Sunday, December 18, 2011

Soup 101

Hawaiian Style Portuguese Bean Soup
As the weather starts to change it makes me think of soup more than I have in the past few months.  So I thought it would be a good time to post on the general idea of soup making.

We clearly all have likes and dislikes, but when it comes to food, I think we are closer to neurotic.  I smile with a clear understanding, when I think about the scene in the movie “When Harry Met Sally”, when Meg Ryan is ordering her food at the diner.  Completely taking it apart and then reassembling it to her personal liking.  I totally get it!  So with that said, I decided to write about the basics to making a soup, yours and yours alone.

I love to make soup with homemade broth which is the optimum choice, but with life’s crazy schedule constantly banging at the door, I sometimes have to take shortcuts to get to the finish line.  That’s when a good canned broth becomes your B.F.F. on soup night.

There are so many things to say about making soup and I won’t be able to mention them all so let’s begin with a few things to consider and keep in the back of your mind when making soup.

I am a big meat eating girl.  I love the addition of all types of meat as my base for making soup.  I use beef, chicken, pork, bacon and sausages; sliced, chopped or ground.  Truly anything can go into a soup.  Pick your favorite meats and vegetables and decide on a broth or cream base and you will soon be making your favorite soup.  I always brown my meat and never just toss it in raw.  The browning brings out the flavor of the meat, which enhances your broth, which is what makes soup so delicious.
For a brothy soup my measure is 9 to 10 cups of liquid, which can be easily cut in half.  I usually use part water and part canned broth.  It really all depends on what is going into my soup.   If I am making a slow simmering soup that has a substantial amount of protein such as beef or chicken, I will consider using all water or a combination of ½ broth and ½ water to give my soup a whole mouth flavor.  If I am making a light Asian style soup my measurements are 1 can (14 oz.) of chicken broth to about 4 cups of water (to equal 6 cups of liquid).  My favorite brand of canned broth is Swanson’s.

Seafood soups like New England or Manhattan chowders are also pretty quick because canned clam juice can be used as your liquid.  Yes, I said canned clam juice; you can buy a 46 oz. can which will be plenty enough for a pot of soup.  Canned clam juice gives the soup the perfect seafood flavor without being fishy.  This would also be your liquid choice if making salmon chowder or Manhattan style tomato broth soup.
Fresh vegetables and herbs give your soup a clean light flavor. I love to add a handful of fresh chopped flat leaf parsley to my soup just before serving, it adds a garden freshness that otherwise wouldn’t be present.  I use about 1 – 2 tsp. kosher salt for this amount of liquid and ¼ tsp. thyme and/or oregano as my herb.  To add a touch of heat I start with ¼ tsp. of red pepper flakes and go up to 1 tsp. (depending on whom I’m feeding) this can be in addition to black, red or white pepper.  A can of tomatoes or a large fresh tomato, chopped, will enhance the soup giving it a hummm… flavor without being present, trust me, it makes a world of difference.  When using canned tomatoes always add a pinch or two of sugar to balance the acidity, this equates into about 1/8 to ¼ tsp. depending if you want one pinch or two.
If I want a bit more body in my soup I will toss 1 – 2 Tbsp. flour with the meat before I brown it.  Barley, potatoes, rice, beans and pasta will also add more body to the soup resulting in a thicker broth that is heartier.  Smashing or pureeing half or all of the beans or potatoes will also give your soup nice body.

Barley takes about 30 – 45 minutes to cook which makes it a great addition to beef soups because the barley and beef will be tender just about the same time.
After everything is prepped the soup pretty much cooks itself.  When making beef soups I set my timer for 30 minutes (to tenderize the beef) then add pretty much everything else and start the timer again for 30 minutes.  That gives me almost an hour to get other things done around the house or possibly relax.  Because as I’m sure you are aware, a watched pot never boils.  For most other soups everything can go in the pot at the same time and be ready in about 30 – 45 minutes.
Do I cover the pot or not?  It all depends on what you are trying to achieve.  Covering keeps the heat moist, moving almost in a circular motion getting pushed back into the pot when it hits the lid.  This results in very little evaporation with the contained heat cooking the ingredients quicker and more evenly.  But if you are looking for evaporation that will reduce your liquid and make its flavor more intense, leave the cover off.  This I usually decide as I am making my soup and ask myself, “What will make this soup taste the best?”  A bit of cooks intuition is always helpful in the kitchen.
Should I keep it at a simmer or a slow boil?  That all depends on what’s in your pot, I keep all the delicate items like can beans, kale, peas or cream out until the end so they won’t break or break up.
I emphasize that it is important to play with your food.  When you create your own special blend of soup do share it with me.  I can hardly wait to see/taste what you create.

I made up a couple of soups recently and thought I would share it with you to give you an Idea or inspiration for your next pot of soup.

½             pound                   Italian Sausage, Hot
1              small                      onion, chopped
1              stalk                       celery, chopped
1              clove                     garlic, minced
1              med                       tomato, diced
1              14 oz. can            chicken broth
1              14 oz. can            beef broth
2              cups                       water
1              med                       carrot, diced
1              med                       red skin potato, diced
¼             tsp.                        dried thyme
¼             tsp.                        black pepper
1              tsp.                        kosher salt
½             bunch                   kale, rough chopped (tough stems removed)

Heat a heavy bottom pot over med heat and brown sausage.  Add onions, celery and garlic and cook until onions are soft.  Add tomato, both broths and water.  Add carrots, potatoes, thyme, pepper and salt.  Bring to a boil and let simmer covered for 30 minutes or until carrots and potatoes are cooked.  Remove cover and add kale; cook for about 5 – 10 min or until kale has wilted.

After Thanksgiving I always have a turkey carcuss, wing parts and at least one drumstick.  The best way to make the broth is to place all the parts into a heavy bottom stock pot and place it in a 450 degree oven for about 40 – 45 minutes.  This allows the bones and parts to get very flavorful as well as give your soup broth a nice caramel color.

After your bones are roasted place the pot on the stove over low heat and carefully add 1 – 1 ½ gallons of cold tap water.  Cover and let simmer for 2 – 3 hours.  Remove the bones and set on the side to cool.  When the bones are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones to add to the soup later.

This will be too much broth for me to use so I will freeze the rest of the broth to use later.


6              cups                       turkey broth
2              cups                       turkey meat
1              small                      onion, chopped small
1              stalk                       celery, chopped small
1              clove                     garlic, minced
1              whole                   bay leaf
1              med                       carrot, diced
1              med                       red skin potato, diced
1              med                       tomato, diced
1              cup                         frozen peas
½             cup                         fresh parsley, chopped
¼             tsp.                        dried thyme
¼             tsp.                        red pepper flakes
¼             tsp.                        black pepper
1 ½         tsp.                        kosher salt

Heat a heavy bottom pot over med-low heat.  Add about 1 Tbsp. oil or butter to the pot and add onions, celery, garlic, carrots, potato and bay leaf.  Stir and cover; cook for about 10 minutes; stirring occasionally or until onions are soft.

Uncover the pot and add tomato, peas, parsley, seasonings, turkey and broth.  Stir to mix, cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until potato and carrots are soft.


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