Chicken broth is a kitchen essentially. Eaten on its own or with a bit of veg and some noodles in it, it’s a great healer. For both the body and the soul. But chicken broth is also the key ingredient in many sauces and soups or sauce-based dishes. Or at least it seems to be. A rich, salty chicken broth can really make a dish, especially homemade broth rich in fat and herbs.
But what about if you don’t have any chicken broth? Maybe you were in a rush at the store and it slipped your mind, or maybe the broth you made last week has gone bad. Either way, there’s no need to fret. There are plenty of alternatives, and at least one of them is pretty much guaranteed to be available to you.
The secret with broth is that, while a good one really enhances a dish, a packet chicken broth doesn’t actually do all that much work. You can quite easily replace a chicken broth in any recipe, you’ll just have to fiddle a little with the seasoning and herbs and spices you put in so you can hide the omission.
Before we get into alternatives, though, it’s important to remember that chicken broth freezes really well. Next time you make some chicken broth, why not freeze half? You can freeze individual portions in tupperware, and when you want to use them they can be emptied into a pot (use warm water to get them out the tupperware, as you would if you were getting popsicles out of molds) and defrosted on the stovetop. You can also freeze shop-bought broth, so why not just buy extra next time you hit the store so that you never run out?
Until then, though, here are five potential alternatives for chicken broth or stock.
This one almost seems too simple, but I promise adding the same amount of water as you would chicken stock to your dish will work fine. It’s great because water is not only free, but readily available in pretty much all kitchens. Plus, what is broth but… well… mostly water. In fact, if you add water, a little extra fat (a knob of butter or tablespoon of olive oil for example), and some additional herbs and aromatics you’re essentially simmering up a broth on the go. This is also a great time to whack that parmesan rind you’ve been saving for eventual use in the pot to add flavor. You will, of course, need to taste as you go and adjust the seasoning of your dish. It’ll probably need more salt in particular, as broth tends to be salty.
2. Bean or Chickpea Liquid
Yes, seriously, you can use the liquid from a tin of beans of chickpeas (sometimes called aquafaba) as a swap for broth. Actually, you can use chickpea water for loads of things, like making vegan meringues or fudge. The water from beans or chickpeas is extremely starchy, so dilute it at a 1:1 ratio with water, and then use it just as you would broth. It’ll still thicken sauces and soups up a little even after being diluted, and it has a certain richness to it that really works well instead of broth. Again, you’ll probably need to add a few more bits and bobs to your dish than usual so taste as you go!
3. Vegetable Broth
Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at this one — of course, you can swap broth for broth! But if you have an onion, maybe a carrot, some sad herbs, a bay leaf… essentially any leftover veg and/or aromatics and herbs you can make your own vegetable broth really quickly. Just roughly chop the veg and chuck in the herbs, simmer for about a half-hour, and you’ll have a light broth or stock. You can substitute chicken broth for this 1:1, but measure the veg stock after boiling not before as you’ll lose up to 1/3rd a cup of liquid through evaporation. If you have yeast extract on hand, you can add a little of that to the stock while it’s cooking to create a depth of flavor akin to meat.
4. A Bouillon Cube
Just crumble a bouillon cube up and pour over a couple of cups of boiling water. Stir until the cube is dissolved. You can use the resulting liquid as a 1:1 swap for broth. It’ll be a little herby and peppery, and very salty so with this one, you might want to reduce the amount of seasoning you add to your recipe. Again, taste as you go to be sure. Bouillon, in both cube and powder form, is actually just dehydrated broth or stock so bears a great resemblance to the real thing once some water is added. Salt, however, is added in pretty liberal amounts to bouillon because it helps to preserve the dehydrated stock.
5. White Wine
Finally, you can replace the broth with wine. In a rich, dark dish that uses beef broth, you might want to swap some of the stock for red wine. If a dish calls from chicken broth, though, stick to white. Obviously don’t use the very expensive bottle of wine your parents gave you on your wedding day (unless you really want to!) a bottle of five buck chuck will work just fine. You need to simmer the wine off for a while to get rid of bitterness, but do remember this doesn’t get rid of all the alcohol so if that’s a concern use another one of the replacements I’ve suggested instead. With wine, just like with water or aquafaba, you will get the best result if you also add a few aromatics like garlic and onion and hardy herbs like bay leaves. And, again, I know I sound like a broken record, but season heavily and taste as you cook.
So, if you don’t have chicken broth in the house you will definitely have something else you can use. If you need a sauce to thicken then the bean juice might be better than stick, in fact, and white wine is also a good addition to a dish even if it already contains a good stock. I believe in experimenting in the kitchen, and you can certainly just use your intuition when replacing something like chicken broth.
You should also keep in mind that it’s really easy to make chicken broth, just as it is to make vegetable broth. Use the recipe below to make chicken broth or, if you don’t have any chicken, use it to make a more complicated and flavorful veg broth than the quick and easy recipe I outlined above.
Make Your Own Stock
As I said, broth freezes really well so why not make a whole bunch?
You will need:
A chicken carcass (you can use the leftovers from yesterday’s roast dinner if you like)
A couple of cloves
A bouquet garni of approximately: 2 parsley stalks, 2 sprigs of thyme, 2 sprigs of rosemary and 1 bay leaf, tied with string
Any other root vegetables you happen to have on hand
A Parmesan rind (keep it when you’ve eaten all the cheese!)
I have left amounts vague because this is a real build-your-own recipe. You just stick the ingredients in a pot, cover with water, and let them simmer for an hour or so. You may want to add other vegetables, wine, a little butter, salt and pepper.
The longer you simmer your broth for, the stronger the flavor will be. If you’re using a chicken carcass rather than a bird with meat still on it or a bunch of wings, then if you boil it (a low simmer is preferable to a real hard boil) for a long time then you’ll get a thick, jelly-rich stock. If there’s meat on the chicken there’ll be less gelatin in your liquid even after a long simmer. You may want to take the meat out while it is still reasonably tender, too, so that you can use it for a meal or chop it and add it to the broth to make chicken soup.
This broth isn’t quick, but a little goes a long way. Make it on a Sunday and strain it into mason jars to use through the week, or freeze portions for use throughout the next couple of months. Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself without chicken broth again. If you do, though, you now know five great alternatives.