Does anybody remember the story of the "stone soup?" Travelers were passing through a village with empty soup pots. As they arrived the villagers refused to give them anything to make soup with. Then they said, "screw this"...not literally.
So they went down to the stream, filled up their biggest pot with water and dropped a large stone in it to cook. As they were cooking their soup one of the villagers came by with curiosity and asked what they were making. They said they were making stone soup and it tastes wonderful. But if they had a few other vegetables it would make it taste much better. So the one villager didn't mind parting with a few carrots he had. So a long story short, the other villagers heard about this "stone soup" and contributed with little vegetables they had and of course at the end of it all they all created this wonderful soup just from some random vegetables and...love.
I'm sure there's some type of meaning behind this story but this is my blog and I blog about food.
Soup to many people is kind of like Fried Rice to Asians. When you look in your refrigerator you see a little bit of this, half of that, leftovers from the other day and a week old container of something. So what do Asian people do with all of this? Make fried rice! Because we always have rice in our refrigerator. Same goes with soup. Soup is that one dish that really teaches you how understand food. How do I develop more flavor? Do I use water or broth? Did I use too much liquid? How do I make it thick? How do I make it thin? Should I season more? So there's so many factors in making soup "taste good."
As anal as I am about cooking, I will say this. There is NO WRONG WAY to make soup. BUT, there are better ways of making it. Instead of corn starch, use a roux. Instead of dumping food into boiling water, dump it into cold water and then turn it on. Instead of using water, use broth. Instead of using broth, use stock! Haha!
Honestly though, making soup really is a lost art. With all these packages of chicken base where all you add is water and you get chicken broth...it's all garbage. These little packages are filled with all kind of stuff like MSG (monosodium glutamate), which has been banned from a few states, sodium and of course more stuff that you can't even pronounce. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy a Cup of Noodle once in awhile because I grew up on the stuff. But if you have any type of respect for yourself and the people you're serving then you can make me happy by staying within these few guidelines.
Whether its chicken broth, veal stock, vegetable broth or even water. Please make sure there's as much flavor in it as possible. If you don't know how to do that then you can read back on my entry about stocks, read back on my risotto entry or just ask! The liquid is going make up about 70% of the soup. So keep that in mind.
-Make sure everything is the same size.
When you cut your vegetables or meat for your soup make sure they are consistent. By doing this everything will cook evenly and your diner will be able to fit a little bit of everything on their spoon. Nobody wants to eat a BIG piece of potato and a small piece of chicken at the same time...nobody.
-Don't use so much oil.
If you think what you put in the pot isn't enough, then it's probably enough. A little bit of oil goes a long way. Remember, if you're cooking meat too, then there's a good chance that meat will give off some type of fat. There's nothing worse then oil floating at the top of your soup. If you notice that there's too much oil/fat in the pot before you add your liquid, there's a neat trick to get rid of it and give your soup some texture. Add a little bit of flour to the mix. The flour will soak up all fat and dry out your pot (which is good). And this of course creates a what? A ROUX! So if anything, it'll actually thicken your soup just a little bit.
-Cook your food before adding your liquid.
As I said before, there is no wrong way to make soup. Of course you can take your broth and dump and bunch of vegetables and meat in it and put it on the fire. I'm sure it'll taste fine. But if you saute your food before you add your broth, it'll be ten times better. I promise (I never promise). By cooking your vegetables and protein just a little before adding the liquid will break down cell walls in the food releasing natural oils and sugars that will go right into the soup. What do you like better? Caramelized onions or raw onions? I thought so.
-Do not boil your soup.
After you've added your liquid, bring it to a boil and immediately turn it down to a simmer. Don't let it boil for too long. You don't want your vegetables to turn into mush and you don't want to overcook your proteins. That's right, you can most definitely overcook meat in soup. Even though it's in a liquid, it can still get tough and rubbery. Seriously, don't let it boil.
-Let it cook.
You can't rush perfection. After it's come to a boil and you've turned it down to a simmer, let it cook for awhile. 10 minutes, 15 minutes...whatever you want. Just know the longer you cook it, the more flavor that will come out of the food and into the soup. Think of marinara sauce. Though it's not a soup, it's the same concept. Allowing it to cook for awhile marries all the flavors together. But unlike marinara, I do not recommend cooking your soup for more than 25 minutes after you've turned it down to a simmer. Anything after that, we're venturing off into stewing..and that's for a different entry.
-Don't use corn starch to thicken.
If you go back to my "Don't be so roux-ed" entry, that'll show you how to thicken properly. Corn starch makes things gummy. To me it doesn't thicken properly. Ever have Chinese food and there's some type of thick sauce that looks a little runny? Almost 99.999 percent of the time they used a buttload of corn starch to thicken it. That's not how you want your soup to look like. Trust me.
It seems like a lot to remember. But if you follow at least one step every time you make soup you'll notice a difference. I promise.
Once you've got the hang of understanding soups and flavor development, etc...then you can pretty much apply that to anything that has liquid. Poaching, stewing, braising...you'll be a pro in no time. But remember, you won't get it the first time. Expect to fail to succeed.