How to Make Soup
Rita Maas, FoodPix / Getty ImagesIt's been said that the mark of a good cook is how well he or she makes soup. It's also a good skill to have, since soup is an easy, economical way to feed your family, and stores well in the freezer. Try these tips and tricks and you'll be a simmering up a big pot of your own in no time.
Making soup is a lot easier if you have the right equipment on hand. Here's what you'll need:
Stock pot or Dutch oven: You can execute just about every step in this, but if you're making your own stock, you'll want to have two vessels.
Strainer: You won't need this for every soup, but it comes in handy for making stock, smoothing cream soups and for skimming fat off of soups.
Blender (countertop or immersion): This comes in handy for puréeing smooth soups or thinning out ones that are too chunky.
Frozen bottle of water: It cools down large pots of soup for storage.
Start with Stock
"6 cups stock or water." If you see that listed in the recipe ingredients, don't be fooled into thinking those options are comparable. Good soup starts with good stock and water pales in comparison. The trick to good soups is the layering of flavors, and each layer should contribute.
Homemade stock is best, of course. And it's not hard to make: Try our recipes for Rich Homemade Chicken Stock and Roasted Vegetable Stock.
Tip: The only difference between broth and stock is salt; broth has it and stock doesn't. Many store bought "stocks" are actually broths, so make sure to check the sodium content before buying or using. If you're making stock at home, never add salt to it.
Try: Ratatouille Soup Recipe
Cook the Meat
Season the meat with salt and cook it in the pot with a little bit of olive oil or butter over medium-high heat until it begins to brown. This will accomplish two things; you'll bring out the flavor of the meat and leave behind some tasty bits for when you cook the vegetables and deglaze the pot later. Remove it from the pot and set aside.
Tip: Sea salt and kosher salt have richer, more natural flavor than iodized table salt, making them both better for cooking. Kosher salt is much more economical than sea salt, which can be quite pricey.
Try:White Bean and Sausage Soup Recipe
Cook the Vegetables
Many recipes call for plopping raw vegetables right into the stock. You can do that, but you'll lose a lot of flavor. Sautéing the vegetables first gets a lot of water out, making flavors richer. In the same pot that you cooked the meat, saute the vegetables over medium-high heat with butter, oil and a little bit of salt, until they release their liquids.
Try: Simply Delicious Vegetable Soup Recipe
Pour a little bit of wine or some of the stock into the pot with the vegetables, and scrape the tasty, caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan.
Tip: Always save some extra stock in case you need it later.
Try: French Onion Soup Recipe
Add your stock to the pot with the vegetables and bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Then add the rest of your soup ingredients, like pasta, rice or beans, as well as the browned meat. Season with salt and pepper, keep simmering and don't forget to taste often. If you're making a smooth soup, blend it at the end and add more stock to thin as necessary.
Tip: If you're adding delicate herbs or greens that will wilt, save them for the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking.
If your soup has beans in it, here's what you need to know: Dried beans are more nutritious than canned, and they're much kinder on the digestive system. If you're using dried beans, first soak them in water in the fridge overnight, as they'll cook faster and more evenly. Don't add salt to the stock or water until the dried beans get tender. If you salt them too early, they'll stay tough longer, and they won't soak up any of the delicious flavors of the stock.
If you're using canned beans in soups, don't simmer them for long periods of time, as they'll start to fall apart.
Try: Mexican Black Bean and Beef Soup Recipe
Cream soups are thicker and smoother than their chunky counterparts, and people often think they're harder to make. The steps are basically the same, except after the vegetables are cooked in butter or oil, flour is added to the mixture to thicken it and then the stock is whisked in a little at a time.
Cream soups are almost always puréed and strained at the end as well. Properly made cream soup will have the consistency of heavy cream.
Try: Roasted Cauliflower Soup Recipe
Fixing Soup Mistakes
So you made a soup and it's not quite right. Do you throw out the pot and start over? No way! Try one of these techniques instead:
Too thin: Cook it longer, uncovered. The water will evaporate and the soup base will thicken. Or, make a slurry. Dissolve one tablespoon of cornstarch or flour into two tablespoons of water, and then whisk this into the soup. It should start to thicken in about 10 minutes.
Too thick: Add more stock
Too salty: Add more stock, or water if you're using store-bought stock that contains salt. Or, peel a potato and let it simmer in the pot -- it will draw out some of the salty liquid.
Too bland: Bland food is almost always the result of not enough salt. Don't be afraid of salt.
Try: Oven Roasted Beet Soup Recipe
So you have a giant pot of hot soup or stock on the stovetop, and you want to put it away. Now what?
If you leave it out for hours, bacteria will start to making your soup unsafe for consumption. If you put it right into the refrigerator or freezer, it will raise the temperature inside, causing potential spoilage of everything else you're storing in there.
Instead, freeze a big bottle of water, make sure it's tightly sealed, and plop it right in the middle of the soup. It will speed up the cooling time, and giving you a chance to put the soup away safely.
Try: Italian Tortellini Soup Recipe