October 15th, 2010

woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

Soup (again)

Since a lot of what I cook is soup, this is yet another paeon to the Season of Soup (when it's not too hot to turn the stove on, in other words.)

There's really no secret to making good soup.   You put enough things that have a lot of flavor into a pot--things that have a lot of flavors that don't clash also helps--and you cook them to the point where the flavors suddenly go "Oh!":   It helps to start with good stock.  (I saw a TV cooking show once that suggested ways to make store-bought chicken stock taste better.  Um...by the time you've made store-bought chicken stock taste better--and their way involved *wasting* a pound of ground chicken by throwing it away after using it--you could just make your own chicken stock which would be better anyway.)   

Stock-making takes awhile, but most of it is spent walking through the kitchen and sniffing appreciatively as the stock develops.   Depending on your family background, you may already have made stock for years, but if you've never seen the process...it's not hard, just (in places) tedious.   My stock recipe basically the same for both chicken stock (except for using chicken bones & meat) and beef stock (except for using beef bones & meat.)  If you  have the freezer space you can make a boatload of stock at once and make it only every now and then.   Celery, carrot, onion, garlic, parsley, bay leaf (plural usually), rosemary, sage, thyme & any other herbs you want go in with the bones & meat.   I usually roast the beef bones first, but it's a choice, not a law.  So a set of vegetation goes in with bones & meat, and cooks until the bones are dry-white looking and the vegetation is a limp mess.  Fish out the bones, the vegetation and discard into the appropriate setting.  Fish out any meat and immediately chill for later cutting into chunks.  Continue to simmer the resulting liquid until it's a nice, rich color (golden or brown).  Transfer to smaller pot and chill overnight.  This makes lifting off the fat easy.   Some people filter the stock to make it perfectly clear.  I like mine more opaque.  It's a choice.

You can make soup with just water + whatever's in the soup, but stock gives you a head start--it's got some flavor, some essences of what went into it.   Without stock, you might use bouillon cubes (not for people with high BP--too salty) or demi-glace to give your soup some body.    Soup, like bread, is a very basic food, and pretty forgiving (esp. in large batches) as long as there's enough flavor elements  in the pot.  You can almost always add more.  (Though my earliest "making soup at home" memory was of my mother salvaging vegetables in the face of the Big Freeze in the early '50s, when she started with one pot, moved to a larger one, moved to her largest cooking pot, and finally used a washing machine tub, balanced across the burners.  So if you start a soup in a two-quart saucepan, watch out...it might grow if you start making adjustments.)