Dear Lisa: When a recipe calls for beef consommé, is that the same as beef broth? Do you recommend using canned broth or the cubes you dissolve in water? - Linda
Dear Linda: In classic French cooking, there are differences in broth, consommé and stock. For example, beef broth is the flavorful liquid obtained from the long simmering of meats or meats and vegetables.
A consommé is a rich broth that has been clarified to remove impurities. Consommés are perfectly clear and are fat-free. Because of their substantial gelatin content, consommés have more body than broths.
Stock is made from a combination of bones, vegetables, seasonings and liquids. There are white stocks - prepared from chicken, veal or beef bones - and brown stocks, which caramelize those ingredients before being simmered in water.
Depending on the recipe, stocks, broths and consommés can be interchangeable for most foods prepared at home. But if the clarity and rich flavor of the broth is critical, use consommé.
Commercially produced flavor bases are a convenience and are available as powders, pastes, cubes and granules. Although they are inferior to a well-made stock, they do reduce the time and effort of a home recipe.
Note that sodium is a major ingredient in commercial bases. These may not work if the food will be served to someone on a sodium-restricted diet; in addition, other salt content in a recipe may need to be reduced to compensate. Also be aware that commercial bases do not contain gelatin, so they will not thicken with reduction.
As a final suggestion, it's wise to prepare a commercial base or canned soup according to package directions and evaluate its quality before using it in a recipe.
• Lisa Fritz, a longtime food and nutrition educator, answers questions about food, cooking and recipes. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.