The problem with at home cooking lots of the time is the seemingly lack of flavor that many come across while making their own food as compared to restaurant food. One of the best ways to fix this issue is with the use of stocks. This is a very easy and simple solution to adding more flavor depth and complexity to dishes with minimal work. All one has to do is replace water in any appropriate recipe with some kind of stock and that is it. Stocks are easy pantry staples and can help take any dish to the next level.
My Favorite Uses
I usually keep different kind of stocks in my pantry, but the main kinds I use are chicken and fish (dashi) stock. I like having chicken stock on hand because I will add it to almost any savory dish to improve not only the flavor, but often time the texture as well and personally believe it to be more versatile than any other stock. Stocks have gelatin in them, which is a natural thickening agent, and is what jello is made out of. The natural gelatin makes for a richer texture and mouth feel in all kinds of soups, sauces, and chilies. It will be hard to get the kind of flavor depth you want in these things if you are not using a stock some kind or will have to spend a long time boiling away to reach a similar result without it. I also like having fish stock or dashi stock because it is a staple in most types of Asian cooking. Dashi stock is hard for some to make due to lack of access to bonito flakes and kombu, so I just keep dashi stock powder in my pantry. Dashi stock will help add the seafood taste that Asian food often requires without having to add fish to a dish. Dashi stock is not only useful in asian cooking, however, since I like to add it to dishes like chowders, gumbo, or any dish where I want a strong seafood flavor. The possibilities are endless and I am confident that you will find yourself using stocks very frequently in your cooking once you try them.
Stock Vs Broth
Since both are always next to each other on grocery shelves and share many similarities, I think it is important to explain the differences between the two. Stocks and broths are both food bases that have been created by boiling any type of vegetable, meat, or combination of the two in water until a flavorful liquid base has been created. Unlike broth however, stocks always involve the use of bones and are simmered for a lot longer to extract the gelatin and flavor from the bones to create a richer and better texture and mouth feel. Another key difference is that stock is unsalted while broths are salted and should taste fine as is. Now in the long run, both do not really matter since the kind you usually buy from grocery stores are not much different from one another, but if I had to make a recommendation it would be to buy preferably the stocks that are labeled low sodium.
The Different Forms
The two main forms for consumers are powdered (bouillon) or liquid forms. I have used both and both work just fine, but I usually prefer the liquid versions. The main reason for this is that the powdered kind contain a lot of salt and can end with your food being over seasoned. I also tend to notice better flavors with the liquid versions and they are just easier to use due to not having to factor the extra salt or figuring out how much powder I have to use precisely. I will, however, use bouillon powder instead of salt while cooking sometimes to add more meatiness to food. If you want to avoid both, however, making your own is also very easy and can be done with saved kitchen scraps that I have often times kept in the freezer in large freezer bags. It is easy to make in large quantities and there is no strict recipe. If you have the freezer space, you can also freeze stocks you have made, and they will stay fresh for very long.