5 Ways to Upgrade Boxed Chicken Broth

How to make a humble box taste like homemade chicken broth—and what you need to know about chicken stock vs broth.

Chicken broth from a box is one of the hardest working items in you pantry. We can substitute chicken broth for water when cooking rice or polenta, add a splash to leftovers before reheating to keep them moist, or use it to make super fast sauces. But one of our favourite uses is as the base for lickety split weeknight soups.

Soup is endlessly adaptable, easily storable, and reliably forgiving. And chicken broth (or stock) from a box makes it easy.

Stock is the result of simmering animal bones, mirepoix (that's just chef-fancy for onion, celery, and carrot), and other herbs and/or spices in water until the bones have released gelatin and flavor to create a rich, unctuous liquid. Broth is what it becomes after you season it. But as you can probably tell from a quick trip down your soup aisle, you'll find boxes of flavored liquids labeled both stock and broth. Don't worry too much about what they're called. These days, the terms are used largely interchangeably.

For you weeknight warriors, chicken broth from a box and stock function the same way. Don't worry, we went ahead and tasted them all so you don't have to.

Whether you're using chicken or turkey, beef or vegetable, know that chicken broth from a box is not and will never be the same as homemade. Homemade broth will always be more complex and delicious than something you get in a box. Plus you get the satisfaction of knowing exactly what's in it.

For weeknight meals, boxed broth is a shortcut worth taking. Some markets make their own in-house broth and sell it in quart-size deli containers in the refrigerated section and sometimes frozen. This is an excellent option and second best to homemade.

With a few simple additions you can transform a quart of broth into a savory concoction with more depth and flavor than the box has on its own. Simmered for about 10 minutes, these combinations make robust bases for a variety of add-ins. And you mustn't forget to season all of these with salt and pepper. A few to try:

Ginger, Garlic, and Shallot

Simmer a quart of broth with a knob of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced, a couple thinly sliced shallots, and two thinly sliced garlic cloves. Add shrimp, rice noodles, a sliced fresh chile, and a big handful of basil, mint and/or cilantro.

Onion, Fennel, and Garlic

Sauté a chopped onion, a chopped fennel bulb, and a couple finely chopped garlic cloves in a little olive oil. Add a squeeze of tomato paste, stir, stir, stir, then add a quart of stock. Whisk to combine and bring to a simmer. After 10 minutes, add some clams, or shrimp, scallops, or pieces of firm white fish and simmer until open (clams) or opaque (the others). Drizzle with olive oil, top with fennel fronds.

Onion, Carrot, and Celery

Sauté a chopped onion, a couple ribs of sliced celery, and few small chopped carrots in a bit of olive oil until softened. Add a quart of broth, and simmer 10 minutes. Add a couple handfuls of egg noodles (less than you think—they'll keep soaking up the liquid as they sit) and some shredded rotisserie chicken. Boom: 15-minute chicken noodle soup.

Miso, Soy, and Scallion

Bring a quart of chicken broth to a simmer. In a small bowl, whisk together a couple good spoonfuls of white miso and a spoonful of soy sauce until smooth. Whisk into simmering broth and add a bunch of thinly sliced scallions. Stir in cooked rice, cubes of tofu, and top with kimchi. Try Lindsay Hunt's recipe and more like it in her cookbook, Healthyish.

Ginger, Garlic, and Curry

Sauté a chopped onion, a tablespoon chopped fresh ginger, and 2 cloves chopped garlic in a little vegetable oil until softened. Add a tablespoon of hot or mild curry powder and cook until slightly darkened, about a minute. Add a quart of broth, a couple chopped sweet potatoes and a can of chickpeas (rinse and drain these first). Simmer until sweet potatoes are tender. Top with cilantro.

These will get you started, but feel free to get creative! Next time you're at the market, buy a few quarts of chicken broth to play around with. Though you may be tempted to drink broth straight outta the box, try different flavor combinations and additions, then tweak and adjust depending on what you have in the pantry and fridge. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to tailor a box of broth to suit your taste any night of week.

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