Few foods can offer the unsurpassable sense of pleasure offered by a bowl of well-made soup. Soup can be cooked simply in a pot and can be a meal on its own; it can also become a delicate, haute cuisine appetizer, requiring more complex preparation. Whichever the case, soups are an important aspect of cooking. An initial, basic classification of soups is their differentiation into two main categories: clear and creamy soups.
Clear soups are basically a flavorful stock which can be enhanced by various solid ingredients, such as meat and vegetables and maintains its natural consistency, i.e. it has not been thickened in any way. This category includes minestrone, bean soup, chicken soup with vegetables, consommé.
Creamy soups are also divided into several categories in classic cooking terms. These days, these differentiations have been significantly simplified. When talking of a creamy soup we usually mean a soup which has either been blended or has been thickened in some way and gained a more robust body. The classic name for a blended soup is ‘puree’ or ‘cream’ but the terminology mainly use these days is ‘velouté’ (French for velvety).
Tips for preparing soups:
Although soups are a great way to use leftovers, we must not think of them as our kitchen’s ‘trashcan’, and believe that any useless food item can end up in a pot of soup. The ingredients must be of good quality, like those used throughout cooking.
Stock is the beginning and end of a soup. It must be flavorful and good quality for a first-class end result.
Cooking must be careful. It is a fact that soups are more forgiving than other types of food but this does not mean that we can cook them forever. All ingredients have an ideal cooking point and this is also true of soups. Long before or long after this point and the end flavor and even texture will not be correct. Another issue to bear in mind when cooking soups is the quantity of liquid. It is best to add less liquid than we think necessary. It is easier to add liquid later but difficult to deduct if it is too much.
Thickening can be achieved by blending the ingredients or through the use of a thickener such as corn flour, roux, eggs, etc.
Blending the ingredients offers the soup a creamy and rich texture. The best results are achieved by using a blender. Do not be sparing with the blending time. The soup’s texture will be better if the blending lasts some time. Do not, of course, forget to adhere to basic safety rules; hot soup should be handled carefully. Fill the blender jug only half way, at most, and hold the lid down securely with a cloth/towel. Because of the high temperature there is the danger of the lid popping off and hot soup flying everywhere. If the blender’s lid has an opening it is best to leave it open so that the steam can escape. Another good appliance to use is the hand-held blender which can be used directly in the pot.
Straining a soup (for blended soups) is an important step for the achievement of the best possible texture. After blending, it may appear that there is no need to strain the soup. It can, of course, be consumed at this stage, but passing it through a fine sieve will enhance its texture and the sense of pleasure in the mouth.
Enhancing or improving the flavor.
At the end of the preparation, it is a good idea to evaluate the flavor of the soup and make necessary corrections. To do this, it is best to allow the soup to cool a little, since very high temperatures are not conducive to making a correct evaluation. At this stage we can judge if it needs more salt, the added acidity of some lemon juice or vinegar or the addition of a little olive oil or butter.
Levels of texture
Food becomes more interesting and creates better impressions when it is not dull and one-dimensional. For this reason it is a good idea to accompany soups with delicacies which offer different levels of texture. Croutons are a classic example which serve precisely this purpose. It is a good idea to use a few whole peas or a mixture of peas and other vegetables, maybe even perhaps some bacon, in a creamed pea soup in order to enhance its texture and flavor.