Court bouillon is a simple stock infused with flavor. It’s a core ingredient in French cuisine and offers a flavorful base for poaching fish and chicken.
Many French home cooks know the importance of flavor to spice up simple dishes. That’s why French cooks have a handful of recipes and techniques that are easy to follow and produce an eye-popping dining experience.
Court bouillon is one of those simple techniques. Learn how to make this simple stock, which can serve as a poaching liquid or add a burst of aroma to your sauces and gravies.
What is court bouillon?
Court bouillon is a flavorful broth used to cook other foods. It’s made by simmering vegetables, aromatics, and an acid to create a base for poaching fish, chicken, and other delicate proteins.
How do you pronounce court bouillon? 😅
“Core boo-yee-on”. I’m too embarrassed with my French to say it aloud. I can write “court bouillon” but I like to call it by its translated English names, such as “short stock” or “fast stock” or “short broth”. I use the names interchangeably.
Why use court bouillon?
While you could use water to cook fish and chicken, court bouillon adds complexity thanks to the aromatic herbs, spices, and vegetables.
It’s easy to make court bouillon. Since it provides an excellent return on your invested time, there’s no reason to skip the court bouillon.
Components of court bouillon
Court bouillon is made up of 4 parts:
I like the ratio of 6:1 parts of water:acid. Feel free to play with this ratio depending on how intense you like the stock.
NOTE: I’ve seen recipes that are 4:1 and 12:1. I felt like 12:1 is too dilute and 4:1 requires a lot of wine, which gets pricey. I’d probably stick with 8:1 or 10:1 if I were using wine vinegar instead of white wine because I’d worry about making an overly sour stock.
You combine all these ingredients into a soup pot and simmer it for 30-60 minutes. I’ve even seen recipes as quick a 10 minutes.
Once the liquid is infused, you can strain it. Then it’s ready to use.
How to use court bouillon
I’ve been poaching a lot recently. I’ve had great results with wild Alaskan sockeye salmon. Usually sockeye salmon is dry and flaky, which is hard to swallow. Poaching it makes it tender and locks in the moisture.
Here is a colossal article about the theory behind poaching. Use the court bouillon, a.k.a. short stock, to poach your delicate proteins. Some ideas for you:
Fish: salmon, tuna, turbot, sole, halibut
Seafood: lobster, crab, shrimp
Poultry: chicken breast, turkey breast
Vegetables: asparagus, zucchini, baby spinach
TIP: You may want to tweak the base recipe to adapt to what you’re poaching. For example, dill is fantastic for poaching fish like salmon. Chicken goes well with rosemary and oregano. Lobster and crab work well with shallots, garlic, and lemon.
The French take on Asian-style hot pot is simmering meats and vegetables on skewers using court bouillon as your broth.
Heat the court bouillon in your fondue pot. When it simmers, cook your meat and veggies in the short stock.
Court bouillon is a viable addition to your sauces and gravies that call for vegetable broth and/or chicken broth. If you have a sauce recipe that calls for water, consider using court bouillon for extra flavor.
NOTE: Court bouillon contains more acid than a typical vegetable broth. Season and taste as you go to make sure the acid is adding brightness and not sourness to your dish.
Court bouillon variations
The best part about making a short stock is that you can customize it to whatever dish you’re cooking. Here are different ingredients you can add or subtract:
Herbs: fennel, dill, rosemary, flat-leaf (Italian) parsley,
Spices: peppercorns, cinnamon, star anise, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, savory
Acid: wine (wine whine, red wine, sparkling wine), lemon juice, orange juice, vinegar (wine vinegar, white vinegar, rice vinegar)
When I put these ingredients together, here are different variations I’ve tried:
Vietnamese pho-broth inspired version: charred carrots and onions, skip the celery, sliced ginger, garlic, spices like cinnamon and star anise
Without wine: use wine vinegar or rice vinegar instead
Chinese hot pot: onion, carrots, garlic, sliced apple, dried longan, dried shiitake mushrooms, star anise, bay leaves, Sichuan peppercorns
TIP: Play around with the ratios. Add your favorite herbs and subtract the spices you dislike. Make your court bouillon the way you like it.
The traditional way of making court bouillon is to use a bouquet garni. This ties the herbs together with butcher’s twine (nestled in a rib of celery or a leaf of leek).
You can also use a spice sachet, especially if you’re adding errant peppercorns and star anise, which are challenging to fish out.
My favorite way is to strain the court bouillon using a fine-meshed strainer or sieve instead of tying together a bouquet garni or making a spice sachet.
Tips for success
- Cook time: My recipe suggests simmering the court bouillon for 60 minutes. That’s long because I like to let it go, set a timer, and come back an hour later. If you’re in a rush, you can cook the stock for as little as 10 minutes. Up to you.
- I like making this easy “cooking helper” stock when I’m cooking dinner or during meal planning/prepping time on the weekends.
- Scale the recipe: You can scale this recipe by adding more water and increasing the quantity of mirepoix, aromatics, and acid. This recipe makes about 7 cups of liquid (about 1.5 liters). Feel free to double or triple the ingredients quantities. This Culinary Pro court bouillon recipe (which inspired my version) makes 1 gallon/4 liters of stock to show you what restaurant proportions look like.
How to make court bouillon (French stock) for poaching fish, chicken, and vegetables
- Chopping Board
- Soup Pot
- Mixing Bowl
- 6 cups (1 l) Water
- 1 cup (250 ml) white wine
- Gather the ingredients.
- Chop the celery, carrots, onion and garlic. Peel a strip of lemon peel from the lemon. Crush the peppercorns.
- Put all the ingredients in a medium-sized soup pot that can comfortably fit everything.
- Heat the ingredients on medium-high heat until the stock boils. Turn the heat down to a simmer. Simmer for 60 minutes.
- If you didn't use a spice sachet, assemble a fine-meshed sieve over a big mixing bowl.
- Pour the stock into the sieve and catch the liquid in the mixing bowl.
- Allow the stock to strain for a few minutes through the sieve.
- Allow the stock to cool before storing in the fridge or freezing.
- Your court bouillon is ready to use for poaching.
How long does it last?
As a frugal person, the idea of using court bouillon once and tossing it out after poaching a few slices of fish disturbs me. We like to reuse the court bouillon for poaching many pieces of fish over 3 days.
For example, last week, we ate fish 3 days in a row. On day 1, we poached sockeye salmon. Day 2 was sockeye salmon again. Day 3 was hoki (blue grenadier).
That allows us to stretch the short stock over a few days. But I’m not adventurous enough to keep the court bouillon beyond day 3.
NOTE: I stored the stock in the fridge in between uses to make sure it didn’t spoil.
Can it be made in advance?
Yes! I recommend making court bouillon ahead of time. That way, when you’re ready to poach, it’s ready so you don’t have to scramble to prepare it when you’re eager to start poaching.
TIP: It stores in the fridge for 3-5 days or you can freeze it for several months.
How to store it
If I intend to use the short stock the same day or week, I store it in the fridge in a bowl, plastic container or the pan I’m using to poach in.
If I’m stocking up for future use, I freeze it in a washed yogurt container. I find the 32 oz/907 g plastic container with a lid to be an excellent size for freezing court bouillon because it holds the amount of liquid needed to poach 4 average slices of fish.
If you want to use the court bouillon for sauces and gravies, you could also freeze it in 1-2 ice cubes trays. Ice cubes of stock come with the additional convenience that they’re quicker to defrost.
How to reheat it
Starting from refrigerated short stock, I like to reheat it in the pan or soup pot that I’m using to poach.
When the court bouillon is frozen, I reheat it in the same way as the refrigerated stock. That is, I will put the frozen block into my pan and let it melt slowly. Then I remove the block of frozen stock once I have my desired amount of liquid in the pan. I store the remaining frozen block in its original container and put it back in the freezer.
If using ice cubes, you could toss the frozen cubes of stock into whatever you’re cooking to let them melt.
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FAQ about court bouillon
Court bouillon vs. bouillon cubes
Court bouillon is typically a homemade stock in liquid form that’s flavored with vegetables, aromatics, and contains an acid.
Bouillon cubes are dehydrated cubes of stock or broth that can contain the same ingredient base as court bouillon (vegetables only). Bouillon cubes can be made from meat stock, such as beef or chicken bouillon cubes.
The biggest difference is that you’ll need to add water to bouillon cubes to rehydrate them before using (or add them to liquid, such as soups and stews).
Court bouillon substitute
If you don’t have court bouillon on hand, you can substitute with another stock or broth. Vegetable stock will be the closest in terms of flavor profile. However, any kind of stock, such as beef, chicken, or fish stock should work.
Is court bouillon Cajun or Creole court-bouillon different?
I’m not the most versed person in Cajun or Creole cuisine. But with some researching, it seems that there are a lot of Cajun dishes called court bouillon that contain whole fish. These dishes seem popular in the French West Indies, such as Guadeloupe and Martinique, as well as Louisiana.
Here’s an example of a fish-based court bouillon recipe in case you’re curious. You’ll notice the ingredient list looks different from the vegetable stock in this recipe.