Soup Secrets – Everything you want to know

Sep 24, 2018 | Cooking Tips, Soups

A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.

Abraham Maslow

The first day of fall has come and gone. The temperature outside has been cut in half in the last week and the autumn winds are howling. That can only mean one thing. It’s mother flippin’ soup time.

Everyone can make soup. Put water in a pot, add some vegetables, cook them, and eat the vegetables with the water. That’s soup. Not very good soup, but it is soup. Today, we don’t want to talk about mediocre soup. We want to talk about how you can make kick-ass soup. How you can make the kind of soup that people crave and dream about. The kind of soup that keeps people coming back for more. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.

Soup Foundations

Like literally everything else in life good soup starts with a solid foundation. If the base sucks, it’s going to be hard to compensate for that later. So, what then should you use as the base of your soup? Well, I think it’s obvious that it depends on the soup you’re making. But, let’s look at a few options.

Water

The use of water as a base for soups should be fairly limited. Generally, I only use water for pureed soups like butternut squash or curried carrot. It’s not the end of the world if you use water as the base of other soups but why wouldn’t you take the opportunity to add flavour as soon as possible by using stock.

Stock

Stock is essentially flavoured water. It is made by simmering bones with vegetables in water to extract flavour compounds. Alternatively, vegetable and mushroom stock can be made by simmering just vegetables or mushrooms and vegetables. A stock can be made out of just about anything and makes a great soup base. For a lighter stock simmer the raw or lightly cooked bones. For a stock with a deeper more intense flavour and a darker colour roast the bones until browned prior to making the stock.

Match the stock to your main ingredient. If you are making vegetable soup, start with a vegetable stock. Beef and barley soup, start with beef stock. Chicken noodle… you should be getting this by now.

Chicken stock makes a great all-purpose stock. It can be used for almost any soup as long as it isn’t vegetarian or vegan.

Broth

Broth is like stock but even more flavourful. Broth is even made in pretty much the exact same way as stock. Pretty much the only difference between stock and broth is that stock is made from bones, and broth is made from meat. So, to make chicken stock you would simmer the chicken bones. To make chicken broth you would simmer the whole chicken.

Brother is richer as well as more flavourful than stock. It generally has a higher fat and gelatin content and so feels more impactful on the palate.

Broth is what something like consomee would be made from.

Milk or Cream

Okay, it’s actually fairly rare to make a soup from straight milk or cream. Generally, a milk would be thickened and stabilized with a roux (equal parts flour and butter). However, whole milk or cream are sometimes used without a thickener in some chowders.

More often than not, a cream soup would be made with a veloute which is stock thickened with a roux. The soup would be made this way and then just prior to being served a bit of cream or whole milk would be added to the soup to give the appearance of a cream based soup. The benefit of this is that the soup made with the veloute is generally lighter and more flavourful than one made with straight milk or cream. There is an added benefit in reduced cost to prepare the soup as well. Dairy can be expensive so using as little as possible is easier on the bank account.

Soup Ingredients

Once you have your base it is time to figure out what other ingredients you would like to add. Start with vegetables and work your way up from there.

Vegetables

In French cooking, it is common to start most soups with what is known as mirepoix. This is two parts onion, one part celery and one part carrot. This combination creates a base flavour that other flavours can easily be built upon.

The other vegetables you add depends on the type of soup your making but there aren’t really any rules here. However, depending on what you are making you may want to roast some or all of your vegetables to get a more intense flavour. This can be true of most soups but is best used when making a pureed vegetable soup. Roasted butternut squash soup sounds and tastes better than butternut squash soup. As does roasted tomato soup.

Starchy Ingredients

When it comes to starchy ingredients like rice, pasta, lentils and things like that it is often best to leave them out of the soup until the last minute. This is especially true if you are planning on storing the soup for any length of time. These ingredients will continue to absorb liquid as they sit in the soup eventually just turning to mush. Cook them separately and add them only to the portion of soup that you will be eating. This will keep your soup consistent over the few days it sits in the fridge or when you pull it out of the freezer.

When to add ingredients

There is such a thing as cooking the flavour out of your ingredients and you don’t want to do that. You also want ingredients to have structure. Unless it’s pureed you don’t want to be eating mush. Some ingredients take longer to cook than others like onions and celery. Carrots, potatoes, and turnips all take about the same amount of time to cook so add them together. Dried and soaked beans take a lot longer to cook than canned beans or pretty much anything else. Green vegetables like green beans or peas should be added as close to the end of cooking as possible to avoid overcooking and discolouration.

Meats that are cooked should be added at the last minute as should grains and most legumes. This will prevent these ingredients from falling apart and affecting the texture of the soup.

Herbs and Spices

When it comes to herbs and spices the general rule is that dried ingredients go in near the beginning of cooking and fresh ingredients go in nearer the end. This is not a firm rule but is common practice. I generally will add whole herbs tied in bunches near the beginning of cooking and chopped herbs near the end. Again, you don’t want to cook the flavour out of your ingredients.

Temperature

Believe it or not, the temperature at which you cook your soup effects the flavour and appearance of your soup. You don’t want to boil your soup. The high temperature can destroy flavour compounds and render your ingredients all but tasteless. Also, the agitating effect of boiling can cause broth soups to turn cloudy and vegetables to break down.

Conclusion

I hope that this didn’t over complicate soup for you. It really is not that complicated and most of the effort is simply in conceptualizing your soup. Once you get the basics down you can make a truly delicious soup out of almost anything and in very little time.

This is the time of year that we all can finally start to experiment with soups again. I know I’m looking forward to it.

Get cooking.

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