As someone who doesn’t eat most canned (or cubed) stocks and broths—they can be overly salty—and usually is too lazy to make them from scratch, I find myself often cooking without stocks and broth. Or sometimes, I’ve run out of homemade chicken broth or store-bought vegetable broth and don’t have time to re-stock before I begin cooking.
You’re probably wondering how in the world that’s possible, since so many recipes use broth and stock. Instead of flavorless food, though, I use simple combinations of water, fresh ingredients, and various add-ins (from kombu and bonito to coffee and beer) to produce flavorful broth substitutes whenever a recipe calls for vegetables, beef, or chicken stock. I get to be more in control of the end result of the dish this way. Paul Bertolli knows what I’m talking about.
So whether you are in a state of forgotten-ingredient-panic or just want to cook creatively, take a look at this list of chicken broth substitutes and see how you can save dinner with a few easy swaps.
And remember: Always add fresh herbs and spices to taste. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different ingredients together (think: citrus + scraps, mushrooms + tea, tomatoes + wine) for a more layered taste. And even when you do use prepared broth or stock, add these ingredients for an extra punch of flavor.
For a vegetarian substitute for chicken broth, a handful of dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms will quickly transform a plain pot of water into an umami bath. After boiling for 20 to 30 minutes, this earthy liquid can replace broth and stock in a pot pie, vegetarian gravy, and Thanksgiving stuffing. Or enjoy a cup of it in place of coffee to mix up your morning or afternoon caffeine routine. You could also add some hearty herbs like rosemary or thyme to bring out the flavor of the earthy mushrooms.
Freshly squeezed or from a bottle, the perkiness of citrus juice plays well with savory meals. Simply replace the broth with citrus juice and water in a 1 to 2 ratio. Then use to cook beans, creamy polenta, lots of seafood dishes, and this Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup. Or add a splash of sweetness to fish-focused dishes, like risotto-style shrimp and grits and a spicy Jalapeno Corn Soup with Seared Scallops. Lemon is the most versatile but try grapefruit, lime, or lemon too. Plus, the acid in the citrus also acts as a natural deglazer to remove any stuck-on caramelized brown bits at the bottom of a pan.
Jam and Dried Fruit
Tomatoes may not belong in a fruit salad, but fruit definitely belongs in savory dishes (especially those starring tomatoes). Simply replace broth with water and 2 to 3 tablespoons of jam or finely chopped dried fruit. Apricots and cherries will work well with “meatier” dishes like this Persian eggplant stew, short rib chili, and chili gumbo. And plums or figs would play nicely with this borscht.
Just like mushrooms, tomatoes provide a natural source of umami. For something light, simply replace the amount of broth with half water and half diced, fresh tomatoes (or homemade tomato sauce). Or, boil water with a handful of dried tomatoes. Let them soak for 30 minutes and then remove the dried tomatoes and use the soaking liquid as is. Or keep the dried tomatoes in the pot and blend for super rich flavor. Then add your tomato broth—however you made it—to this red curry, carrot ginger bisque, and more borscht.
Replace broth with water and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of wine. White will brighten this Passatelli in Brodo (add citrus juice, too) and Broccoli, Lemon, and Parmesan Soup soup. Red wine, on the other hand, adds a deep, earthy flavor. You’ll find it in a lot of ragu recipes! So take a cue from Italy and add it to meaty, rich dishes, like beef and barley, this chili, or slow cooker chicken soup.
Break out the sachets before dessert and use them to boost the flavor (and intrigue) of your dish. Simply boil the same amount of water as broth and let the tea soak for 10 to 15 minutes, until infused. Use more delicate white tea for poached fish or bouillabaisse. Or go with mightier genmaicha for soba, ramen, or a twist on egg drop soup.
“Jus is just deeply reduced meat stock,” explains J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. “Typically a restaurant would make a basic veal and/or chicken stock. You’d then use that gelatin-rich stock and flavor it with browned trimmings from whatever meat you’re serving, then strain carefully multiple times, and slowly reduce.” It’s a decadent alternative to stock—and if you use jus in place of a lighter stock, the flavor will be much deeper. (To replace stock with jus, simply add hot water to the jus you have on hand.
If you have a lot of garlic and a lot of water, you can make garlic stock, which is another big little recipe from Emma Laperruque. In typical fashion, her recipes always make me think “why didn’t I think of that?” They’re simple, unassuming, and loaded with flavor. “A supremely savory vegetable stock that only needs one ingredient. And yes, that ingredient is garlic—two whole heads of it. When simmered with water and seasoned with salt, this extrovert ingredient goes from razor sharp to buttery smooth, a lot like caramelized onions. The result is oh-so soothing, with pools of savory depth,” she writes.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).Order now