No one will ever know it wasn't simmering all afternoon.

I’m very proud of my homemade chicken stock. It’s delicious, not too salty, full of body, and most of all — it tastes like chicken. It doesn’t require much prep, and most of the time, it simmers away on its own with no attention from me. But lately, my access to the whole bone-in chickens I like to use has been a bit limited. And, because of that, I’ve found myself buying boxes of low-sodium stock from the grocery store. The store I shop at luckily has really good chicken stock. But, no matter how good, it still tastes just a bit, well… store-bought. So, I’ve been on a quest: How can I “beef up” the flavor so it tastes more like my own?

chicken stock in a glass measuring cup

Turns out, it could hardly be any easier. I pour a box of stock into a saucepan. To that, I add a minced carrot, a minced celery stalk, some peppercorns, a chopped onion, and, if these flavors will work with the dish I'm eventually going to make, some garlic and herbs. And I just let that simmer for a while. There is really no recipe or specific timing. When the stock tastes good, strain the solids out and you’re good to go.

Now, if you want to go a step further, and happen to have, say, a chicken breast sitting in the fridge, you can gently poach it in the barely simmering stock. When it’s done, the stock will be exponentially more “chicken-y” and you’ll have a very flavorful, moist, tender chicken breast ready for a salad, or a sandwich, or anything calling for cooked chicken. Another possibility, if you have recently cooked a whole chicken, and, like me you’ve trimmed off the wings before roasting, they can poach in the stock as well. I also cut out the backbone before roasting. (That’s called spatchcocking.) And If I don’t need it right away, I freeze it. A frozen backbone is a great addition to your boxed stock.

But if no chicken parts are nearby, and you still want that thicker, richer texture that homemade stock has, here’s another trick. This one’s a little “out there,” but it works surprisingly well if you want to add body. Dissolve a tiny bit of unflavored gelatin in cold water or stock, and add to the simmering stock. Don’t worry, we’re not making “Chicken Jello” This just mimics the natural collagen in bones that even good store-bought stock never seems to have.

However far you want to go with these ideas, your box of stock will taste better and fresher, even if you just simmer some vegetables in it for a few minutes. Start with the best store-bought stock you can find, and take a few minutes to “doctor” it up, and I guarantee you'll notice a real difference.