Monday, February 23, 2009

Soup 101: Adding Oomph

Okay, you've got some broth ready to roll--but does it taste as flavorful as you want it to? Where do I go from here?

It's a hop, skip and a jump from homemade broth to that rich, flavorful stuff of legend. We're almost there--we just have to add some "oomph."

Asian Influences

You know that I'm a huge fan of asian foods, and soup is no exception. There are some very special differences to asian-flavored broths that can happen quickly at home. Here's how:

Pour your broth in a large pot on the stove. Add 1 or 2 whole star anise, one 2-inch piece lemongrass and a 1-inch piece of peeled ginger, along with added salt and pepper if you have a low-salt broth. You can also add onion and other vegetables that you've lightly charred in the oven, if desired. Simmer gently for 20 minutes (with a lid so your delicious broth doesn't evaporate too much). Remove anise, lemongrass and ginger, then taste your broth. Now you can serve it over cooked noodles and everyone can season their own soup (as in pho), or you can add a splash of soy sauce and about 1/4 teaspoon asian sesame oil right to the pot. I also like to stir in a wee squidge of sriracha chile sauce, because I like things hot!

Beef Up Your Broth

One conspicuously missing element clearly missing from our broth is meat. Enrich homemade broth with pieces of lean meat (raw or leftover) and a slow simmer. We often make little meatballs from ground beef and poach them right in simmering chicken or turkey broth. Or a diced chicken breast or two. Or some leftover pot roast to beef broth.

The Porkify Principle

In my opinion, ham broth is exceptionally wonderful to work with. It is perfect for bean soups--ham and split pea soup, anyone? Apart from bean concoctions, however, I find it rather strong and smoky for other recipes. I like to freeze ham broth in 1-cup and ice cube portions to add richness to other broths. Chicken-Escarole soup benefits greatly with added ham broth. There's just something about it that makes it better.

No ham broth? That's okay--a small can of ham, chopped up and tossed in for 20 minutes or so will do the trick. Or some lunch meat. Or leftover pieces of ham from the freezer. Or a strip of bacon or three. Or a piece of sausage. You decide.

Note: Be aware that pork products are salty. Don't worry too much, though--you can always add a little more water, or a little more low-salt broth to even it out.

Cheater Moves

Don't have the desire to make homemade broth? Need your non-cooking significant other to make something when you're sick? Bullions, pastes and canned broths are all quick ways to get soup ready and on the table. Some products are better than others and depend largely on your personal taste and budgetary concerns.

I've been known to use various convenience broths and bullions, but the one I keep on-hand in the fridge at all times is Better Than Bullion chicken flavor. (Don't hate on me, now!) It's cheap, keeps well, and doesn't taste too bad--with a few helper tricks, that is.

- Make it Low Salt - Buy broths that are low sodium whenever you can. The more you control the seasoning in your broth, the better. Using bullion, granules or paste? Add a little extra water to thin it down. By the time you cook your meat in a thinned lower-salt broth or bullion, add veggies and other fixins and season your soup, it'll taste just fine.

- Porkify - This is the time to put the Porkify Principle (see above) into action. It disguises that from-a-can flavor in a heartbeat. Again, low-salt is key, here, because ham can be salty!

- Meat Juices - This is The Gold Mine Cheater Move of All Time, people. Save your meat juices and fat drippings from other meal preparations. Making a beef roast, meatloaf or rotisserie chicken? Save those drippings. Frying up bacon? Don't throw away the fat--keep it in a jar in the fridge. Fat = flavor! Add a spoonful or two of these juicy bits to add slow-cooked flavor to soups, sauces and even spaghetti sauce.

- Tomato Products - Tomato or tomato-vegetable juice, canned peeled or diced tomatoes, tomato paste or even a little spaghetti sauce are all fantastic additions to any soup, but especially for those using convenience products. Tomato-vegetable juice especially provides added nutrition for your picky eaters. I know that my [slowly recovering] veg-phobic husband gobbles up any soup where I've added V-8!

- Veggie Purees - I often roast eggplant, onions and bell peppers (or sometimes just jarred roasted red peppers) along with tomato paste and garlic to use as a bruschetta/crostini topping or appetizer, but it's also great stirred into soups and pasta sauces or as a pizza sauce. Frozen in ice-cube portions, it gives me the opportunity to hide veggies in things while boosting the taste of convenience products.

- Dried Mushrooms - I don't know about you, but specialty mushrooms are often out of my price range, but a small bag of dried porcini or shitake mushrooms are not overly expensive and can add a tremendous amount of flavor to many, many dishes. Add them sliced or even whole to your soup--or, even sneakier, pulverize your dried fungi in the food processor to a powder and use a tiny spoonful of that for a sure-fire way to disguise your quick broth.

- A Quick Simmer - Thinned low-sodium broth or bullion simmered with chopped onions, carrot and celery for a few minutes is an inexpensive way to give homemade taste to convenience products. Add a little meat of your choice and you're on the path to a delicious broth.

- More Asian Flavor - The same technique described above to turn your homemade broth into something worthy of your favorite restaurant also works for using low-salt broth or bullion.

Tie One On

Beer and wine are great to splash into your soup broths--a little red wine in beef broth, a little white wine in a chicken soup, beer added to vegetable broth, or any combination thereof. Once the alcohol is simmered off, what's left is flavor.

Broth Substitutions

Say you want a seafood soup and all you have is chicken broth. Or vegetable broth. Don't panic--and don't run out to the store to buy something else. Use what you have! A quick simmer with fish & shellfish will translate your, say, turkey broth into a rich seafood-flavored soup in under 10 minutes. For stronger flavor, simmer shrimp heads & shells first and REMOVE THEM before adding your vegetables or other ingredients. Fish doesn't take long to cook, so fresh fish chunks, clams/mussels, shrimp and other seafood go in last for a few minutes before serving. The same goes for chicken and vegetable broths.

Have a recipe that calls for veal broth? Use half poultry and half beef to approximate the flavor.

Use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth and vice versa. There will be a slight flavor difference, but it'll still be good. (Obviously there are exceptions when serving vegetarians or people with other dietary restrictions; for general family use this works very well.)

Soup Recipes

Ingenuity, trial-and-error, and any number of yummy recipes can help you achieve delicious, nutritious, bone-warming-good soup. And now that you have some fabulous, home-made broth at your disposal, it's time to start experimenting!

This concludes my Soup 101 series. I hope this has given you the courage to try some DIY soups for yourself. And now I'm starving for some soup--it's a good thing Mr.W made some this weekend! I'll have it for breakfast in a moment.

Have some soupmaking tips you'd like to share? Add your wisdom in a comment below, or give us a link to your blog post about soup.

Read the entire three-part Soup 101 Series.


Sam said...

great post Amanda, I've learnt so much!

Amanda said...

Thank you, Sam! These are my tried-and-true soupmaking tips stumbled upon over a number of years. Use them well!

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