16 Stories about soup

  1. Colour is important. Inevitably, a mushroom soup is going to be mushroom-coloured, but if you make a general bottom-of-the-fridge soup and it comes out a kind of grey-brown, then you’re probably putting the wrong ingredients in. I hate to disrespect another cook, but my French mother-in-law always puts a welcome soup in the fridge for when we arrive in France, and it’s always a bit like that. I don’t even know what gives it that colour, but it’s unappetising. Blended soups should be orange (butternut squash, carrot, tomato) or green (pea, watercress), or almost white (leek and potato, celery).
  2. Leeks vs. onions. The leek is a much better soup vegetable than the onion. The only time I would use an onion in preference is if I am making a non-blended soup and don’t want leeks doing that thing where they attach themselves to spoons and dangle off in an unsightly way. So the Corn Chowder recipe I use, for example, which has chunks of celery and potato in it as well as pancetta and sweetcorn, that’s made with a small onion. Otherwise, many soups can be made with a leek + one other vegetable.
  3. The best tomato soup recipe is in Edouard de Pomiane’s French Cooking in 10 minutes. It’s made with triple concentrate tomato puree (buy Mutti, in other words), cream, and stock, with semolina as a thickening agent. His mushroom soup recipe, made with dried mushrooms, is also hard to beat. 
  4. You can overdo the potatoes. I used to be of the opinion that you needed something to thicken a soup,and so I tended to put potatoes in even when they were not needed. The results were more glutenous than I care to admit. These days, I tend to leave them out, unless I am making an actual potato based soup, like.
  5. The stock cube is your friend. Sure, making your own stock is probably better. But you boil a chicken carcass for a while and drain it for the stock, and you’ve got enough stock for one soup. The other problem is, it’s a lot of effort to go to which makes it less likely that you will make soup at all. But a packet of 6 stock cubes can be used to make three. Personally, I play the percentages. I buy veggie stock, chicken stock, ham stock, mushroom stock; I buy “Fait Tout” when I’m in France and also Knorr Bouquet Garni cubes, which are really good for soups, and I wish they sold them in the UK.
  6. The best herbs for soup: tarragon, without a shadow of a doubt. Bart Fines Herbes for some variation, and see above for the Knorr Bouquet Garni. As to fresh herbs, again, too much effort creates friction which means you’re less likely to bother.
  7. Black pepper. Lots of it. Sometimes I go too far, but these are the risks. Occasionally chilli flakes to give a kick.
  8. All you need is a chopping board, a knife, a saucepan and a hand blender.
  9. Sometimes your top chefs just make too much fuss. Jamie Oliver’s leek and potato, for example, requires you to grate the potato and then cook it in a separate saucepan before adding to the leeks. Heston’s pea and mint requires you to extract mint oil from mint leaves. Other soups require you to cook up a separate topping to spread across. For a special occasion, maybe. But not for your everyday soup.
  10. Butter is best.
  11. You won’t miss the bayleaf. I used to use them all the time, but I would more often than not forget to remove the bastard before I blended. And you end up with little bits of chopped bayleaf. So now I don’t bother, and I don’t think you can tell.
  12. To cream or not to cream? I use half-fat creme fraiche, but no more than three spoonfuls because otherwise your soup tastes of dairy. Another way of adding dairy is to sprinkle in some parmesan cheese.
  13. To crouton or not to crouton? I love a crouton, but if you’re making your own it’s an extra step and an extra dish. My wife’s not so keen, so I just toast some bread instead. A crusty baguette is always a good idea, but if you have a bread addict in the house, stick to wholemeal toast which is less likely to be consumed to the point of bloat.
  14. The method is always the same. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Wash and slice a leek, add it to the saucepan and sweat it down. A splash of water will add some useful steam, or a splash of white wine if you have it handy. Then add the vegetable(s), pour over a litre of stock and simmer until the veg is soft enough to blend. Then blend. Season to taste. Stir in cream/parmesan and serve.
  15. Chunky? In addition to the blended weekend soups below, two special soups are the Corn Chowder alluded to above, and Minestrone.
  16. Here are my go-to weekend soups, which leave enough leftovers for work lunches, reheated in the microwave:
    • Butternut squash. This is made with a whole butternut squash, peeled and cubed, and the base described in (14). I sometimes sprinkle in some chilli flakes or drop in a whole chilli which I remove before I blend.
    • Leek and potato. Add about five medium potatoes, cubed.
    • Celery. Add a whole head of celery, chopped, and maybe a potato or two.
    • Carrot and Celery. Approx 50/50 and leave out the potato.
    • Watercress. Add two packets of washed watercress. Don’t cook too long or it will turn an unappetising shade of drab. Possibly a spud.
    • Pea and Ham. Add a pack of Waitrose ham hock and a whole packet of frozen peas.
    • Mushrooms. Go mad on the umami. Whatever mushrooms – just chop the whole punnet. Add a handful of rehydrated dried mushrooms (and the water you soaked them in) and maybe a spoonful of porcini mushroom paste.
    • Chicken? If you have some leftover cooked chicken, follow the celery recipe with the addition of the chicken.

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