Many moms use chicken stock to add flavor, nutrition and richness to rice, dumplings and stews. You might prefer using plain water, which is the most common cooking liquid, although it lacks a certain something where flavor and nutrition are concerned. Chicken stock allows you to be creative and add a dash of flavor to your family's dinner without spending extra time in the kitchen. However, sometimes chicken stock is unavailable or undesirable, in which case there are alternatives.
Chicken stock is always useful to have on hand, but occasionally even the best-organized cook may run out. Commercially made broth from the supermarket comes in shelf-stable cans and tetra packs, and it can be a useful stopgap. Be sure to read the labels, since brands vary widely in their ingredients and salt content. Instant bouillon is mostly salt, and should be avoided. For a homemade emergency supply, make up a large batch of chicken stock and reduce it down to a glaze, 1/20 of its original volume. The glaze will add a concentrated chicken flavor without additives or salt.
When chicken stock is unavailable, sometimes another kind of stock or broth will provide a suitable substitute. Light veal stock is especially versatile, and its flavor is mild enough to make it a usable substitute for chicken stock. Few home cooks make their own, but it is available commercially and it's handy to have one or two quarts in your pantry in time of need. A good, well-flavored vegetable stock can also be used in place of chicken stock in most cases and has the added advantage of being vegetarian-friendly.
Although they are not as versatile or as neutral, fruit or vegetable juices can often be substituted for the chicken broth in a given recipe. As a cooking liquid for your slow cooker, apple juice, white or traditional grape juice, orange juice and cranberry juice can all be used in various dishes. Tomato juice is a suitable cooking liquid for most meats, and can also be used for vegetable soups and stews. It also adds flavor and color to rice or other grains. Mixed vegetable cocktails can also be used, and are seasoned enough to use for sauce.
When other alternatives are unavailable or impractical, even water can become a substitute for chicken broth. Increase the seasoning in your dish to compensate for using plain water, or infuse the water with suitable flavors first. The French make a poaching liquid called "court-bouillon" by simmering bay leaves, onions, cracked peppercorns and other flavorings, then straining them out before using the water. You can do the same by choosing an appropriate combination of herbs and spices or use a prepared mix such as a ranch seasoning mix, which pairs nicely with both meat and vegetables. Simmer the seasonings in water for at least a 1/2 hour while the flavors infuse. Taste your dish when it's done, and adjust the seasonings if necessary.