pot and spoon with beef stock while cooking a red wine morel sauce on a black stove, dark background with copy space, high angle view from above

One of the joys of cooking your way through hundreds of recipes is getting to know various ingredients and how to use them. The time comes when you envision and even taste in your mind a specific recipe, yet when you start laying out your ingredients, a vital piece is missing. With snow piled up in the driveway or torrential rain pelting your windows, running to the market isn’t an option. Substituting ingredients is. IKEA’s homemade meatballs require 4 cups of beef broth, and you only have a few cans of beef consomme. Or the beef stroganoff you want to serve on a cold evening needs beef consommé, and your pantry only contains condensed beef broth. Broth, condensed beef broth and consommé are different, but with a few tricks, you can substitute one for the other.

Broth ‒ So Many Choices

Standing in the soup aisle of your grocery store, you’re faced with so many different formulations for beef broth. Regular beef broth, beef stock, condensed beef broth, bone broth and beef consomme ‒ all vie for space in your grocery cart. Knowing the difference between them helps when making a decision. And for peace of mind when you cook, get some of each!

Beef Broth ‒ Regular and Condensed

Beef broth is what you get when you slowly boil beef, chicken or vegetables in water and then strain the juice. It’s the thinnest and least flavorful of the broths, and it forms the base of all other beef flavorings. Packages and cans of beef broth are useful in gravies or as a flavoring in beef-based dishes. Substitute beef broth for water when making the delicately balanced Vietnamese beef noodle soup, otherwise known as beef pho. Or heat it and drink it alone to warm you on a chilly day.

Condensed beef broth is a further reduction of basic beef broth, which has more beef flavor. You can make your own by reducing your beef stock. An easy alternative is to buy Better Than Bouillon in the soup aisle. Add the bouillon paste to 1 cup of boiling water, either 1/2 or 1 teaspoon, depending on the taste you’re going for.

For a Stronger Beef Flavor

Beef stock is more flavorful than broth, since it’s reduced down further than broth. Beef bones and vegetables give additional flavor as the mixture becomes more concentrated. The beef and aromatics are too intense to drink alone but add zest to beef-based dishes. Be daring and use it in your Sunday morning Bloody Mary!

Consomme ‒ Not Just Reduced Broth

While stock, broth and condensed broth all can be made by reducing broth to various degrees and intensity, consomme goes through an additional, tricky, delicate procedure before it becomes clear liquid. And getting that clarity is the key to consomme.

Consomme’s flavor is intense, and its viscosity is thicker than stock. It’s also free of any bits and pieces of the beef or vegetables that went into making it. That’s achieved by using egg whites to achieve the clarity. A long simmer under a raft of egg whites separates the broth from all its elements to create the clear, savory broth.

Substituting Consomme for Condensed Broth

While close to each other in the flavor profile, consomme is the strongest of the beef liquids. If your recipe calls for condensed broth and you only have consomme, slowly dilute the consomme. Start with a cup of consomme and add 1/2 cup of water. Taste. If it’s just right, use that formulation. If it’s still too beef-heavy, add more water until you have a mixture that is less beef-forward.