Soup Basics

Lobster Bisque

When my husband and I first married, he began asking the nightly question, “What’s for dinner?” Whenever the answer was “soup,” his shoulders would visibly fall and he would look as if I just kicked his puppy. For him, soup was a flavorless broth of soggy vegetables that was strictly reserved for lunchtime in a cheap diner — not the type of meal that would satisfy a hungry soldier. This prejudice was fostered by the mistake that many people make: throwing all their ingredients into a pot, bringing it to a boil, then calling it done. Soup can be so much more than that when you take the time to follow these few basic steps:

  • Make your soup a day ahead — the flavors only intensify by time spent in the fridge.
  • Whenever possible, start with a homemade stock, it makes a noticeable difference in taste. (Keep in mind, stocks can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer for 4-5 months. For recipes and instructions on freezing and storing your stock, check out my tips in Homemade Stocks.)
  • Brown the meat and sauté the veggies in your soup pot before adding the stock. Not only does this deepen the flavor, it also helps keep the meat from getting tough and the veggies from getting mushy while they cook in the broth.
  • Many soups (especially stews) benefit from a long simmer time, so read each recipe carefully to ensure you’ve allowed enough time for the flavors to develop and the soup to thicken to the proper consistency. If you don’t have a few hours to wait by the stove, put your soup in a crockpot and let it cook while you go about your day.
  • Wait to add your starch (pasta, rice, potatoes, corn) until 30 minutes before removing your soup from the heat to avoid overcooking them. Dried beans and other long-cooking ingredients, such as lentils and barley, will need to be added early in the process to allow them time to become tender.
  • Allow your soup to cool completely before covering. Covering too soon creates condensation on the lid, which can drip into your soup and dilute the flavor.
  • Refrigerate your soup overnight (and up to 3-5 days) before serving to allow the flavors to marry. I realize I mentioned this point already, but it bears repeating.
  • Reheat your soup slowly, then test for seasoning. The flavors will change the longer the soup rests, so be sure not to over season the soup before refrigerating it — you can always add more spice, but you can’t take it out.
  • Preheat your bowls before serving. Soup, especially cream-based soups or lighter broths like chicken noodle, can cool down very quickly. To ensure that your soup arrives to the table pipping hot, pour boiling water into each bowl and let sit a few minutes while you attend to your final preparations. When you’re ready to ladle the soup, simply pour out the water and give the bowl a quick wipe with a clean kitchen towel.
  • Add a finishing touch — it makes all the difference in the world! Once you’ve poured the soup into the bowls, top it with a sprinkle of herbs, a grating of cheese, a squeeze of citrus, a toasty crouton, or a savory pile of chopped bacon. This not only gives your soup a punch of flavor, it makes for a nice presentation.
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