What does it take to make a great soup? A few handy pieces of equipment, like a Dutch oven (an indispensible workhorse) and a meat cleaver (there are no bones about the incomparable flavor of homemade stock). Check out these 7 essential soup making tips from PBS’s America’s Test Kitchen.
Use a Sturdy Pot: Flimsy pots with thin bottoms cook unevenly and are prone to scorching, which can impart a burnt flavor to your soup. Instead, invest in a pot with a thick, heavy bottom, which will transfer heat evenly.
Sauté Your Aromatics and Spices: The first step in making many soups is to sauté aromatics, such as onion and garlic, to enhance their savory flavor, which in turn makes for a more complex, fuller-flavored soup. Medium heat ensures that the aromatics just begin to soften (they will cook through when the broth is added); cook onions about 5 minutes but the small pieces of minced garlic require just 30 seconds of sauté time. By comparison, skipping this step and simply adding raw onions and garlic to simmering broth will result in flat-tasting, weak, watery soup.
Start with Good Broth: Broth forms the flavor background for any soup. So whether it’s homemade broth or store-bought broth that’s been enhanced with aromatic vegetables and herbs, starting with a good base is essential. Learn how to make your own chicken broth or find recommended brands of store-bought broth with natural ingredients.
Cut Vegetables the Right Size: Improperly cut vegetables can result in unevenly cooked vegetables—some may be mushy while others are crunchy. For perfectly cooked, tender vegetables, cut the vegetables to the size specified in the recipe.
Stagger the Cooking of Your Vegetables: When a soup contains a variety of vegetables, like a Hearty Ten-Vegetable Stew, the additions to the pot must often be staggered to account for their varying cooking times. Hardy vegetables like potatoes and winter squash can usually be added to the pot early on, whereas delicate vegetables like asparagus and green beans cook through much more quickly and should be added later in the cooking process.
Simmer, Don’t Boil: There is a fine line between simmering and boiling, and it can make all the difference in your soups. A boil refers to a rapidly bubbling and reducing liquid. Water, for example, boils at 212 degrees (at sea level). A simmer is a restrained version of a boil; fewer bubbles break the surface and do so with less vigor. A boil can break down vegetables (like potatoes) and toughen meat. A hard boil can also cause fat droplets to become more finely dispersed in broth, making the soup more difficult to defat and thus resulting in a greasy soup.
Season Before Serving: In general, save most of the salt (and other select seasonings) for the end of cooking when making soups. Many ingredients, such as store-bought broth, canned tomatoes, and canned beans, are heavily seasoned. Even though we may suggest rinsing some ingredients (such as beans), a small amount of salt may linger. That’s why it’s best to salt just a little bit during cooking, and then more generously at the end, after tasting the finished soup. You can reserve some additional flavorings, such as fresh herbs or lemon juice, to add freshness and brightness at the end of cooking.