I love soup. In fact, I’d have to say that it is my favorite food category. From clear, sophisticated broths and gorgeous purées to hearty onion soups and gumbos, I’m smitten. And when I look outside my window and see snow coming down in clumps while the thermometer plummets, I imagine a bowl of something savory and steamy warming me from the inside out.
Soups are the easiest dishes to make if you follow a few golden rules. The first is to cut all your ingredients to the same size. The second is to layer in flavors as you go. When you are prepping, remember to cut the pieces small enough for them to fit on a soupspoon if you are not planning to purée the soup.
Soups are also a perfect way to use up all those leftovers in your fridge that, left unattended, will go bad. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked for a recipe when I served a soup that was born in an attempt to clean out my fridge. All I could say was that I’d used a little onion, some miscellaneous veggies, dried thyme and water to produce the velvety and satisfying bowl of pleasure placed before my guests.
Cooking your ingredients in the right order, and adding salt as you do, are the most important elements in this process. Salt can actually help develop a food’s natural flavor, and adding it during the cooking process will make the saltshaker purely decorative at your table. We’re not talking loads of sodium chloride here – when I make a soup that feeds 4 – 6 people I’ve probably used a total of 2 teaspoons of the stuff, which translates to less than ½ teaspoon per person.
To make a ‘Potage du Jour’ I always start by sweating my aromatics in a little oil and giving them a little salt while they sweat. Then I look at all the vegetables laid before me and begin by adding in the ones that will take the longest to cook, salting with each addition. Whatever takes the least amount of time will be added closer to the end. Dried thyme and any other dried herbs of your choice should be added during the sweating process to give them a chance to hydrate. If I have a stock on hand, I use it, but if there’s none available, I use water.
Then it’s time to simmer all these wonderfully combined ingredients until they are firm, but not crunchy. If I want a chunky soup, I’ll leave it as it is, but if I’m in a purée kind of mood, I’ll process it in a blender in batches. Tasting your soup at this point is a good idea. I often find that I need to add just a little ‘oomph’ to make it perfect. Instead of reaching for more salt, try something acidy or tangy. Lemon or lime juice, vinegar, or even Worcestershire Sauce (whose main ingredient is tamarind) often give a soup that little push over the flavor edge without taking the flavor in a new direction.
Ladle up a large bowl of your delicious ‘Potage du Jour’ and don’t forget to garnish!