“Give a man a fish and you feed him once. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I’ve always thought that notion is incredibly relevant to cooking as well. We can adapt it to say – “Teach a man a recipe and he can make one meal. Teach a man a technique and he can make one hundred meals.” As the year is coming to a close, the days are shorter, the temperatures are cooler, and soup is on most menus. There are probably millions of soup recipes out there. By picking up on some of the underlying techniques and tricks to making soup, you may never need a recipe again. Here are five quick steps to get you started:
1 – Start with the basics. The base to virtually any soup (or stew for that matter) is the same – equal parts celery, carrot, and onion. The French call this mixture mirepoix. If you substitute green bell pepper for the carrot you have the Southern version known as the trinity. Regardless of if you hail from the south of France or the southern US, starting with this base will make all of your soups tastier. Dice all of the vegetables and sauté in butter and olive oil until they are tender before moving forward.
2 – Add something unexpected. Once you have your mirepoix sizzling away, try tossing in something no one will expect. My favorite secret weapon is anchovy fillets. Before you run screaming into the hills, I encourage you to give them a try. I promise, after everything is cooked, you will not have a fish taste in your soup (unless you’re making fish soup, but that’s another post). In fact, once the anchovies cook into your base, they will have a surprisingly savory flavor (also called umami by food nerds).
3 – Make it taste like you cooked it all day. The secret to getting all day soup flavor in a short amount of time is using pre-made stock. You can make it yourself or buy some of the excellent brands at the grocery store. Choose a stock that complements your protein choice. You can easily find stocks in chicken, beef, vegetable, or seafood flavors. Stock up (pun intended) and keep several containers in your pantry.
4 – Add the rest of your ingredients. This is where it gets fun. Once you have the basic setup, you can take your soup in any direction you want. Add only vegetables or toss in a carnivore’s delight of cuts. If you’re making vegetable soup, try roasting the components in the oven before adding them into your soup. When you pick a protein, you don’t have to buy the most expensive cuts. Soup is a great way to tenderize some of the less expensive cuts of meat and still get great flavor.
5 – Remember to dress it up at the end. One of the dangers of cooking something for a long time (like soup) is you can lose some of the most vibrant aspects of flavors. To compensate, be sure to add something to dress up your dish right before service. Great options include some fresh parsley finely chopped, diced scallions or spring onions, toasty bread crumbs, a squeeze of lemon juice, or maybe a shave of some parmigiano reggiano cheese.
Take some of these basic techniques and give them a try. Let your imagination be your guide and you may find yourself with something unexpectedly awesome.