Warm Yourself Up with Winter Soup
by Chef Jeff Harris
Johnson & Wales University
There is nothing better to finish off a chilly winter day, than to come home to a hearty and warming bowl of soup. One of the joys of soup is that it is so versatile! It can be a first course appetizer, the star of the meal, or even accompanying side. Whether you have been cooking it all day in the slow cooker, or you are heating up some homemade soup that you prepared earlier in the week, it is sure to be an easy crowd pleaser! Here are some tips you can use to help elevate your wintertime soups to the next level.
•Set up for success: The first and most important ingredient that you will need for every soup that you make is a good base. Vegetable stocks are a fantastic option for this as they are quick, easy, and cost effective to make. Begin by cutting your vegetables (celery, carrots, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and mushrooms) into small ¼ inch pieces. This will maximize surface area and provide more flavor. Next, sweat (lightly sauté until moisture releases) the vegetables in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add a quart of cool water, a couple of bay leaves, and a handful of peppercorns and simmer for about an hour. When finished, strain your stock and use to make some delicious soup!
•Season in Stages: Getting the seasoning for your soup just right can be a tricky thing to do. I recommend seasoning a little bit with each step along the way. This will make sure that every bite is consistently seasoned, and will avoid bland vegetables in an overly salty broth. Also be sure to err on the side of caution since water will evaporate as your soup cooks, causing the intensity to concentrate. It is much easier for you to add more salt after the fact than it is to remedy a soup that tastes as salty as soy sauce.
•Thickening Textures: A thick and creamy soup is sure to warm you to the core. There are a couple of options for thickening your soup. The quickest and easiest is a slurry- equal part of cornstarch and water. Slurry will thicken immediately upon being added to boiling soup. Another option is a Beurre Manie—equal part butter and flour kneaded together. Whisk this into your soup and simmer for a few minutes for it to thicken. A third way to thicken your soup is to use cooked and pureed potatoes. The starch from the potato will thicken the soup as it cooks.
•Save the Pasta until Serving: There is nothing worse than taking your first bite of an aromatic and delicious soup, only to have mushy noodles fall apart on contact. Preserve your pasta and all of the hard work that went into preparing your soup by cooking the pasta separately and adding it a la minute (at the very last minute before serving).
•Storing extra soup: When making soups, I prepare generous portions in the hopes that there will be lots of leftovers. For some reason, it always tastes better the second time around. Pour any extra portions that will not be eaten right away into gallon sized plastic Zip-lock bags. Freeze these bags flat in the freezer for easy storage. When you are short on time, frozen soup makes an easy meal!
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