Tips for Making Great Soups
There is nothing more satisfying on a cold winter night than a great bowl of homemade soup. One pot meals were very common in my household growing up with six siblings and my mom and dad really knew how to stretch those dollars with a big pot of soup, stew, beans or something. And of course every leftover became a new meal; like leftover rice became rice pudding and mashed potatoes became potato pancakes. No wonder I learned to be so creative in my cooking.
Start with a delicious liquid and use quality ingredients
High-quality stock is the backbone of any soup recipe. A good stock or broth that includes flavorful ingredients and just the right seasonings can create a delicious pot of soup. Although not difficult to make, stock does require a couple hours of cooking time, but the flavorful result is well worth the effort. Making stock also is a great way to use up items that would otherwise be thrown out, such as bones, shells, celery leaves, and carrot tops.
What is the difference between chicken stock and chicken broth?
Chicken stock comes from the bones and gristle of the chicken, while chicken broth is made from the meat. Because of this, chicken stock has what cooks describe as a “fuller” feel, meaning a richer flavor, as the gelatin in the chicken bones becomes part of the liquid. In general, broths are a byproduct of preparing another food item, and not prepared for their own sake. For example, the juices from roasting a turkey are also considered broth. Chicken stock, on the other hand, is prepared for its own sake as an ingredient, must be simmered for a long period of time — and is not salted.
You can use chicken broth for many purposes, such as adding it to vegetables and other seasonings to increase the flavor. For example, chicken broth will bring out the flavor in various foods including carrots, parsley, onions and garlic. Chicken stock, because of its richer flavor, is the right ingredient for soups, like chicken noodle soup
With all that being said, the difference between stock and broth is primarily confined to the restaurant and professional culinary world. In our home kitchens, the terms are totally interchangeable. In grocery stores, “stock” and “broth” are both used to describe the same product – sometimes salted and sometimes not. If you are not making your own, I recommend you purchase brands with the least amount of sodium (salt) since that will give you the most control with my own your seasoning.
- Soups are mostly water and often disguised as broth or stock, wine or milk, so whatever liquid you choose for your soups, use one that you would want to drink.
- As often as you can, take advantage of fresh, seasonal ingredients. If you cannot find the right vegetables for your soup, you could use frozen vegetables with good success, but do not use canned vegetables. Some of those refrigerated leftovers also work well.
- Stock freezes well, so you can save unused portions for future recipes. If you’re freezing the stock rather than using it immediately, cool it quickly in a bowl of ice water, and freeze or refrigerate it immediately. You can also freeze in ice trays. To make a tasty soup out of stock, add your choice of meat, vegetables, seasonings, rice, or noodles, and simmer until tender.
- When adding wine to soups, be sure to bring it to a boil and let it cook approximately five to 10 minutes to cook off the harshness of the alcohol.
- For cream- or milk-based soups, be sure you use fresh dairy products (this is not the time to make use of your expired cartons!)
Sweat the Aromatics
This is something you probably do when you are cooking, but might not have realized what it was called.
Aromatics include onions, leeks, garlic, and often celery and carrots. Cooking them over low to medium heat in the pan before adding any liquid will help soften their texture and blend their flavors. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft but not browning, about 5 minutes. The goal is to break down their cellulose (it really makes it easier if you are planning to puree) and get them to give off some of their liquid, which will deepen the flavor of the soup.
Peel and chop onions as uniformly as you can so they cook evenly.
Use the Right Tools
All you really need is a heat-proofed vessel and heat, but for the best results, a large heavy pot is ideal. And if happen to have an immersion blender, that is a huge plus. And of course a soup ladle is a must have if you plan to make soups on a regular basis.
Salt in Layers
Canned and prepared soups are known to be high in sodium and there is a reason: all that water takes a lot of salt to flavor!
Practice salting in layers: I prefer to use Kosher Salt or Sea Salt which you can find in most grocery stores. Add some salt to the aromatics and other vegetables as you cook them. If you’re cooking the meat separately, make sure it is well seasoned before it goes into the pot. And, most importantly, taste it before serving and add salt until you taste a hike-up in flavor, then stop!
Hit it with Freshness
You’ve taken the time to use great ingredients and you’ve cooked and salted perfectly. So why not make the most of it all before it hits the table? Add a bit of something fresh right at the end. Fresh herbs, fresh citrus juice, a dollop or two of cream or yogurt. A hit of something un-cooked and un-simmered will highlight the deep, delicious, melded flavors in the rest of the soup.
Garnish Like a Pro
Go beyond chopped parsley and freshly ground black pepper (although they both make great garnishes for many soups). The best soup garnishes offer a contrasting flavor or texture to both compliment and highlight the soup. Here are some ideas:
Some soups require a garnish, like sour cream in borscht, a Gruyère-topped crouton for French onion, or rouille-spread toasts with bouillabaisse.
For everyday soups…
- Try a sprinkling of freshly minced herbs (whichever kind you used in cooking the soup).
- For curried soups and Mexican-influenced soups, stir lime juice into sour cream or yogurt with a pinch of sugar; spoon onto soup just before serving.
- A little grated ginger, finely chopped orange zest, or a dash of curry powder are also good in a cream topping for curried soups.
- You can, of course, change the flavorings according to the kind of soup you’ve made; a dollop of cream will also help tone down the fire in spicy soups.
- Toasted bread, unbuttered croutons, crackers, or baked tortilla chips add a satisfying crunch.
- A spoonful of salsa, or a few chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, scallions, or cucumbers add a cool, fresh taste to your soup.
- A dusting of finely grated hard cheese such as Parmesan, Romano, or Emmenthaler, adds lots of flavor but not much fat.
- Garnishes give pureed soups a visual lift. Try a spoonful of sour cream, a drizzle of peppery olive oil, or a handful of homemade croutons.
Homemade Broth/Stock Recipes