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My wife made some chicken soup last night, but we didn't have any stock to start it with, so we used water.
Flavor-wise, the soup was fine - it was just lacking the mouth-feel associated with good soup. There was plenty of oil floating on top of the soup, so it wasn't lacking in fat.
I was thinking it was probably because we'd started with water instead of stock.

We're planning on making our own stock soon (so many good tips here!) but we didn't have any on hand last night, nor were we prepared to run to the grocery store.
However, we realized after we'd eaten the soup that we had a couple of packets of powdered gelatin in the cupboard.

Would powdered gelatin have given the same mouth feel as stock?

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How exactly did you make the soup? My best guess from what you say is that you very nearly made stock - chicken and other ingredients, cooked for a while in water. No bones/necks/backs in the chicken, and not cooked as long as it takes to make good stock? –  Jefromi Nov 5 '10 at 17:15
    
Correct - we used vegetables and chopped chicken breast, boiled together for maybe a half hour. –  mskfisher Nov 5 '10 at 17:22
    
Boneless chicken breast - no bones anywhere in this recipe. –  mskfisher Nov 5 '10 at 19:37

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I'm looking for the online reference, but I remember reading in Cook's Illustrated that they were able to substitute a bit of gelatin to mimic the mouth-feel of homemade stock. I did find a beef stew recipe that used gelatin.

Based on how you described your recipe, I would say that the long cooking of chicken bones is indeed what's missing. You might get a better result if you roast your chicken breasts and vegetables before cooking them in the broth.

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Making stock from bones extracts gelatin out of the bones. Homemade stock often has a gel like consistancy when put in the fridge and that provides much of the mouth-feel. Dissolving a bit of gelatin in cold water and adding to the broth will give it that lips smacking Unctuousness, as long as the flavor is good. –  FoodTasted Nov 6 '10 at 5:57

I think there are a few components to a good stock mouthfeel + flavour. You may be able to approximate these without actual stock with a bit of hackery:

  1. Use flavourless, commercial gelatine and a small amount of saturated fat (bacon grease). This would simulate both the fat from the dark meat, and the gelatine from the bone.

  2. Brown up some starches and proteins. The resulting hydrocarbons and altered amino acids are the fundamental flavour in a stock.

    • If you use the fat above to do the browning, less will float on the top (some is absorbed in the yummy browned food bits)
    • Dried mushrooms or seaweed can work (as can leftover rice or potatoes).
    • And while this isn't mouthfeel, it's critical to feeling like soup as it triggers the savoury part of our taste.
  3. Cheat with extra spices and dried vegetables. One of the flavours in many stocks is the onion/carrot/celery (or other trinity of goodness). Dried spices and bits are a great hack to get that base of flavour.

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The flavor of stock comes mainly from the bones, not the fat. Fat should be skimmed off the surface when making stock. Boiling chopped chicken breast will not give the same flavor, and your powdered gelatin is also unflavored. There's really no substitute for a good stock. The closest you can come to instant would be instant stock/bullion.

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The flavor was actually fine for what we were looking for - it's just that the texture was a bit thin. I only mentioned the fat because of its texture contribution. –  mskfisher Nov 5 '10 at 18:35
    
If you wanted to just thicken the soup, I would use a cornstarch slurry or a roux before I would use powdered gelatin. –  Bob Nov 5 '10 at 19:07
    
Depending on your stock method, the fat is important early on for browning goodness (later the excess is removed). Those savoury flavours are difficult to replace with spices alone, unless you cheat with MSG or similar. –  Bruce Alderson Nov 5 '10 at 19:29

Possibly, since some of what you're getting from a carcase is gelatin. If you try it, let us know how it turns out.

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