What is the Difference Between Broth, Stock, and Consommé?

Posted on 06 Jun 2014 16:51

One of the most common cooking concerns the difference between a stock and a broth. Further confusion is added by the addition of consomme. It is often claimed that there is no difference between a stock and a broth, or that a stock is a fancy broth, or vice versa. Most professional chefs would disagree.

A broth is basically a clear soup made by simmering meat and vegetables (or just vegetables for a vegetables broth).

This, at first glance, seems to be the same as a stock.

It is true that the terms broth and stock are often used interchangeably and it is not always clear there is a well-defined difference, but the generally accepted wisdom is that, for a stock, bones and vegetables are simmered, rather than meat (excepting, of course, a vegetable stock).

Bones are by far the most important ingredient in a stock, and using bones makes a stock richer and higher in gelatin, which comes from cartilage and connective tissue, than a broth. Although it is richer, it is not necessarily more flavorful.

That is, stocks have a more neutral savory taste than broth, making them more versatile for use as the base of many different sauces or soups.

Most stocks would be reduced and reinforced in some way before use.2 Many chefs have a different take on what on stocks versus broths, but when a specific meat flavor is desired, such as chicken or beef, a broth is preferred.

Or, are there other ways of looking at it?

Apparently so, and they can be more cloudy that the cloudiest stock. Take, for instance, this explanation from Jacob Burton, which seems to do little to clarify the issue, pardon the pun:

…a broth is a stock that hasn’t been strained before serving, while a stock is strained broth used for a secondary purpose like reduction sauces, braising, or…to make a broth. With consommé, you start with a stock, turn it into a broth by adding a raft, which then becomes a stock again once it's strained, and will then magically turn into a broth once garnished, unless it’s left ungarnished, in which case it remains a stock.You may come across the word boullion, as well, and you are probably familiar with bouillion cubes. Bouillon is really just the French term for broth, but many sources make a distinction, although it is hard to define precisely why. A consommé can be a broth or a stock.

Well, that clears it up! I can't seem to stop, sorry. Regardless of how muddy his explanation is, Burton demonstrates the making of a consommé like a true professional, and his video appears below. To, perhaps, uncloud the issue, I turn, once again, to the Oxford Companion to Food, by Alan Davidson:

It could be said that broth occupies an intermediate position between stock and soup. A broth (e.g. chicken broth) can be eaten as is, whereas a stock (e.g. chicken stock) would normally be consumed only as an ingredient in something more complex. A soup, on the other hand, would usually be less simple, more 'finished', than a broth.

In the last sentence, he is referring to the fact that while you could eat a broth in its basic form (and he mentions the use of broth for ill people, etc.), but once you add something to it, or "fancify" it, a broth is usually then called a soup.


Chicken consommé with chicken liver mouse and gnocchi.
Image by snekse via flickr


Chicken consommé with chicken liver mouse and gnocchi.
Image by snekse via flickr

A consommé is a broth or stock that has been clarified and concentrated, making for a strong flavored and perfectly clear soup that not only has a wonderful concentrated flavor, it is beautiful to look at. Although many cooks hold that it is the clarification that makes a consommé, it is really the concentration that is most important. The word consommé is a French word that means "perfect" or "to make perfect and complete." It was first mentioned in late 18th century cookbooks as a concentrated bouillon used in sauces or potages. Bouillon is a French way of saying broth, basically, and potage is a word for soups or "cooked in a pot."4,3 Only later in the 19th century were consommés described as perfectly clear, fat free broths. Escoffier listed over 140 consommés in Le Guide Culinaire. 1,((wright))

There are several methods used to make a perfectly clarified consomme but one very effective way is to simmer egg whites and broth along with ground meat, vegetables and herbs. These are all mixed together to form a clarification raft, which is added to the broth or stock that the consomme is being made from. The proteins from the egg whites and meat trap the smallest particles from the broth and the resultant mixture can be strained though wire mess strainer lined with cheesecloth. 1,3

In the excellent video below, Jacob Burton demonstrates a chicken consomme. He starts with a very cloudy looking chicken broth and adds pours it over a clarification raft made from chicken meat, egg whites, and a basic mirepoix. He then adds some seasoning and mixes. For further description see the link above.

1. Peterson, James. Glorious French Food: A Fresh Approach to the Classics. New York: J. Wiley, 2002.
2. Gisslen, Wayne. Professional Cooking: College Version. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010.
3. Wright, Clifford A. The Best Soups in the World. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
4. Willan, Anne. The Country Cooking of France. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2007.
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