Chicken stock cubes, also sometimes called chicken bouillon cubes, are small blocks of dried, highly concentrated chicken stock which can be rehydrated for use in recipes that call for liquid stock. In addition to chicken extract, stock cubes also usually contain salt and various seasonings. Many cooks find stock cubes useful because they are inexpensive, easy to store, and convenient to use. Detractors of the cubes argue that their flavor is decidedly inferior to that of homemade stock, and that they contain unhealthy ingredients. Those who wish to prepare their own stock cubes can do so by simmering chicken bones in water for several hours, discarding the bones, and then reducing the remaining liquid until it reaches a thick consistency.
In general, chicken stock cubes can be used in any recipe that calls for liquid chicken stock. They may, for instance, be used to make a base for soup or added to mashed potatoes or rice for extra flavor. Normally, stock cubes are not incorporated directly into a dish, but instead are first combined with boiling water. The water’s temperature causes the cubes to dissolve, creating a liquid stock that is then ready for use.
As their name would suggest, one of the primary ingredients in most chicken stock cubes is chicken extract, which is usually produced by slowly simmering chicken bones to draw out their marrow. This extract is generally combined with salt as well as some form of fat, and in some cases, vegetable extract, seasonings, and other assorted additives. The resulting mixture is dehydrated until it reaches a crumbly, solid state. At this stage, commercial stock cubes are usually cut into small squares or rectangles and wrapped in foil-backed paper.
There are several advantages to using chicken stock cubes instead of homemade or store-bought liquid stock. First of all, the cubes tend to be moderately to significantly cheaper than liquid stock. They also occupy far less storage space than their liquid counterpart. Further, while cubes do not generally save time as compared to store-bought liquid stock, they require far less preparation than homemade stock.
Many cooking experts argue, however, that the taste of chicken stock cubes cannot compare to that of a homemade stock. In addition, they hold that the ingredients included in many commercial cubes make them far less healthy than liquid stock. For instance, many cubes found in supermarkets contain high levels of sodium, and also contain monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer which may cause mild allergic symptoms in some people.
Those who are concerned about the taste and healthfulness of store-bought chicken stock cubes may wish to try preparing their own cubes at home. Making homemade stock cubes usually begins with the same process used to make liquid stock. First, chicken bones, vegetables, and seasonings are simmered in water for several hours. Then, the solid ingredients are discarded and the remaining liquid is chilled, skimmed, and reheated until it congeals. This congealed liquid is hardened in the refrigerator and then cut into cubes which can be used immediately or stored in the freezer.