There is nothing quite like a hot bowl of soup on a cold dreary day to warm the body and lift the soul. Whether it is a simple vegetable, a complex mulligatawny, a creamy bisque, or an all healing bowl of chicken noodle, the importance of soup cannot be understated.
No matter who you are or where you’re from I bet you have a favorite soup. Something your mother or father made for you when you were feeling under the weather, or when you came in from outside on a cold winters day. Maybe, you’ve realized by now, like I have, that soup is more than a food, it is a feeling. I believe the healing power of chicken noodle soup is not so much in the soup itself, but in knowing that someone cares enough about you to take the time to make you a bowl. To me, that is what a bowl of soup is. It is love. It is compassion. Most importantly, soup above all else, is delicious.
Soup is one of those things that can be made from just about anything. It can be incredibly simple or complex. Either way, it can be amazing. The important thing to remember about soup is that you want to draw as much flavor out of your ingredients as possible. How do you do this? There are many different ways depending on the ingredients you are using, but I will give you some examples.
Before I get into the examples I have something to tell you about. You may know and you may not. If you don’t know, this will expand your mind not only when making soup but sauces, stews, stocks,even rice to name a few things. This secret, the thing that I start all soups with is called mirepoix. There are many different kinds of mirepoix but the standard is celery, carrots, and onion, usually in equal parts. You can also substitute some of these ingredients such as celeriac (celery root) for the celery, or leeks for the onions. You can also add parsnip in place of or alongside the carrots. These three basic ingredients used as the base of a soup, stock, stew, or sauce will make just about everything alright.
Okay, now that we have talked about mirepoix let’s get into some examples of how you can extract the most flavor from your ingredients. Keep in mind these principles don’t only hold true to soup. What I am about to share with you can enhance the flavor of any dish. Ready?
Roast. Unless you are making a consomme or something where your desired outcome is a very light and translucent broth, roast your ingredients. The reason for not doing this for a consomme is because of the rich dark colour your broth will have from the roasted ingredients. For just about all other purposes roasting vegetables, or bones is a great way to develop some deep, rich flavors.
To roast vegetables or bones you want a very hot oven. Usually around 400-450 degrees. If you are making a pureed vegetable soup cut the vegetables into chunks, put in a roasting pan, drizzle with a little olive oil and salt and pepper then toss them in the oven. Depending on your oven it will take between 15 and 25 minutes to get a rich caramelized colour on your vegetables. It is the same process for bones though, you can forgo the olive oil and it will take a bit longer. You are looking for rich dark colours without burning.
Tomatoes or tomato paste. Why? Well, tomatoes when roasted with your other vegetables add another level of depth to the overall flavor of your soup. Tomato paste does the same thing except without all the seeds and skin you get from the tomatoes. If you decided to use tomato paste, which I recommend, toss it in with your roasting vegetables about 10 minutes before they are done. The paste doesn’t have to be evenly distributed over all the vegetables but try to spread it out as much as possible.
Acid. An acid such as citrus juice or vinegar will give your soup a nice finish. The acid has the ability to cut through the fats that are present in your soup making it so that the flavors don’t all just get jumbled on your palette. This is true with a lot of dishes. In professional kitchens we use acids in most things we make to really bring the flavors to life. What acid you choose depends on what you are cooking. For example; if you are making a soup with pork, depending on the other flavors present I would recommend cider vinegar, or orange juice. Keep in mind though that orange juice has a very strong flavor and is not as acidic as some other citrus so used in combination with another acid it can really do wonders for your dish. For a simple vegetable soup a splash of white wine vinegar, or a few squeezes of a lemon will make the flavors pop.
I should explain something before I move forward. Ideally, with any dish you create you will have layers of flavor. Such as, but not limited to a start, a middle, and a finish. For example let’s say I braised some beef short ribs in coffee and mushrooms and it came out perfectly. I had added a bit of red wine vinegar for the acid, I roasted my mirepoix, everything went right. If you were to take a bite of it you would hopefully experience something like this;
First you would smell the herbs and other aromatics as the mouth full headed towards your lips (smell and taste go hand in hand). Once beef was in your mouth you would initially taste the strong flavors. You would get a hint of sweetness from the roasted vegetables and slight kick from the herbs I used in the sauce. Secondly, all the flavors would mute and your palette would be left with the lingering memory of the initial flavor. Thirdly, the acid in the food and the saliva in your mouth would begin to do their job cutting through the fat of the meat and bringing forward the deep, rich, earthy tones from the mushrooms, coffee, and of course the beef. Finally, you would likely get a slight bitterness at the back of your tongue from the coffee and the tomato paste in my mirepoix setting you up for the initial sweetness of the next bite.
That is what you hope for when building flavor. It seems much more complex than it actually is. Just follow my simple tips and you will be amazed at the depth you get from your dishes.
Salt. I cannot begin to express the importance of salt or the significance of using it properly. This also goes not only for soup but for food in general. Okay, how do you know if you are using slat correctly? Can you taste the salt? If so you are using it wrong. Does your food taste bland? Again, you are using it wrong. I play guitar. I would not play guitar without tuning my instrument first. It would sound terrible. Salt is tuning. Salt enhances all the flavors around it. That’s why using the right amount of salt can take a somewhat bland dish and make it really stand out. If you use too much though, it will ruin your dish. How do you know if you have used enough or too much? That is simple.
TASTE!! I cannot express to you the importance of tasting your food. I know that for many of you this may seem obvious, but I fear there are a lot of people out there who don’t taste their food as they cook. That is one of the best things about cooking. You can correct as you go. Taste, need a little more herbs? Add some and taste again. Taste, need a little more salt? Add some and taste again. Taste, need a little more acid? Add some and taste again. TASTE YOUR FOOD!!
Butter. If you are making a cream based soup, or a pureed soup and you really want to push the richness and the overall flavor, whisk in a few tablespoons of butter at the end. I’m not going to even bother explaining this one. Just do it. Also, use butter with everything.
I am not going to give you any specific recipes today as I am have to start getting ready for work. I do hope that you find this post useful and that it inspires you to get in your kitchen and cook. As always if you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them in the comment section and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Thanks for reading.
Until next time.