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Jan 4, 2008 05:58 AM

Real stock at the grocery

I make stock fairly regularly but it still is a good amount of work. However, I love what it produces, a stock with flavor and that gelatinous mouth feel. When I put my stock in the fridge it turns to jello. I've never once bought a store bought stock or broth that does the same.

Why is it that stock with same level of flavor and mouth feel not available at the grocer store? Is there something about real stock that makes it impossible to pasturize or freeze for mass sale or is there no real market for good stock?


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  1. This is a great question and I wish more attention were paid to this. Edward Behr laments this in one of his essays - he wonders why the producers of all those lovely free-range eggs don't cook down the bones of their over-the-hill but flavorful hens for stock, which would be available fresh every day in the refrigerated section at the supermarket, like milk and eggs.

    As you probably know, you can get excellent quality, perfectly gelatinous stock at gourmet/industry stores like Surfas - though it's expensive! This product hasn't really hit the mainstream yet, though - or even the farmer's market. It would be so nice to be able to buy fresh, high-quality stock every week without having to make it from scratch.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sister Y

      Follow the money.
      It's possible that "the producers of all those lovely free-range eggs don't cook down the bones of their over-the-hill but flavorful hens for stock" because they would likely need commercial kitchens to do so and it may well be more profitable to sell the hens at a certain age as stewing fowl.
      Many commercial products are economical uses of processing byproducts. There is a huge market on the US for boneless, skinless poultry, the trimmings from which can be used to produce stock at the processing plants or sold in bulk to companies that produce stock. Small producers don't have the same economic advantage.

    2. The best alternative I've found is called Chicken (or Beef, Veg, etc.) Base. The brand I use is called Superior Touch Chicken Base, 8 oz jar about $4.25, makes 38 cups of fairly decent chicken stock. It's on the shelf near the soups. Watch the naming though, there are some bouillon or broth products in similar jars that are really sort of powdered broken-up bouillon cubes. This stuff is a smooth paste with the top ingredient being chicken meat. I use it in soups, stews, sauces, gravies, etc. Keep the opened jar in the frige and you've got instant decent stock. Plus you can vary the strength -- jar says 1 tsp per cup of boiling water but I'll just throw a scoop or two into what I'm making, depending on how much other flavor is going on and how much other liquid there is.

      1. Thinking further about your question, this may be a function of the market for stock. Considering the amount of shelf space allotted to it at stores at all levels, from corner markets, standard supermarkets, stores like Whole Foods, or luxury retailers such as Dean and Delucca, there doesn't seem to be that much demand or companies would supply that demand.
        The changes in the market reflect consumers' changing preferences for low sodium and organic products as those have now taken their places on the shelves alongside the old regulars but the shelf space hasn't increased substantially.
        Perhaps the average American consumer doesn't do as much of that kind of cooking as the CH poster does. Stores load up on it during the Holidays but it's not a regular purchase. Marketing efforts promote it as a diet aid to cut calories by adding flavor as a substitute for butter or other fats, or in special company recipes, but it's hard to promote such a basic product that people can make themselves.

        4 Replies
        1. re: MakingSense

          Perhaps. There is certainly shelf space for regular stock. Haven't been to a grocery that doesn't sell stock. Why not "real" stock with a lot of body. I know my doesn't keep for more than a week in a fridge but it does last in the fridge. Certainly, I don't think there is anything that would prevent pasturazation.

          BTW, I don't think (beside salt/MSG) there is anything better to add to most dishes that will kick up its flavor than good stock.

          1. re: Soup

            They could clear out the Doritos, breakfast cereal, or toilet paper and fill any of those aisles with stock. Of course, there's space.
            The stores just won't devote more space than the market for a product demands. They allocate shelf footage based on the volume of what people actually buy.
            That likely indicates that there isn't a consumer demand for stock, much less "real" stock.
            I wouldn't buy it because I make my own as most serious cooks do. I freeze it so that I always have some on hand.

            It's an easy product to process for long keeping because it can be heated, therefore pasteurized, canned, aseptically packaged, etc. Yes, most cooks are aware of its value but, in a country where many working families struggle to get dinner - any dinner - on the table every night, the kind of cooking that uses stock may not be as prevalent as you assume.

            1. re: Soup

              i have sold soup wholesale in prepacks in the past. grocery stores have refrigerated storage space which costs money to operate and staff to restock. they want to fill the shelf space with *soup* (higher price point), grab & go item; rather than *stock,* which is a grocery item. since these 2 products take up the same amount of space the retailer *will* stock the more expensive one. fresh soup falls under the deli mgr's jurisdiction, & cold stock has a short shelf life ("body"="fat"=unstable, short shelf life) and you must make a higher margin in the deli area versus on the grocery shelf because of labor & overhead. the fresh stock would have to be priced very high as a result, and is a product with very uneven demand & higher waste than regular prepared fresh soup, which sells quite well. the retailers reason that the high price of fresh stock vs. canned or boxed broths would mean that most customers who are too, uh, busy to make their own stock would just buy the cheaper shelf-stable stuff (which doesn't expire & so is a "safe" bet for the retailer).

              many specialty delis that make their own soups also make their own stocks, it is fundamental kitchen economics. many of these places sell their stocks frozen to customers, or would gladly do so if a customer asked. i'd ask your favorite deli if they'd sell you a couple quarts of frozen stock, you'd probably get a great product.

              1. re: soupkitten

                A stock with lots of body won't pour smoothly out of the spout of a box.

                Could it be canned? yes. Campbells sells (or used to sell) a beef broth with added gelatin. Canned meats like Spam have some gelatin in their juices.

                I find that the easiest way to get body in a broth is to include an item like pigs feet. I often cook up a foot or two by itself, with a minimum of extra seasonings, and no special steps to clarify it. That gives me a high body stock that I can add by the spoonful to other dishes (not to mention that skin which makes a great addition to bean dishes and soups).


          2. Around here we do have a good dedicated soup place that also sells stock (in their shop fresh and a local grocery frozen). I've only used it once, and I guess I don't remember that it had the gelatinous quality to it, but it was very flavorful and w/o preservatives and other junk. I've made some stocks at home that turn gelatinous, some don't. I have never stopped to wonder why.

            1. I make beef stock that takes 14-15 hours or more to cook down, starting with about 15 quarts and ending with two or slightly less. I use 8 pounds of marrow bones, olive oil, tomato paste, 8 or more fresh tomatoes, several sweet onions, carrots, celery, 2 heads of garlic, bay leaves, basil, thyme, tarragon, oregano, 1/2 cup of fresh parsley, whole peppercorns, salt and a half bottle of decent to good (i.e. Chateau Souverain, Beringer) cab. It costs me about $60 retail for the ingredients. I have no idea what my time is worth. A lot.

              I will make the argument that this concentrated beef stock is far superior to any other beef stock that I have ever tasted. It also makes incredible beef bourgignon or any other beef dish for that matter. Added to gravy for Prime Rib there is a depth and richness that transports even the best beef.

              I once tried making a couple of similar dishes with beef "stock/broth, etc." that I bought at a Whole Foods. They tasted like flavored water. Literally. I've bought stock made in house at Balducci's, Dean and DeLuca and elsewhere. Nothing even begins to approach the stock that I make myself. Of course they don't approach the price that mine costs either.

              And that is the point: whether someone is buying "real" stock sold by a gourmet market or boxed stock for $3.50 a box at the end of the day both, for me, are just minor improvements over, say, Campbell's in a can. (How many of these have you actually tasted? Serious. Even the best are just minor improvements over "flavored water.") What most chefs will make in their restaurant kitchens are a step up but still, they are not going to make the kind of stock that I do at home. Perhaps Thomas Keller might. Or Joel Robuchon. Or Alain Ducasse. But most will not. It simply costs too much and is too time consuming.

              For me it is not just the variations between homemade stock and store bought; there are significant differences in what is made in one's house as opposed to another's as well as what is made in a professional kitchen. I just cannot imagine anyone paying the kind of money that I would need to charge for a quart of my homemade stock.

              I also cannot imagine anyone else's tasting nearly as good. Yes, it is a lot of work and a lot of money. But for the very few of us that want to taste and serve the absolute best we have to do it ourselves using the absolute best ingredients we can find. For many, if not most, they will never know the difference because they probably do not know how REALLY good, how truly extraordinary something can be.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Joe H

                Joe, it sounds like you're making your own demi-glace, not simply a "stock." Stock is the kind of broth you start with, and will gel in the refrigerator, but you have to do what you're doing by reducing it greatly to turn it into a demi-glace. Try buying a demi-glace and see if it isn't more like what you're making at home.

                Got a spare quart or two? '-).

                1. re: Caroline1

                  I've bought demi glace and it still doesn't approach what I make which is essentially a very concentrated, intensely flavored reduction. I should note that this would not work for a lot of dishes that call for "stock" but for some it is fantastically flavorful.