Originally published in the July 2016 issue of Dispatch Magazine

Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

If you want the best chicken stock, hands-down one of the most important elements in cooking great food, you’re going to have to make it yourself.

Unfortunately, most people either don’t have the time, are too lazy, or just think the process is more complicated than it really is. Thus the multitude of options at the grocery store. But are those actually any good? Are all of their boisterous proclamations of free-range, natural, organic, vegetable-fed, halal-ready, gluten-free, and no-MSG-added for real? Is it just snake oil designed to draw your eyes to the box?

We decided to find out, sampling 15 different brands and finding that, much like last month’s peanut butter tasting, our group was divided on those that actually taste like chicken and those that taste like Campbell’s soup, a nostalgic flavor we all seem to be hard-wired to find comforting.

The Tasting Panel

Jon Dietz – Wine business veteran and very educated palate

Melanie Kratovil – Co-Owner, Terlingua BBQ

Pliny Reynolds – Co-Owner, Terlingua BBQ

Joe Ricchio – Dispatch food editor and television personality

Wilson Rothschild – Chef, Terlingua BBQ

 

The Best

Rosemont Market Chicken Stock

Available at Rosemont Market, $5.99 for 16 oz.

Though it was easily the priciest, tasters loved the pure, unadulterated flavor that results from the use of four ingredients — chicken, salt, pepper, and water. If you have access, this is always the best alternative to homemade.

365 Organic Chicken Broth

Available at Whole Foods Market, $2.29 for 32 oz.

Just like with the Rosemont stock, we liked the pure chicken flavor of the 365 and deemed it to be ideal for the pantry. It does have ever-so-slight nuances of bouillon flavors, but definitely not intrusive.

Swanson Chicken Cooking Stock

Available at Hannaford Supermarkets, $2.59 for 32 oz.

“That’s Campbell’s chicken soup right there,” a suggestion from Pliny that we cannot deny, yet begrudgingly cannot be upset about. The flavor is rich, yet surprisingly clean — and it’s pretty much already a soup, so the term “cooking stock” is a bit misleading because you probably don’t need to do much else besides toss in some star-shaped pasta and Ritz crackers until the spoon stands straight up.

 

The Worst

Saffron Road All Natural Artisanal Roasted Chicken Broth

Available at Whole Foods Market, $3.00 for 32 oz.

Pliny: Kind of coppery, more like beef than chicken.

Melanie: Tastes weirdly like soy sauce.

Wilson: Tastes like dog treats and rawhide.

Nature’s Place Organic Chicken Broth

Available at Hannaford Supermarkets, $2.59 for 32 oz.

Dietz: I don’t know what that flavor is, but it’s definitely not chicken.

Joe: I think they made a stock by boiling the chicken pads that they use to package the bird in the meat section — the ones that catch all the blood. Pad stock.

Hannaford Chicken Stock

Available at Hannaford Supermarkets, $1.50 for 32 oz.

Melanie: This tastes like soap.

Wilson: Tastes like plastic that has been dipped in petroleum and salt.

Dietz: I can actually taste the dextrose — you could accidentally make a stock ten times better than this while sleepwalking.

 

The Noteworthy

College Inn Chicken Broth
Available at Hannaford Supermarkets, $2.39 for 32 oz.

Joe: It’s very salty, yet I kind of want to keep eating it.

Melanie: Tastes like classic wonton soup from the Chinese take-out place.

Pliny: Hot dog cart water — the essence of hot dog is certainly pronounced.

More Than Gourmet Chicken Culinary Stock

Available at Whole Foods Market, $3.79 for 32 oz.

Pliny: All I can taste are dehydrated vegetables.

Joe: Definitely like the broth from the Maruchan “Oriental” flavored instant ramen, the one with the pink package?

Dietz: Stewed, cheap lo mein flavor.

Melanie: I got it! I’ve been trying to figure out what I taste, and its French onion party dip.

Pacific Free-Range Chicken Broth & ORGANIC Free-Range Chicken Broth

Both available at Hannaford Supermarkets, $3.89 for 32 oz.

Joe: What the hell is the difference between “free-range” and “organic free-range”? They both taste like burnt mushroom stock. This has always been my go-to for store bought, but no more.

Dietz: Something dark, burnt — caramel or molasses — with flavors of steeped shiitake mushrooms.

 

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