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How To Make Soup, Tips, Techniques and Secrets

Updated on March 9, 2016
By Jason Lam
By Jason Lam | Source
By Yasson
By Yasson | Source

The History of Soup

The origin of soup is lost in the pages of time but evidence goes back as far as 6000 B.C. The invention of soup probably happened around the same time that we learned how to make waterproof containers that could be heated. The first pots were clay around 9000 B.C. but before then people could heat water in an animal skin by putting hot rocks in for heat. The earliest cookbooks in existence have instructions for soup making.

It is impossible to define the difference between soup and stew but as they say, “I know it when I see it”. Soup usually has more liquid than stew but aside from that you’re on your own for a definition.

All cuisines have their own versions of soup ranging from French Onion to Egg Drop, Gazpacho and Boston Clam chowder.

Presented below is a method used in some restaurants to make soup with the least amount of labor possible and labor is costly, be it yours or the chef’s. I have not presented detailed recipes but rather a way to simplify the creation of many soups in your own home. Seasonings, quantities even how large to cut the ingredients are left to your own creativity; make it the way you want to eat it.

Soup may be the first course in an extravagant dinner or the simplest meal for a hungry worker.”Soup of the evening, beautiful soup”. Soups can be sublime and they don’t have to be hard to make. You can do a lot of work and follow lots of steps slicing and dicing, and sautéing to make the perfect soup or you can make a soup quickly that's very good and get on with life. By keeping a few ingredients on hand and investing some time when you have it you can create a much better soup in a few minutes than you could ever buy frozen or in a can.

Best of all, when you see how easy this is you will gain confidence in your own cooking and you can use this method to make lots of soups in any quantity you need! The same methods listed here will work just as well in a crock pot.

Quantities: As far as amounts are concerned well that’s up to you! If you like a lot of onions, who am I to say no. To measure things if you want a quart of soup start with 2 cups of cut raw vegetables and meat, and ½ cup of rice or barley; then add enough broth to bring it up to a quart the veggies will cook down and give you a rich and hearty soup. You need:

Stock or broth: It takes a long time to make stock and if you have the time homemade is by far the best. There was a good article recently in Cook’s Magazine saying to make a stock with browned hamburger, which would work very well for any stock if cost is of no matter. If you are already making your own stocks with bones and veggies you don’t need my advice but for everybody else, read on. Back here in the real world where time, cost and effort matters we have three choices, Packaged broth, Soup base, or Bouillon cubes or powder. In order of preference start with packaged broth, brand matters! The best are quite good and the worst are little more than salt water. After that I would recommend using soup bases. They're concentrated, easy to use and have less salt than the cubes but can be hard to find.            



Chives, part of fine herbs


Mirepoix (one of those French terms) this is a mixture of 2 parts onion 1 part celery and 1 part carrot all diced. Mirepoix is one of the bases of western cooking and is used in many dishes; other cuisines have their own versions like the "holy trinity” in Creole cooking, refogado in Portuguese, soffritto in Italian, and sofrito in Spanish. Alternatively some markets sell “seasoning mix” in the frozen vegetables aisle.

Fine herbs this is just a mix of Parsley, Tarragon, Chervil and Chives but you can add any herbs you like. I frequently add Basil or for a chicken soup Sage and Marjoram. You can add the chopped herbs directly to the broth or put them in a tea ball so they may be removed. Use herbs temperately. They should never overwhelm the flavor! It’s better to under do the amount of herbs than overwhelm the flavor so to start use no more than 1/8 teaspoon of combined herbs per cup of soup. Dried chervil has little flavor so it might be good to buy fresh, if you have too much dip it in boiling water for a moment and then freeze, if you freeze any herb without blanching it will still lose flavor because the enzymes are still active, just slowed down.

 • Vegetables It takes a lot of time and effort to have a variety of fresh vegetables for soup and they spoil quickly.  Find frozen mixtures you like and keep some on hand. If you have time and want to save money buy whole fresh veggies, clean and dice them then blanch them and freeze them, first freeze on cookie sheets then move them to plastic bags so they stay separate and you can take out just the amount you need. Then put in a supply of canned diced tomatoes, canned garbanzos or other beans, dried pastas and the only thing you may need to cut will be potatoes.

Meat If you have leftover meats this is the ideal place to use them, if you don’t have leftovers buy some stew meat or boneless chicken and dice it. Then freeze it in small packages.

Starch A note about noodles, barley and rice; these items will double in volume and absorb the same amount of broth so allow for that in the finished soup or you end up with too much. Something on the order of 1/4th cup of raw starch should suffice for a bowl of soup. If you want to hold a soup hot for longer than an hour or so cook the starch separately and add it just before serving. That’s a technique used in some restaurants, they add the cooked noodles to the hot soup when needed and avoid having mushy noodles or rice that swells up and fills the pot. Barley and rice will cook in the same amount of time it takes for the rest of the soup to finish so add them at the start, noodles cook quickly so wait and add them for the last  ten minutes of cooking. Rice in a soup held hot for a long time will continue to absorb water until it blows apart like popcorn and fills the pot.

Salt and Pepper These amounts are up to you but leave this for last so you don’t over-do it.

Cup of Gumbo

By Quinn Dombrowski
By Quinn Dombrowski | Source

Let's make a very easy vegetable beef soup.

Put mirepoix, herbs, whatever vegetables you like, canned diced tomatoes if you like, potatoes and meat in a soup pot. Add water (or packaged broth) and enough base to make it taste like broth; bring it to a simmer and cook it till the veggies are done (about twenty five minutes)

What else can you make this way?

Beef barley

Beef noodle: Eliminate the potatoes and add noodles for the last ten minutes or cook separately

Chicken noodle “ “

Beef rice “ “

Chicken rice “ “

Chicken vegetable

Chicken Gumbo: Use mirepoix, add rice and cut okra, season with Gumbo file and hot sauce, thicken slightly with mahogany roux see note about roux below

Chicken Gumbo Creole: Add canned diced tomatoes and green peppers to Chicken Gumbo

Minestrone: Use a little vegetable base or just plain water; add bottled spaghetti sauce, mirepoix, Italian mixed vegetables, canned garbanzos some fresh cabbage and macaroni or other small pasta shape. Season with some grated Parmesan, garlic, basil and oregano.

Manhattan clam chowder: Chop and sauté some bacon, not too crisp in the soup pot, pour off most of the fat then add canned clam juice, mirepoix without the carrots, potatoes and spaghetti sauce and canned chopped clams.

Makeing a roux

Very dry brown roux


Cream soups Well these are just too easy:

Start with the same building blocks of stock, mirepoix, (usually without the carrots) herbs, vegetables and meats then thicken it with:

Roux or Beurre manié,
These are just mixtures of fat and flour that thicken sauces and soups. Roux will tend to turn to lumps if you add it to a boiling liquid.+ Roux will thicken as soon as the liquid simmers so it is important not to add it directly to a boiling liquid, the best way to use roux is to make it in a separate pot and add a little hot liquid from the soup at a time, stirring until it is smooth, then repeat. Soon you will have a slurry that can be mixed with the soup
Roux is equal parts (By volume) of fat (oil, rendered meat fat or butter) and all purpose flour cooked and stirred slowly over a low fire (Or in an oven) until it has the color desired. The color can range from white to blonde all the way to mahogany as used in Cajun cooking. The more you color a roux the less thickening power it has. Many restaurants keep a pot of pre-made roux for thickening when needed rather than making it each time.
Beurre manié (French for kneaded butter) This is much easier to work with than a roux because it is made cold and can be added a little at a time to your simmering soup without making lumps. Beurre manié is an uncooked roux; it is less stable and will separate into fat and flour sooner than a roux so it is not used for a dish that needs to be held hot for a long time. The easiest thing for the home cook to do would be to buy some liquid margarine or salad oil and stir in all- purpose flour until it reaches the constancy of peanut butter. This is loose enough so it can be stirred directly into a simmering soup.

Roux or Beurre manié can be made very loose or very dry; the dry will have more thickening power but will tend to lump more quickly than a looser product. The looser product will tend to separate more quickly and leave a film of grease on the finished soup or sauce. If you look at the picture that says “roux is done” that is a very dry roux! I prefer a roux the consistency of peanut butter.

Roux or Beurre manié Amounts, as a rough guide it takes about 3 ounces (Weight) of roux to thicken 1 quart of soup, don’t overdo it as you can always add more

Next just whisk in some milk or cream and bring back to a simmer. Don’t boil a dish with milk or cream or it will curdle.

Melted cheese and croutons

French Onion Soup

This one stands alone and can’t be rushed. The characteristic of French Onion soup that many people don’t understand is that it should end up being lightly sweet!

If you want 2 quarts of soup, slice at least 2 quarts of onions, these will cook way down. I use the small sharp yellow onions but you can use your favorite, each will lend a slightly different flavor.

Place a heavy bottom soup on a low fire add a little bit of olive oil and start sautéing the onions. This has to be done slowly stirring every couple of minutes and can take a long time depending on the amount of onions. As the onions cook they will release their sugars and this is what browns. This can’t be sped up or the onions burn! When the onions are done they will be soft, brown and sweet! Now add some sherry, (I use sweet) or Cognac (less traditional is to use any wine you like such as Burgundy) and scrape the pan to pick up all the bits and flavors, cook for a minute or two to release the alcohol then add your broth to bring the quantity of soup back to what you need, I use a combination of beef and chicken broth. Set to a slow simmer and taste, it should be done in about a half hour. Adjust seasoning and serve. Don’t forget the croutons and cheese. Any good melting cheese will do frequently either Swiss or Mozzarella but Gruyere is the traditional cheese in France

Onion Soup, Critical to Caramelize the Onion


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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      You're welcome! Mine too, especially with melted cheese on top. Thanks for that tip!

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      4 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Kristen

      Me too! French Onion is a favorite and rarely made well in restaurants.

      Just remember that well made it will be slightly sweet, that's because caramelising the onions releases all the natural sugars

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      This soup recipes look delicious. I love French Onion soup! I would love to try to make it at home. Thanks for sharing!

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