerator and freezer to always be stocked with delicious homemade chicken stock for cooking, reality doesn't cooperate with me. With work and family obligations constantly competing for my time, sometimes I need some shortcuts to get dinner on the table.
Store-bought broth is one such shortcut. Whether it's for a quick soup or long braise, a can or box of broth is a lifesaver, but I only buy the low-sodium versions, and here's why.
Why Stock Isn't Seasoned
When I make homemade stock, I never add salt to it. It may taste a bit bland or weird straight up, but that's okay. Since I don't know what I would be using the stock in, I want to be able to control the amount of seasoning in my finished dish — it's the same reason why we use unsalted butter in baking.
If you're making a soup with a smoked ham hock, bacon, or sausage, chances are that these ingredients contain enough salt on their own to flavor the whole soup. Using a salted stock or broth might push the salt levels over the edge, which would make the soup unpleasantly salty. Better to hold back in the beginning and have the option to season at the end.
Buying Prepared Stock or Broth
The same principle applies to buying prepared stock or broth, which tend to be highly seasoned since the manufacturers want to sell products that taste good on their own. But since you're probably cooking with the stuff and not drinking it straight up, always look for low-sodium versions (sometimes you can even find unsalted versions) instead. Just remember to taste and adjust for salt during and after the cooking process.