Once Labor Day has passed, and fall is in the air, it’s time to start thinking about soup. There’s nothing like a bowl of chunky, satisfying soup on a nippy day, to warm the cockles of your heart.
Soups come in all colors, textures, and tastes. In fact, I think it’s safe to say there’s probably a soup to to suit every palate.
In Ireland, we describe a chunky soup by saying:
“There’s eating and drinking in that.”
Remember, in this case, the word “eating” is usually pronounced in a manner similar to “eightin”, as in the number 8.
But whether you prefer drinking a clear, soothing broth, or eating a thick, substantial stew, I’m quite certain there is an Irish soup for you.
In the next few weeks and months I plan to share some of my favorite soup and stew recipes.
I know some people feel a recipe is unnecessary for concocting a perfect soup, sticking to the motto:
“You can’t go wrong with soup.”
Truthfully, you can and you can’t go wrong with soup. For some all-in-the-pot, mix-it-all-together kind of soups, they taste delicious no matter what. But on the other hand, you can go very, very wrong with more delicate, puréed soups, that require the perfectly flavored stock, the right amount of seasoning, or a dash of cream or milk to add depth, and an underlying richness.
To prepare for the “soup making season” I thought a post on some basic tips for soup success is in order.
1. Fresh is Best:
Any soup is only as good as the ingredients used to make it, and with that in mind, my motto is “fresh is best”. Fresh vegetables and good quality stock are keys to tasty soup.
Now don’t think I’m not known for opening a bag of frozen peas for a quick soup. I do use frozen vegetables frequently, since they are flash frozen at peak freshness, but I tend to steer clear of canned ingredients in my soups. The canning process adds way too much sodium for my taste buds.
2. A good stock:
Stock dictates the underlying flavor and ultimate taste of each and every soup. Choosing between vegetable based stock, chicken, beef or fish stock is the most important decision for any soup.
I often use store bought stock, but truly they don’t come close to the flavor of a good home-made stock. Recently, I have been paying quite a bit of attention to food labels and try to steer clear of any ingredients I can’t pronounce. Some cheaper stocks are full of preservatives, and are laden with salt. Organic stocks are twice the price, but worth it for flavor and goodness. However, the budget friendly decision is to make homemade stock.
In the coming days and weeks I’ll share my stock making tips with a few basic stock recipes. With a crockpot you can simmer a good stock even while you’re out and about.
3. Herbs and spices:
Herbs and spices can lift a soup from ordinary to extraordinary. They’re my soup pot heroes. They add flavor, working away busily spreading their magic in the pot. Fresh or dried herbs work well, but the general rule for dried herbs is to use one third of the quantity of fresh.
4. Make sure the vegetables do the sweating, not you!
Many soup recipes start out be telling you to ‘sweat’ the vegetables. The term does sound a little gross for those not used to culinary lingo, but to tell you the truth, it’s a very accurate description of what is going on in the soup pot.
When “sweating” vegetables, they are gently cooked in a tiny bit of fat, to get their juices to leak out, and to release their inner flavors. You get their juices flowing, so to speak.
To promote this process, the pot is covered to trap steam, which helps soften the veggies. It’s important to keep the steam trapped in, so lifting the lid is not recommended. Instead, lift the whole pot and give the veggies a good, old shake to stop them sticking.
This “sweating” usually takes about 10 minutes. The ingredients shouldn’t be browned or caramelized, but slightly pale after their time in the pot sauna.
5. Simmer, don’t boil:
Simmering is vital for good soup. When vegetables are boiled they end up tumbling all over the pot, hitting off the sides, damaging their texture and spilling all their flavor into the stock. So simmer, to avoid somersaulting peas and carrots.
Similarly, when reheating a soup it’s important to simmer without boiling. This is especially true for soups with added cream. When the cream boils it separates and creates a fatty film on top of the soup. So, my rule of thumb is, gentle heat for luscious soup.
6. In praise of hand held blenders:
In my granny’s day smooth soups were achieved by mushing and sieving the cooked vegetables. No such work for today’s cook. Liquidisers or blenders do a fine job of puréeing soup, but ladeling the liquid in batches is slow, not to mind the risk of splattering hot liquid all over the place if the jug is overfilled.
My best soup-making friend is my hand-held blender. I take great satisfaction in blitzing a soup with a quick dunk of its all-powerful blades. There’s nothing like a quick whizz with a hand held blender for a perfectly textured soup. I highly recommend one of these gadgets.
And so there you have it! A few good soup-making tips, to whet your appetites for some delicious soups over the coming months. As I type this blog post, a tasty chicken stock is simmering away in my crock pot. I’ll share my recipe in the next few days.
Stay tuned for plenty of stock and soup recipes in my upcoming recipe posts.
Slán agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom