Catalyst Cooks

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Achieve the Perfect Soup! December 12, 2011

As soon as the first snowflakes fall and the temperature begins to drop, I am in the mood for some good comfort food- and the king of them all at my house is SOUP.  Here’s what you can do with all of that awesome turkey stock you have leftover from Thanksgiving (and only if it’s been in your freezer!)

The basic steps of making a great soup usually lead to a great result.  This is not a recipe but rather a set of 5 techniques that will give you creative license to make your own version of soup.  Put on your apron and get your creative juices flowing!

1.  AROMATICS.  Heat up some oil or fat in a Dutch oven (soup pot) over medium to medium high heat.  When it’s hot, add diced Onion, Carrot, Celery, Fennel, Leeks, Bell peppers (or any combination thereof).  Garlic is also an aromatic but is added last in the process (see step 2).

2.  CARAMELIZE  Allow the aromatics to soften and release their juices.  Onions and celery will become transluscent.  Add garlic after this has happened, as it only needs to be in the pan for up to 1 minute to release its oils, otherwise it may burn (which tastes bad!)  If you are adding raw meat to your soup (such as ground beef), you also want that to caramelize.  The key to great caramelization is to ALLOW THE VEGGIES AND MEAT TO SIT ON THE HEAT WITHOUT BEING STIRRED.  Put your spoon down and do something else for a few minutes while the veggies and/or meat get a nice brown crust.  Gray meat doesn’t taste good, but brown meat tastes GREAT!

3.  DEGLAZE.  Choose a liquid to add to your soup.  I usually use wine at this step, enough to cover the bottom of your pot and barely cover your veggies/meat.  Turn the heat up to high, add your liquid, and use a wooden spoon to release the nice brown bits on the bottom of your pan from the caramelization step.  This is called Deglazing and it adds immesurable flavor to your soup, and all in the matter of about one minute.  Reduce the heat to simmer and allow the liquid to reduce by about half.

4.  MAIN FLAVOR/SUPPORTING CAST.  Now your soup is ready for some flavor.  If it’s roasted squash, add that with some additional liquid (such as chicken or vegetable stock, or even water).  If it’s tomato, which are already quite liquid-y, add them and then see if you need to add more liquid (as long as it’s not milk or cream, as dairy will go in last).  If you’re doing a poultry/bean soup, add your cooked and cubed meat and softened beans at this step and some stock.   There should be enough liquid so that when you bring your pot to high heat, there is something to boil.  Once it’s at boiling, reduce to simmer (watch for the steam coming off the top of your soup).  This is also where you can adjust the texture of the soup by using a stick blender to create a “creamier soup” (by blending part of the soup and adding it back to the main pot or blending the entire thing).  Get your tasting spoons ready!

5.  SPICE.  This is bringing the soup to a finish.  Taste your creation and see what it needs  I always have salt, pepper, and an acid ready (white wine vinegar for a light colored soup and red wine vinegar for a darker colored soup, or lemon or lime juice).   I taste and add other herbs or spices a bit at a time as I go.  With practice you will begin to learn what flavor combinations taste great to you.  If you’re nervous, take a bit of your soup into a separate bowl and add a bit of spice and see how you like it before you commit to adding to the big pot.  Or you may smell the spice and then the soup to see if the smells go together.  I often taste and adjust, taste and adjust many times before I consider the soup finished.  This is really where you have the opportunity to hit a home run!


Now you’ve got the five steps… go forth and conquer and make a great soup!!!  (what flavor combinations sound good to you?)


One Response to “Achieve the Perfect Soup!”

  1. Rebekah Says:

    This is a SUPER helpful post on making soup from scratch! Thanks, Jen!

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