Mmm’ mmm good. Mmm’ mmm good. Who doesn’t remember that jingle? Although the famous canned soups of our childhood may satisfy in a pinch, there’s nothing like homemade soup to nourish, comfort and satisfy every appetite. Soup is the ultimate one-pot meal and it is as creative, versatile and flavorful as it is as easy to make. Every day is a good day for soup.
Just about any combination of vegetables, meats or fish cooked in a liquid can qualify as soup. Historically, soups were either elegant food for the wealthy or “peasant” food for the poor. Today, soups are easy to make and most often utilize inexpensive ingredients. (Having said that, don’t compromise on their quality; lackluster ingredients will result in a lackluster soup.) Highly adaptable with little exactness required, the pot rarely needs to be watched closely yet you’ll thoroughly enjoy the mouthwatering aromas filling your kitchen. The end results are not only satisfying and delicious; they’re very forgiving to the busy cook or the chef who’s charged with feeding a crowd.
The quality of the ingredients, especially the stock or broth, will guarantee an exceptional pot of soup. It has been said that stock is the foundation of fine cooking. Good soup begins with good stock. A rich, homemade stock will add a depth of flavor that canned stock (or water) cannot duplicate. If the stock isn’t flavorful, no matter what the other ingredients are, you’re results will be less than delicious. Homemade stock is superior to anything you can purchase and it’s very easy to make. Make much more than your recipe calls for and freeze the additional quantities measured out in volume increments (i.e. 2 cups, 4 cups, 8 cups) so you’ll have it conveniently available to you when you’re inspired to make a pot of soup. Yes, my pantry shelves harbor canned stock, but I use it only in a culinary emergency. Ideally, I’ll have homemade stock in the freezer or I will use a frozen concentrated commercial stock free of preservatives available at the market. Stocks or broths packaged in aseptic or vacuum-packed boxes are preferable to their canned cousins. (Stock and broth are interchangeable terms; unlike broth, stock contains no salt.)
Soups are famously easy to make and require few tools and little equipment to successfully make a splendid soup. Most importantly, you’ll need a soup pot at least four quarts in volume with a heavy bottom which allows for consistent cooking and the avoidance of scalding. A good knife for chopping, a large spoon for stirring, and a ladle for serving into a deep bowl is all you need to complete your dish. For smooth or pureed soups, a food mill or blender is necessary to achieve the right texture. I prefer the hand-held or “stick” blender (an inexpensive tool you’ll find in any kitchen shop) that not only quickly and efficiently purees the soup; it eliminates the need to transfer the hot liquid to another container. With the hand-held blender, you conveniently puree in the same pot in which you’re cooking.
If you have the opportunity, sauté the vegetables before adding to the broth. Once sautéed, the natural sugars contained in the vegetables are released and add great flavor and texture to the soup rather than being just simmered in the liquid. The roasting of ingredients such as tomatoes, squash or peppers adds an incomparable depth of flavor. A variety of spices can add unique flavors and a splash of wine, dry sherry or vinegar will keenly enhance the taste of soup. Garnishes such as croutons, cheese, fresh herbs, cream or a drizzle of flavorful oil are creative finishing touches for the soup bowl that make for a memorable meal.
Homemade Chicken Stock
Making good stock is an inexact science but it’s very easy to do. Use a large stockpot (at least eight quarts) and choose good quality ingredients. Your stock will reflect whatever you put in it. Store it in the refrigerator or up to three days or freeze for up to four months. And always bring your refrigerated or frozen stock to a boil before using.
Makes about 3 to 4 quarts
5 to 6 pounds chicken bones
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, cleaned and cut into quarters
2 ribs celery, cleaned and cut into quarters
½ bunch fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
3 whole cloves
6 whole peppercorns
1. Place the bones in a large stockpot and add cold water up to three-quarters full. Over medium heat, bring to a boil. Once boiling, skin off the surface foam.
2. Add the remaining ingredients; bring to a boil and skim the surface of any foam. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for two hours.
3. Remove the stockpot from the heat and strain the stock into storage containers and allow to cool. Use immediately, refrigerate, or freeze.