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Making Broth

My wife and I have this debate all the time:
1) I say you can leave the lid off and even if the broth reduces, you can just add water back and still have equally good broth
2) She says that you have to leave the lid on and just let the broth boil down to the right amount

I was convinced that I was right, but then just saw a recipe for shio broth that says you cannot do 1). It's just not the same. Yet scientifically, I would have thought all that's boiling off is water, so adding water back should be fine. But thinking about it more, maybe there are aromatics that boil off also?

So, I thought I'd throw it to the Chowhound community...

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  1. It's really up to you.

    Both techniques work. There are die-hards in both camps that will defend their techniques to the death.

    1. Just a speculation...

      Is the broth supposed to be clear? If so, you'd want to simmer as gently as possible -- and perhaps this would lead to a preference for covered with very low heat rather than uncovered with slightly higher heat?

      1 Reply
      1. re: drongo

        I've personally found it impossible to keep the fire low enough to get a gentle sub-simmer with the lid on...

      2. When you reduce a stock or broth the flavor is changed. Adding water will thin it but the flavor will not be the same as it was before it was reduced.

        2 Replies
        1. re: chefj

          First, Drongo - I agree on a clear broth, the low simmer is best.

          Chefj, so what you're saying is this... if I do
          1) take a full pot of water, add a chicken, leave it uncovered and boil When the pot is half full, add back a 1/4 pot of water to take me to 3/4 full
          2) take a full pot of water, add a chicken, cover and boil until 3/4 full

          that the 2nd method will leave me with a better broth? Why is that? I'm beginning to doubt my belief that it doesn't matter which way you do it, but I'd be curious to understand the rationale behind method #2 being better.

          1. re: FattyDumplin

            I am not saying better or worse just different.
            From practical experience I know that a reduced and then re-diluted stock or sauce does not taste the same as the original unreduced sauce or stock.
            I would think that the esters that give things tastes and smell are changed, but that is just a guess.

        2. Whether you leave the lid on or not might affect the cooking temperature. Often, when I take the lid off a pot of stock or soup, it is bubbling. But after leaving the lid for a bit, the bubbling subsides. I haven't measured the temperature, but surmise that the covered liquid is a bit hotter than the uncovered, presumably because there is more evaporation when uncovered. Evaporation results in heat loss. I should in theory be able to match the covered and uncovered cases by adjusting the burner temperature, but I seldom try that.

          So if you are trying to simmer at a precise temperature (and without the slightest boiling or bubbling), you may have more success with the lid off.

          On the other hand, there are advocates of making stock in a pressure cooker, which is, in a sense, the ultimate lid-on scenario.

          In practice I don't worry about clarity of the stock, or about retaining volatile flavors. I usually use stock for hearty and chunky soups, using freshly sauteed aromatics. The stock provides the gelatinous body to the soup; not a lot of the flavor.

          1 Reply
          1. re: paulj

            If clarity was the issue, then one could simply strain or use an egg raft.

            But like you, for me stock is about flavor, not looks. I rarely use stock, if ever, for things like a consomme. And if I did, I could care less if was just this side of being completely opaque.

          2. Totally OT, but have you ever made it in a slow cooker? Way easier

            5 Replies
            1. re: CanadaGirl

              not a slow cooker but i have used a pressure cooker. but i don't like the aroma as much. there's something off-smelling about it. tastes fine, but i feel a broth that's been boiled for hours just smells better than one done in the pressure cooker.

              i suppose a slow cooker would work, but have never had one :)

              1. re: FattyDumplin

                And I don't have a pressure cooker! But Christmas is coming up.....

                  1. re: paulj

                    Thanks. it's funny, i did see that thread but just haven't gotten the same satisfaction that others seem to have.

              2. re: CanadaGirl

                Absolutely, only game in town. I put a few chicken leg-thigh pieces in my largest slow cooker with some onion and celery and fill it up to the top as full as I can with water. Cook on low overnight. Put big bowl in sink. Put colander in bowl. Pour stock into colander. What stays in colander gets tossed. What goes through into bowl is, voila, stock, couldn't be easier. One caveat: if you don't like giblets be sure to remove any bit of kidney that the butcher may have left on the leg-thigh or it will give the stock a giblety flavor.

              3. Fatty,

                Actually the two are not the same. First, scientifically speaking there are more than water being boiled off. More importantly, it has to do with time. The amount of time in method (1) is shorter than method (2), and surely you know this. So the favor will be different too. Now, it is entirely up to you which method is better, but I don't think they are the "same".

                11 Replies
                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Haha. I was hoping you would answer, because I was trying to get a better understanding of the chemistry behind all this. See, i've actually normalized the scenarios because when i go with method 1, i just keep adding water as it boils off. But, if as you say, more than just water is being boiled off, then certainly that lend credence to what both my wife and chefj are saying. Can you elaborate further on what is not getting boiled off?

                  1. re: FattyDumplin


                    I am going to give a weak answer, but a weak answer is better than a non-answer. I don't know all or even most of the things. What we do know is this. Things which you can smell while making your stock are also the ones are being boiled off. The fact that you can smell them prove they are being evaporated. :) A good example is boiling vinegar. You will suddenly notice a much stronger smell of vinegar as it boils. Let use an opposite example, table salt is not volatile. You can put tablespoons and tablespoons of salt in the water, and you won't be able to boil it. In fact, this is how sea salt was extracted.


                    There are whole host of compounds being boil off along with the water. Some evaporate faster than water and some slower than water.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      i like it. makes perfect sense to me. far from weak and much appreciated. as a chemistry undergrad, i definitely apprecaite your insights on this board.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Well said. This is also one reason why a pressure cooked stock or broth can [ideally] taste a bit different and 'fresher' than a traditionally cooked stock or broth. The most volatile or easily cooked off compounds are the ones that people associate with freshness of ingredients (this is less profound than it might sound - it is mainly by virtue that cooked down foods traditionally lack said compounds while the uncooked ingredients do not). So when you cook a stock or broth in a pressure cooker and you're very careful to prevent steam from being blown off, you can let any of those compounds that have not been denatured settle back into your stock for a slightly different flavor than you would get from a traditional cooked-down stock.

                        It's also why some foods cooked sous vide can taste particularly intense - compounds that would evaporate off of a food in traditional cooking are trapped and make their way to the dinner plate, rather than just making your kitchen smell good.

                        1. re: cowboyardee


                          What pressure cooker do you have? Any good suggestion? Or do you think they are about the same? I think I will be making more and more stock, so maybe I should get one. (I didn't use to make stock very often).


                          This one?

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Recent generation pressure cookers are supposed to be better for stock making because you can really limit venting to just about nil. Unfortunately, they're also a good deal more expensive.

                            I personally have an old school Presto pressure cooker - the kind with the weighted jiggling top. When I make stock, I deliberately try to keep it just below its max pressure so as to limit venting. That requires more monitoring, obviously, but I'm pretty used to my equipment and stove by now. Even so, I'm not sure if my results are as good as what more recent generation pressure cookers are reputed to achieve.

                            Regardless, a pressure cooker makes it so quick and easy to make stock that I have no intention of going back to traditional methods either way.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              I'm using a basic Fagor 6 qt. Elite. Not expensive and works like a charm

                              I think you would find a PC an semi-essential cooking tool once you start using it.

                      2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        That more than water is being boiled off was my first reaction as well. Also, I would presume that broth involves some complex chemical compounds in solution as well as suspension. That is, it becomes more than "stuff sitting in water." So simply taking water out and putting it back in is not going to be the same. Same way that reconstituted OJ from concentrate doesn't taste the same as fresh.

                        1. re: sbp

                          Yeah, it is not going to be the same, but it does not mean it is going to be significantly worse either. It may even be better (but doubtful). In other words, they will be different. Would the difference be meaningful, that I don't know.

                          1. re: sbp

                            Reducing concentrates flavor. Reducing = steam boiling off.

                            1. re: sandylc

                              "Reducing concentrates flavor."

                              What you have said is not wrong. Many things evaporate slower than water, so as we concentrate our stock, the flavor will appear stronger. However, this is not quiet the case in our discussion here. It is NOT about a stock reduced from 5 quarts to 4 quarts versus a stock reduced from 5 quarts to 1 quarts.

                              Our question is really about the following:

                              A 5 quart starting solution. Slower heating with cover on to reduce a 4 quarts final volume.


                              A 5 quart starting solution. Faster heating with cover off to reduce to 1 quart. Then add 3 quart of water back to make it to the same final volume as 4 quarts.

                              So the starting volume and final volume are the same in the two cases.

                              To quote the original poster:
                              "1) I say you can leave the lid off and even if the broth reduces, you can just add water back and still have equally good broth"


                        2. How long are you cooking this broth? Given the ingredients that I've seen listed for shio broth, I don't think this a long cooked broth. If so, the evaporation business shouldn't matter much - especially if you don't let it boil hard. Usually broths are cooked at a simmer.

                          There is another ramen broth that does require a long simmer, with lots of pork bones, and a cloudy appearance. A vigorous boil toward the end could enhance this cloudiness.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: paulj

                            I think since shio is a clearer broth, versus a tonkatsu, what you say makes sense. I diverged from shio and just boiled longer to let the flavors build, but it was a comment from the author of the recipe that really got me thinking this afternoon about hte two methods.