Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Foolproof Soup Method

Soup, I think we can all agree, is awesome. Soup happens a lot during colder months, and for Orthies (as my little sister used to call us) especially during Lent. It is easy to make and a great way to enjoy random things in your refrigerator and to bring together enough nutrients to make a complete meal in one dish. Why am I telling you all this stuff you already know about Soup? Becaaaause, I used to have a completely distracted approach to Soup, wherein I just kinda threw stuff in the pot at random intervals and would often end up with veggies of diverse mushiness floating in a watery mess. But I got tired of that and now I have perfected a method of making Soup which I use so often that I just do it automatically, with results that everybody usually likes, even during Lent.

There are two really important flavor components in my soup routine. One is to use excellent bone broth. Chicken broth is very cheap, easy and versatile. I make mine in the crock pot (like so) with the carcass from our biweekly Sunday chicken roast. It's a cinch and hardly takes any time at all. I always include the neck (and feet if I have them, even though it makes the crock pot look like it is full of witches) as it contains gelatin. The silky texture imparted by gelatin is desirable and it is said to be a very healthful component of good broth. Of course this very important flavor Soup flavor component is not Lenten, (although I have seen on one exciting church calendar that during Cheesefare week you may cook with "meat drippings," so consult your conscience/priest on that one.) If I am cooking for fasters, I sadly forgo the broth and use water. You can make Lenten shrimp broth using shrimp shells but I have never really saved up enough to do that. I used to make vegetable broth with scraps but in the final analysis I felt that it tasted like compost.

That (what? compost?) brings me to the second very important flavor component: the spice roux. If you want your Soup to be very flavorful, it's not enough to dump paprika et al into the whole deal at the end and have them floating around aimlessly. You must first fry the spices in oil, so that each little molecule of oil becomes a flavor bomb. I also recommend grinding your spices fresh in a mortar and pestle if you have the time. Sometimes I don't have the time anymore. If you are a very observant faster you don't do oil on most days during Lent, so ... your Soup is going to be a little crappy because you can't use either of my tricks.

I do all of this in a big dutch oven that we were given as a wedding present. It's great to do everything in one pot.

Here is the order that I follow when making Soup.

1. Spice Roux
Heat your choice of delicious healthy fat (coconut oil, butter, lard, olive oil, tallow, bacon grease) in the bottom of the soup pot. Toss in any ground spices that you want to use (turmeric, paprika, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, that kind of thing.) If you are using dried herbs, they can be fried as well, but fresh herbs you will save for the end. I stir the whole deal quite a lot over high heat (unless I'm using butter, which burns easily.) At first it will be a dryish paste, and after enough cooking it will just look like a puddle of fat again, but colored according to the spices you have used.

If you are browning meat chunks or reheating leftover cooked meat, you can just do that in this flavorful oil. The same goes for pre-cooked or soaked grains like rice or barley. If you are cooking meat that is going to give off a lot of oil, you can do that first, set aside the meat, and make a spice roux in as much of the drippings as you would like to save.

Sometimes I will put a little flour in the spice roux, so that the soup will become more of a stew. You end up with basically gravy and it's great.

2. Sauteeing/Sweating
Now turn the heat down a bit to sautee onions, garlic, celery, and/or ginger. You're coating these veggies in your delicious spice roux and then imparting their flavor to the oil. NB: I sometimes include the garlic in the spice roux, and sometimes I just dump it in with the veggies.

3. Things that need to boil
Now add your chunky uncooked vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli bits, carrots, parsnips, squash, what-have-you,) beans, uncooked grains (I recommend soaking these overnight as well if you think of it, because they'll cook more quickly,) frozen stuff, or noodles.

4. Liquid
 Add your excellent homemade chicken broth or water, salt using intuition, and bring it to a boil. You'll have to be the judge of when to turn it down to simmering and how long to let it simmer. Taste for seasoning.

5. Fragile elements
Twenty minutes or so before you need to eat the soup, throw in any greens that basically just need to be wilted, like kale, spinach, or chard. Cauliflower doesn't take very long to cook if it's chopped small. Any pre-cooked veggies can go in here as they just need to be re-warmed. Coconut milk or any dairy can be stirred in now to warm. Fresh herbs should be added right before you serve, or allow diners to garnish their own bowls.

Et voila, you will be hailed as a Divine Soup Giver.

I prefer almost every kind of soup with yogurt or sour cream. Bread is a must. (Have I talked about Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day lately? Even I can do that, and I have a baby and I'm a hopeless scatterbrain.)

Bone appletights!


  1. Never have I been more entertained by a recipe for soup, or anything else. You are a delight.

    1. I try to make up for lack of precision, measurements, or fancy photographs with generous helpings of idiosyncracy.... glad you enjoyed!! What kind of soup do you guys make now that you are cutting out all the cheap dried goods?

  2. This is definitely inspiring and so fitting for this day, when soup weather has arrived at my house. I've made a *lot* of soup over the last 40+ years, but I confess to not having a good system, at least, nothing so appealing and useful as yours. Thank you! I'm going to print this out and then bring it out -- hmm...I better print a few so I can find it when I'm ready to upgrade my soup-making art!

    1. Hooray! I am so happy that it will be useful to you! The spice roux was a breakthrough for me!

  3. This is awesome! I never heard of the spice roux but it makes SO much sense and sounds delicious! I have long wanted to be able to just make up soup, and now I feel like I can. :) I will have to print it out too!

  4. Holy mackerel, this is not how I make soup. My soups quail before this soup! And I can't hardly make them, so it seems hopeless to aspire to greater things…
    Hmm. Perhaps if I set my sights moderately on chicken broth. I could do that, right? It has a recipe. I bake chicken. Though never yet a whole one.
    Could I make chicken broth with, say, 6 drumsticks?? Does it matter if one has, you know, eaten off the drumsticks?
    (But oh dear, having made the broth I'd still have to start all over to make the soup! ,/=)

  5. Ok, good news: You can make stock with any chicken bones. Just save them in your freezer until you have a bunch. I haven't done it with drumsticks but I have read that a lot of people do that if buying drumsticks makes more sense for them than a whole chicken. Another hack is that you can simply throw the bones into whatever soup you are making and ladle around them!!

    But really, once you make the stock, you are just one or two ingredients and a pot and about 20 minutes away from any simple soup. If you have time to do the spice roux then it will be even better, but it doesn't get much more convenient than throwing frozen stock, frozen spinach, and a can of beans into a pot. Having stock around has saved my butt many a time! You can do it!!