Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Soup Beginnings- Recipe Tester's Club #104

The fragrance of bubbling, warm soup can hypnotize the strongest among us to extend a bowl and pull up a chair to the table. These days of hurried meals and convenience foods have caught up to us. It’s time to slow down, to appreciate once again the flavors that can come from our own kitchen in surprisingly little time.
You’ll find ideas and recipes here that allow you to make a quick batch of hearty soup—or prepare a few ingredients in the morning before work, plug in your slow cooker, and come home to a delicious, healthful meal. With very little planning, you can enjoy additive- and preservative-free meals that are full of flavor and tempt even the tiniest tummies.
Find time. Sit back. Savor your food. Linger with your family, and enjoy what you have before you. It’s time for a bowl of your favorite soup.

I grew up in a home where my mom always baked bread, roasted chickens, and made her own stock. Those were the times when it was expected that meals would be homemade. I can remember begging her at the grocery store to buy TV dinners. They were a novelty. How cool it seemed then to have all your food in one handy tray! These days the norm for most families is to purchase convenience foods. They pick up prepackaged potatoes, refrigerator biscuits, and frozen entrées. Why not take a moment to break this cycle?
I’ve learned through my frugal Yankee roots to freeze any leftover goodies that I can use to flavor my soups. My friend Robin is the best I know at organizing her leftovers. By labeling gallon-size ziplock plastic freezer bags, she keeps her onion ends, extra green beans, turkey bones, and squash peelings in the freezer, ready to use. Every day she casually tosses extra bits and pieces into the appropriate bag. When the veggie-peel bag gets full, it’s time to make soup. If she needs to make stock, she simply takes out whichever bags she wants to use. The leftovers go into a pot of water, and her soup is started before she even has to go to her pantry. This is a great way to economize when making soups, because freezing leftovers lets us use up the extra bits that would otherwise get thrown away or composted. Adding mashed potato or winter squash, for example, will thicken the broth and enhance its flavor.
One of my favorite ways to start a soup is by using leftover chicken bones. Whenever we finish a roast chicken or turkey—whether it came from the market’s rotisserie or was roasted in our oven—we freeze the bones with any meat still left on them. At soup making time, I just place them in a pot, cover them with water, and simmer for a couple of hours to extract all the flavorful goodness. I throw in herb stems that I’ve saved, vegetable peelings from the freezer, whole cloves of garlic, and voilà! My soup is well on its way to being full of flavor.
The best soups incorporate layers of flavor. It’s important to have a balance of ingredients so one doesn’t dominate your dish. You want to taste the delicate herbs alongside the hearty meat or creamy cheeses. Sample as you go. It is the best way to keep the flavors balanced.
Soups are often meat based, but vegetables are a wonderful alternative. We have several prepared commercial options to achieve the flavors of chicken, beef, seafood, or vegetables. Powdered bouillon comes in packets, in jars, and pressed into cubes. These are viable options for flavoring soups. Broth also comes in cans or coated paper containers. Bouillon pastes often come in jars, and most should be refrigerated.
Read the labels before you purchase bouillon or broth. Decide for yourself and your family what combination of ingredients will best suit you. Some brands are very high in sodium, although many offer low-salt and fat-free versions, as well. Others contain MSG or starch. Whichever brand you choose, make sure to adjust your recipe to accommodate the amount of salt in the prepackaged bouillon or broth.

Starting from Scratch
Don’t let it scare you: Starting from scratch is an easy way to create your own masterpieces in the kitchen. Soup is best when you bring together the flavors your family loves.
My favorite way to begin a soup is by making stock. Once it has simmered and settled, you’re left with a delicious base from which to build the flavors of your soup.
Many people ask about the difference in flavor between fresh and frozen vegetables. Whenever you have the opportunity to purchase locally grown ingredients from a farmer’s market or your corner market, take it! Fresh veggies are always the best, although frozen vegetables take a close second in flavor. Most often they are frozen at their peak of freshness, so they are ready to become a part of your soup as soon as they’re out of the bag. Frozen vegetables can be added right into your bubbling pot just before you’re ready to serve. They will cook in the last few minutes and be bright and colorful as you dish up your soup.
Herbs and spices are another story. When did you last purchase dried herbs? Do you remember when you bought that can of ground black pepper that is at the back of your spice shelf? If you aren’t sure you bought those herbs and spices within the last six months, out they go. Use fresh herbs whenever possible. Their flavor is brighter and more full-bodied. If you need to use dried herbs, purchase them in small quantities. Buying herbs and spices on the same day you pick up your vegetables will give your recipes an extra zing.

The Veggie Trinity, often referred to as aromatics, is the first thing to go into any soup pot. Each culture has its own name for the combination. In France it is mirepoix. Latino chefs refer to it as sofrito. In Italy it is soffrito. This triad is the base for most soups and sauces and includes celery, carrot or green pepper, and onion. When these ingredients are sautéed and simmered, they combine to emit a luscious flavor and aroma that set our mouths watering.
Creating stock is much more of an art than a science. Knowing the starter ingredients makes the seemingly monumental task of making stock an easy exercise. The following recipes will give you an outline of what to use, but they are only suggestions. The amounts of each aromatic you use aren’t precise. Classically, a mirepoix is a mixture of 50 percent onion, 25 percent carrot, and 25 percent celery that enhances the flavor, aroma, and balance of stocks.
This combination of vegetables adds layers of flavor and depth to a stock. I frequently add garlic, mushrooms, and leeks. There should be approximately one pound of mirepoix or sofrito to one gallon of meat stock. If you’re making vegetable stock, you should use four pounds of mirepoix or sofrito to one gallon of water, or one part vegetables to two parts of water.
Tasting your stock is key. Sample it at different stages, adding herbs and other seasonings and more aromatics, if necessary. Another shortcut I often use is to make up a large batch of mirepoix or sofrito. I divide the portion I need for the recipe I’m creating. I divide the balance of the mirepoix or sofrito into 1⁄2-cup portions in ziplock plastic bags, which I label, date, and freeze for up to six months. Whenever I want to make soup, all I need to do is thaw a bag and I’m off and running. Another option is to pour the cooled mixture into clean ice cube trays and freeze. When the mixture is frozen, remove the cubes from the trays and save them in the freezer in a ziplock plastic freezer bag. I can then use the cubes as needed as a flavoring or base for my soups, sauces, and stews.
Whenever you see onion, carrots or green bell pepper, and celery listed in the recipes that follow, feel free to use an equal quantity of your choice of mirepoix, white mirepoix, sofrito, or soffrito, depending on what flavors you desire.

Traditional Mirepoix
Here is a basic recipe for mirepoix.
Yield: 1quart
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1⁄2 lb onions, chopped
1⁄4 lb carrots, peeled and chopped
1⁄4 lb celery, chopped

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large stockpot. Add the vegetables and sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Remove from the heat and refrigerate or freeze until you’re ready to make your soup.

White Mirepoix
A white stock is made by simmering bones, vegetables, and aromatics in water. The mirepoix for this stock remains almost colorless throughout the cooking process.
Yield: 1 quart
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1⁄4 lb onions, chopped
1⁄4 lb leeks, chopped
1⁄4 lb celery, chopped
1⁄4 lb parsnips, peeled and chopped
1⁄4 lb mushrooms or mushroom trimmings

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large stockpot. Add the vegetables and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add to your meats and stock as your recipe instructs, or refrigerate or freeze to use later.

Sofrito is a traditional base for many Latino and Spanish dishes. This building-block mixture of annatto oil, onion, garlic, peppers, and cilantro adds a wonderful flavor and depth to almost any meal. Annatto oil is available at many grocery stores.
Yield: 1 quart
2 T annatto or olive oil
3 c finely chopped onion
1 c finely chopped green bell peppers
1 c finely chopped red bell peppers
1 jalapeño, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 T tomato paste
1⁄2 c chopped cilantro
1⁄4 t salt
1⁄4 t black pepper
1 lime, juice and zest

Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottom skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté 1 minute. Add the bell peppers, jalapeño, garlic, and tomato paste. Cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
Use in your favorite soup or sauce, or freeze for later use.

In Italian, soffrito means under- or lightly fried. Dozens of Italian dishes use soffrito as a base or flavoring, especially for soups, stews, and sauces.
Yield: 2 quarts
1⁄4 c olive oil
6 large onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 c chopped parsley
3 T chopped basil
1 c fresh or dried-and-reconstituted porcini mushrooms
2 c peeled and crushed tomatoes or 1 2-lb can, with liquid
1⁄4 t nutmeg
1 t salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

If you are using dried mushrooms, soak them in 2 cups of warm water for approximately 30 minutes. Reserve the soaking liquid.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook until the onion is soft. Add the parsley and basil, and cook until the parsley loses its intense green color. Add the mushrooms to the pan; if you are using dried mushrooms, strain the mushroom soaking water and add 1⁄4 cup of the liquid to the pan. Add the nutmeg, salt, and pepper and simmer over low heat until the liquid reduces by 25% about thirty minutes. Use immediately or freeze.

The liquid in many soups comes from water that has been seasoned with the essence of meats, seafood, or vegetables. Here are some suggestions for making your own stock. I use the words stock and broth interchangeably in the recipes that follow, although broth is usually from a can and stock refers to the homemade variety. Add the vegetables that you prefer to create a soup your family will love. If you’d like to use mirepoix, substitute it for the same quantity of vegetables in the recipe. Stock can be refrigerated for up to four days or stored in the freezer for up to six months.

Chicken or Turkey Stock
Yield: 3 quarts
4 lb chicken or turkey bones, cut into pieces
chicken or turkey giblets and neck, chopped
13 c cold water
1 medium onion
2 leeks, halved lengthwise and rinsed
2 carrots
2 stalks celery, halved
2 t salt
6 sprigs parsley
6 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves

In a kettle, combine the chicken or turkey bones, giblets, neck, and 12 cups of cold water. Bring the water to a boil. Skim the frothy foam from the top and discard.
Add another cup of cold water and bring to a boil again. Skim the foam from the top again and discard.
Add the onion, leeks, carrots, celery, salt, parsley, thyme, garlic, and bay leaves. Lower the heat and simmer the stock for 2 hours, continuing to skim and discard the foam as it forms.
Remove the chicken or turkey from the kettle. Let cool for 10 minutes or until it’s cool enough to handle. Remove the meat and skin from the bones, and reserve the meat for later use.
Break apart the bones and return them with the skin to the kettle. Simmer the stock for 2 more hours, adding boiling water if necessary to keep the bones covered.
Strain the stock through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on the solids, and let it cool. Discard the solids and chill the stock. When the stock has cooled, remove the congealed fat on top with a slotted spoon.

Chicken Stock—Double-Day Doozie
This slow-cooked chicken stock has outstanding flavor. It’s worth the extra day to prepare.
Yield: 3 quarts
Day One:
5 lb fresh chicken bones (necks, backs, wings)
5 qt cold water
21⁄2 inches gingerroot, cut into 1⁄2-inch chunks
2 baby Vidalia onions or 2 bunches of scallions, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 c chopped celery
2 c chopped carrots
4 cloves garlic
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
10 white peppercorns
10 red or pink peppercorns

Day Two:
3 qt chicken stock, from Day One
2 qt cold water
5 lb fresh chicken bones (necks, backs, wings)
21⁄2 inches gingerroot, cut into 1⁄2-in chunks
2 baby Vidalia onions or 2 bunches of scallions, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 c chopped celery
2 c chopped carrots
4 cloves garlic
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
10 white peppercorns
10 red or pink peppercorns

Day One:
Rinse the chicken bones under cold running water. Place bones in a heavy 10-quart stockpot. Add the cold water and set the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until there is a thick foam on the surface. Skim off and discard the foam.
Add the remaining ingredients for Day One and simmer on low for 4 hours, or until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain the finished stock through several layers of cheesecloth and discard the solids. Chill overnight.

Day Two:
Skim off the congealed fat from Day One’s stock with a slotted spoon. Repeat the process from Day One, starting with Day One’s stock and using the ingredients for Day Two.

Brown Chicken Stock
Winterport Winery Dry Pear works well in this recipe (see appendix).
Yield: 2 quarts
5 lb chicken bones
10 c water, or enough to cover the chicken by 2 inches
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 bay leaf
10 peppercorns
1 bunch parsley stems
1 c dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 450º F. Rinse the bones in cold water. Place the rinsed bones in a roasting pan and roast, stirring occasionally, until well browned all over.
Transfer the roasted bones to a stockpot. Cover with water and simmer for 30 minutes. Skim the foam off the top of the liquid carefully and discard.
While you are simmering the bones, place the vegetables in the same roasting pan used for the bones and roast them until they brown. Add the vegetables to the stockpot.
Place the hot roasting pan over medium heat on the stove top and pour in the wine.
Stir and scrape up all the browned bits stuck to the bottom and sides of the pan and pour everything into the stockpot. Add the bay leaf, peppercorns, and parsley. Continue to simmer on low, uncovered, for 4 hours.
Strain the stock through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on the solids, and let the stock cool. Discard the solids and chill the stock. When the stock has cooled, scrape off the congealed fat with a slotted spoon.
Note: If you want to clarify the stock, whisk 4 egg whites in a bowl and add them to the stock in your stockpot. Stir the stock gently and constantly to prevent the whites from sticking to the bottom and sides of the pot. Bring the stock to a boil. The egg whites will rise to the top. Once they have risen, stop stirring. The whites will solidify on the top of the liquid, forming a soft crust. Any impurities and fats will cling to the egg whites. Carefully skim the egg whites off the top and discard. The stock below will be transparent.

White Veal Stock
This stock is an elegant beginning for beef stew, soups, and gravies.
Yield: 4 qts
4 lb veal bones
4 qt cold water
2 c chopped carrots
1 c chopped white onion
1 c chopped celery
2 leeks, washed well and chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 small bunch parsley
4 sprigs fresh thyme

Place the bones in a large stockpot and cover with the water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer. Skim the fat and foam from the surface and discard them. Add the remaining ingredients. Partially cover the pot and allow the mixture to simmer for 3 hours. Add water if necessary during the cooking process to keep the bones covered. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and discard the solids. Cool and refrigerate.

Lobster or Shrimp Stock
In the true Maine tradition, we would save and refrigerate all the lobster shells and bodies after a lobster feed. The next day, we’d place them all in a pot and make a delicious stock out of them. The lobster bodies themselves are enough to capture the essence of lobster flavor for a bisque or stew.
Yield: 2 quarts
5 lb Maine lobster shells and/or bodies or Maine shrimp heads and shells
10 c water
1 c coarsely chopped carrots
1 c coarsely chopped celery
1 c peeled and coarsely chopped leeks
2 bay leaves
5 sprigs parsley
10 peppercorns
1 c dry white wine—Winterport Dry Pear is excellent

Place all the ingredients in a large, heavy stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
Remove the stock from the heat; strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and discard the solids.
Return the liquid to the stove top and simmer over moderate heat until it is reduced to about 2 quarts.

Fish Stock
Yield: 4 qt
6 lb fish bones, heads, fins, or fillets
2 T olive oil
1 c chopped onion
1 c sliced leek, white part only
1 c chopped celery
1 c chopped carrot
1 c chopped cremini mushrooms
2 c white wine (optional)
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs sage
3 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs parsley
1 t freshly ground white pepper
4 qt cold water

Rinse the fish parts well under cold running water for at least 5 minutes to remove any impurities. If you are using the heads, remove the eyes. Drain the fish parts and let them sit in a colander while you prepare the vegetables.
Place the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the vegetables, and cook on low heat for 6 minutes. Do not brown. Add the fish parts and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the white wine, if desired, and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the herbs, pepper, and the cold water. Be sure that the ingredients are completely covered by the liquid; add more water, if necessary. Increase the heat to medium and bring the stock almost to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Skim the surface every 10 minutes or so to remove any foam and impurities.
Turn the heat off, and let the stock stand another 30 minutes.
Skim once more. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer and discard the solids. Cool, and refrigerate overnight.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the fat layer on top and discard. Use a paper towel to absorb any remaining fat.
Use fish stock in chowders, paellas, or seafood bisques, as desired.

V10 Vegetables
Veggies are the champions of our culinary world. They make every savory soup taste better. My Top Ten Vegetables for soups and stews are as follows:
1. Onion
2. Carrot
3. Celery
4. Leeks
5. Potato or Sweet Potato
6. Squash
7. Beans
8. Mushrooms
9. Peas or Carrots
10. Parsnip or Turnip

Slow-Cooker Vegetable Stock
When creating a flavorful veggie stock, I’ve found it best to use at least one part vegetables to two parts liquid. That means if you are using 12 cups of water, you need a good 6 cups of vegetables to flavor the liquid. This recipe uses an even richer one-to-one ratio for maximum flavor in a slow cooker.
Yield: 6 cups
2 c chopped onion
1 c chopped carrots
1 c chopped celery
1 c chopped parsnip
1 c chopped button mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, sliced in half
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
6 c cold water
Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook over low heat for 6 to 8 hours. Strain and discard the solids.

Vegan “Chicken” Stock
Here is another tasty adaptation for vegetarians.
Yield: 1 quart
1 c chopped carrots
1 c chopped celery
1 c chopped shiitake mushrooms
4 c water
2 bay leaves
1⁄2 t celery seeds
1 t rubbed sage
1⁄2 t salt
3 sprigs parsley
3 T nutritional yeast

Combine all ingredients in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve. Pick out the vegetables from the herbs and save them to soup or casseroles, as they have not been cooked to death. Discard the herbs.
The yeast tends to settle out of this stock, so if you want a thick stock, you may wish to add a teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in a little cold water.

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