Soup Basics

Soup Basics

The Three Bs

Whether you’re following a recipe or improvising, the steps remain the same. This basic formula will yield about 6 cups soup—enough for 4 bowl-sized servings.

BROWN For a meaty soup, heat 2 tablespoons butter or oil over medium heat and cook up to 1 pound of bacon, sausage, or cubes of pork shoulder or beef chuck until the meat begins to brown and crisp, 5 to 10 minutes.

Add aromatic vegetables and cook until they start to color and soften (for vegetarian soup, start here): Cook at least 2 cups chopped aromatics—like onions, shallots, celery, carrots, garlic, and/or ginger in the butter or oil until they’re soft and golden, 5 to 10 minutes. Remember to sprinkle with lots of salt and pepper. Once everything is sizzling and browned, add herbs or spices, tomato paste, or citrus zest. Start with small quantities (say a teaspoon or two); you can always add more when finishing the soup.

BROTH Broth is the result of cooking liquid with the flavor base you created in the Brown step. You can use water, stock, juice, wine, beer, or a combination. Go easy on juice or wine, since they have a strong flavor, but a splash mixed with water or stock can be wonderful. Chopped tomatoes—fresh or canned—are another option to replace some of the liquid. They become saucy and add a brightness that complements many other ingredients. Start with 4 cups liquid, and as the soup cooks, be prepared to add up to 2 cups more, depending on how much other stuff you end up adding to the pot. The goal is about 1½ cups of soup for each serving.

BOIL Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat so that the mixture bubbles steadily but not vigorously. You can now add other ingredients, starting with those that take the longest time to cook and working to the fastest-cooking items. Precooked additions (like noodles and leftover vegetables, meat, or poultry) need just a minute to warm up in the hot soup just before serving. It’s almost impossible to overcook soup; even if the vegetables are mushy, it will be good. So relax, check it once in a while to see if you need to add more liquid, and let it do its thing until it looks, well, soupy and the textures please you. Taste and adjust the seasonings, then grab the ladle and bowls.
Scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the flavorful browned bits disperses them in the broth.

Puréeing Soup

Puréeing quickly turns everyday soup into a rich, smooth, impressive treat. You probably don’t want to purée anything with more than a couple of primary ingredients to keep the flavors and color distinct.

USE A POTATO MASHER The easiest way to smooth out soup is with a potato masher—just stick it in the pot and press down and swirl around to break things up a bit. You won’t get a purée, but the lack of hassle is unbeatable. And I like the contrasting textures.
OR USE A MACHINE Ultra-smooth soup requires a blender: Let the soup cool slightly first. Then carefully fill the container a little more than halfway, put the lid on, and start at low or medium speed until the liquid is moving. If you go full blast right away, the hot soup may splatter out the top and burn you, so build up to a higher speed. (Holding a towel over the blender lid helps keep you safe.) If you have more soup left to purée, scrape the puréed soup into a large bowl or another pot and repeat the process.
FINISH PURÉED SOUP Put the mixture back in the pot over medium heat to make it hot again. If it’s too thick, add some cream, milk, stock, or water to thin it out. Start with a splash and go from there. (When adding dairy, make sure the soup is just barely bubbling and never comes to a rolling boil, which can cause the soup to curdle.) Just before serving, taste and adjust the seasoning as usual.

Smarter Water

I won’t kid you: Soup made with stock will always taste richer and have a more luxurious texture than soup made with water. But this is important: It’s better to make soup with water than not to make soup at all. The water will obviously assume the flavors of whatever else goes in the pot, so, in effect, it becomes stock as you cook.

Here are a few ways to improve water-based soups:

1 Be patient with the aromatic vegetables as they brown and soften in the fat and add more of them for extra oomph.
2 Use good-quality vegetables and meats.
3 Don’t skimp on herbs, spices, salt, or pepper.
4 Add a splash of wine, juice, or soy sauce with the water.
5 Finish the soup with a drizzle of olive oil or a pat of butter.

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