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Boullion vs. stock and recipe creativity gone wrong

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Ok, this is my first post on Chowhound, and I'm seriously hoping that this is in the right place and that I don't sound too much like a dumb college kid. I do cook more than top ramen!

So tonight I cooked a quinoa dish for dinner and the recipe asked for 1 cup of chicken stock. After being a vegetarian for four years, I've just started experimenting with vegetable broth, so I decided to substitute the chicken broth for vegetable broth. Smart me, the last time I went to the grocery store, I realized I could buy vegetable boullion for way cheaper than stock and just dissolve it when I needed stock. So I followed the directions on the boullion box (1/2 cube in 1 cup of water). Overall, the dish turned out well (as in, I'd love to make it again and get it right), but the taste of the stock was SO STRONG.

Question 1: Are chicken stock and vegetable stock generally interchangeable?
Question 2: Are boullion-made stock and ready-made stock interchangeable? If not, how do I fix this for the remaining 5 1/2 boullion cubes I have left?
Question 3: Have you ever had one of those great ideas for a substitute product in a recipe that ended up being a complete disaster? Share your less than success stories!

(and yes, I realize the best solution is to make my own stock, which I would love to do at some point, but that's not really possible right now)

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  1. Answer to your questions. 1. No, they are not. 2. Depends on the bouillon cube and stock. 3. Yes, and one was using canned broth instead of homemade for a very simple risotto.Stock in a cube, stock in a can, stock in a jar will never give you the flavor and control that homemade will. Whether you make vegetarian or meat-based stock, you will always have flavor more to your liking. I really can't emphasize this enough. Risotto, for example, is dependent on the stock for flavor. Great stock, great risotto. Not great stock..............well you get where I am going.

    2 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      My feeling is

      1. Generally no. But of course that does not mean if you do you will necessarily get bad results. You will just get a different flavor profile. Vegetable stocks will tend to be waterier, as they lack the fat and proteins of a chicken stock.
      2. Ditto above. I'd also add that it depends on how much you need. Cubes often have tons of MSG, so I find the flavor of them to be quite different and to me pretty bad compared with most mainstream ready-made stock. Another option is to mix them: if you are short of liquid stock, augment with some added water and a cube. That's one way of getting rid of your cubes. Stored in a dry place, those cubes have an awfully long shelf life. A final option is the garbage can.
      3. Never:-)

      I agree with escondido123 on the benefit of home-made, and frankly, veggie and chicken stock are quite easy to make: you just need a large pot and a rainy afternoon (and a few ingredients). Now beef stock is a whole other story: one of my biggest successes was classic french onion soup, another thing critically dependent on quality of the stock. It took 2 days just for the stock.

      On a similar note, I have a question regarding Chowhounder views on stock bought from a butcher or fishmonger as opposed to, say, Swansons. I have been routinely disappointed when I buy what is supposedly "fresh." My theory is that a seller of meat/chicken/fish is just trying to get rid of bones, and has an idea of boiling them in H2O for a couple of ours with little additional care (since that is not really their bread-and-butter), and selling the watery liquid at a big mark-up, 'cause, you know, it's "fresh." Swansons on the other hand (for example) has stock as their focus, so puts more care into it. Thoughts?

      1. re: MagicMarkR

        I am surprised at Swanson's quality. It even smells better than other commercial stocks. That being said, I have taken to making my stock in a crockpot. Best use I have found for it yet.

    2. Bouillon cubes are the saltiest of the homemade stock alternatives. Superior Touch Better than Bouillon is a base, which means a reduced paste. It comes in 8oz jars and of the many varieties, the chicken and the beef are available in a reduced sodium version (still has lots of salt). Other than lacking the gelatin that makes homemade stocks unctuous, it is a very good substitute. You can even add plain gelatin for a stock with more body.

      1. For many things cooking, instructions are only guidelines. Next time you make the stock from the cube, don't simply follow the instructions and expect they are correct. Taste everything you cook along the way. If the stock tastes too strong or of before it goes in the dish it is going to taste that way in the final product.

        My old chef at school said in his very thick Italian accent "good food makes good food" and while often that means the best ingredients will make the best food, the best ingredients are not always available. If you taste the stock before, you can decide to omit it or dilute it or add something to aid the flavour.

        2 Replies
        1. re: TeRReT

          Thanks, I think this post was the most helpful! That should be common sense, and for some reason it's not. I definitely should have tasted the stock before I added it instead of waiting to taste the final product and trying to rescue a disaster. I think until I get rid of these cubes, I'll definitely dilute them waaaay more.

          Thanks everyone for your input!

          1. re: fancynancypants

            i am sure you are on a budget, but bouillon cubes are cheap and more often than not impart a not-so-good-flavor to the final product. most are full of crap oils, msg and all sorts of weird protein extracts. have you read the label on your cubes?

            there are decent stocks on the shelves, like kitchen basics and trader joe's, sold in tetra-paks. you can portion and freeze to use when you need it, if you don't need the whole container.

            yeah, i tried using bouillon cubes a few times and learned to not bother.

        2. As with rice, the basic cooking liquid for quinoa is salted water. And the best salt level depends on your preference. I do use boullion cubes/powder/paste, treating it primarily as a salt source. Roughly if the taste of the broth, what ever the source, is right (about like what I'd expect for soup), then it should be right for the rice or quinoa.

          Commercially made vegetable broth, or boullion cubes, is a wild card. There isn't a standard for saltiness, or for the mix of vegetables. A good alternative to a vegetable broth (or a chicken broth) is to mince and sautee some vegetables such as onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Different cuisines have characteristic vegetable bases for their soups, stews, and rice dishes.