Since I dedicated January and February to homemade stock making, I’ve learned way more than I ever thought possible about what I thought was a simple topic. I never would have guessed there were so many tricks (like putting a stock in the fridge to defat) nor understood the importance of a slow simmer (to decrease overall cloudiness) had I not decided to do so much research.
Over the past six weeks I experimented with different recipes to get the best flavors and tried to cut down the time with express stock making (which didn’t go so well). After making at least 10 batches I’ve learned quite a bit, but one question still remained unanswered: is there a difference between a stock and broth?
Prior to my quest, I assumed these two terms to be interchangeable. My biggest deciding factor on which to use was sadly whichever was on sale. In grocery stores, they stand side by side on the shelf and most recipes do not distinguish one over the other. I simply thought it was a matter of tomato or toe-mah-to, but I was wrong.
Here’s the skinny: While both stocks and broths traditionally start with the same ingredients (vegetables such as onions, celery, carrots and a variety of spices including peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, and parsley), a stock utilizes meat bones, while a broth utilizes actual meat.
On the surface, the difference between meat bones and just plain meat might not seem important, but after a few hours of simmering it is. Stock making typically requires browning the bones before simmering in water. This technique imparts a rich flavor into the stock that is lacking in broth. In addition, as a stock (here is a great beef stock recipe!) simmers collagen from the meat bones is released giving the stock a thicker mouth feel. A broth, on the other hand, is typically cleaner, lighter in texture, and has mild flavors.
Understanding the difference between stocks and broths will allow you to pick the best option for your recipe. Stocks (here is an express chicken stock recipe!) work wonderfully in reduction sauces, for example, because they help thicken the sauce. Broths can be great for lighter soups because since won’t weigh down the flavor and will help each delicate ingredient shine.
You’ll find that many chefs, cooks, and even recipes use these terms interchangeably, but now you will be able to rely on yourself to pick the best for a given recipe!