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.
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. 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 broth substitutes and see all the ways your recipe’s “broth” could go.
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.
Mushrooms: 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.
Citrus Juice: 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, 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.
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.
Tomatoes: 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.
Wine: 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.
Tea: 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.