By Alan Lugton, Cookery Manager
Soup is a dish that’s hard to get wrong. It’s nutritious, wholesome, warming and if it doesn’t go to plan – just blend it up and it will still be good.
If you have never made soup before I would thoroughly recommend you give it a try – whatever your skill level. However before you begin, here are some handy tips to get the best out of the ingredients you use and turn your soup into something wonderful.
Start with Delicious Liquid
Whether it is a hearty broth or a fine consomme you will want to make sure that you start with a good flavoured liquid. Use one that you would want to drink. Most of the time, the liquid in soup is stock or broth. You can make your own, buy local freshly made frozen stock or try from a range of off the shelf (though these can be quite salty). If you like to add wine to soups, be sure to bring it to a boil and let it cook for at least ten minutes to cook off the harshest of the alcohol.
Sweat the small stuff
Your base vegetables will usually consist of onions, leeks, garlic, and often celery and carrots. Cooking them over low to medium heat in the pan before adding any liquid will help soften their texture and blend their flavours; stir occasionally, until they are soft but not browning – about five minutes. The aim here is to break down their cellulose and get them to give off some of their own liquid, which will deepen the flavour of the soup.
Some soups may benefit from browning your vegetables to get those lovely smokey caramel flavours throughout, but be gentle as too much will make your soup bitter.
Use the right pot
Although any pot will suffice – as long as it is the right size for the amount of soup you are making – heavy bottomed pans distribute the heat more evenly and will help prevent vegetables sticking and burning at the bottom. If you enjoy puree soups, invest in an immersion (hand) blender to do the job as normal blenders or food processors get messy. Finally use a good sized ladle to serve as this will help avoid splashing soup everywhere and spoiling your presentation.
You spend a lot of effort preparing and cooking the ingredients to get the most flavour out of them – don’t spoil it all by chucking in salt too early. As the soup cooks some of the liquid will evaporate but the salt content will remain the same, making its impact more intense. Leave seasonings such as salt and pepper to the very end once all the flavours have come together and the stock has reduced slightly. Add gradually along with herbs or spices and adjust until it’s just right. Alternatively you can try one of the many other seasoning options instead of using salt.
The final touches
This is where you can shine above the rest, make your soup stand out and get people asking for the recipe. Finish the soup off with something fresh that compliments or contrasts the flavours or textures of your soup. Try fresh herbs, fresh citrus juice, a dollop or two of cream or yogurt. A hit of something un-cooked will highlight the deep, delicious, melded flavours in the rest of the soup. Using some crispy Pancetta on top of a pureed soup or herb puree in a chunky broth makes the textures interesting and memorable. Here are a few more ideas.