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Soups 101

Soups were one of the specialties at my restaurant. To quote my wife: “If I had a nickel for every person that said that was the best soup they had ever had in their life, we could sell the restaurant and retire.”

I developed a very complex layered flavored base that is not part of any soup recipes I have ever read. Most people make soups using the old crock-pot method; Throw everything into the pot and cook it all day. The problem with this is half of the ingredients are over cooked and half are under cooked. The goal is to get everything cooked evenly; I originally got the idea for my method while watching an oriental chef. He cooked each item separately in small woks and then tossed them into a large wok and served the entrée immediately. My method gets everything cooked evenly and creates a very rich flavor base in the broth while still keeping the individual ingredient flavors crisp and clean.

Here is how I made each day’s soups in the Tea Room. First get the broth and water heating up before you start anything else. Add about three fourths of the salt and pepper you think you will need. Then start adding any seeds or hard herbs that might be in this recipe; like celery seeds, caraway, bay leaves and red pepper flakes. Next start chopping and adding the hard vegetables – red & green peppers, carrots, turnips or potatoes depending on the soup. Now it is also the time to get the onions in the broth. At this point you want the broth to be at a very low boil or at least 200° F. Beef, pork and chicken should be cut up, seasoned and sautéed in a very hot skillet. Under cook it slightly, especially the beef, all you really want to do is sear the outside to lock in the flavor, the meat will finish cooking in the broth. Cooking the meat separately also gives you the opportunity to get rid of excess grease. Deglaze the pan with the appropriate red or white wine and add everything to the soup pot. For tougher cuts of meat that need to tenderize try baking the meat first then cutting it into chunks.

Fish and shell fish should be added raw at the very end, as they take very little time to cook. The most common mistake with fish is too grossly over cook it. In the hot liquid 5 to 10 minutes is usually plenty of time for bite sized portions. Remember most shrimp in the grocery store is pre-cooked and frozen. The only requirement is to heat them up, shrimp will over cook in just a few minutes. Potatoes are a different story; I usually don't like all the starch in the broth you get by cooking the potatoes in the soup, except for old-fashion potato soup of course. There are two options. First – microwave the potatoes about ¾ done and let them cool enough to cut up then add to the soup. Option two is to boil them separately drain and then add to the broth. Cayenne or chili peppers can be added at any time, just remember they get hotter with cooking time.

Now it is time to start adding the softer herbs like thyme, chives, rosemary and cilantro. Always add the garlic in the last few minutes this keeps it from becoming bitter and keeps the flavor fresher. Lots of people like to add all the herbs first, but I really think you can over cook them. Adding them toward the end keeps the fresh herb flavor. If this is a vegetarian soup get the wine in now, otherwise use the wine to deglaze your meat pan. I also like to hold the tomatoes until last so they hold together better. For cream based soups, once all the meat and vegetables are in add the milk, sour cream or half & half. You will have to add more salt to offset the diluted broth.

Rice and pasta soups can be tricky, as you may have learned the hard way they both can over cook and disintegrate very quickly. I have found the best way to do both is to cook them separately. For pasta boil the pasta about 8 min., it should be considerably under cooked. Drain and add to the soup immediately, serve within 10 min or so. For rice almost the same procedure. Cook the rice but keep it as dry as possible. Restaurants use a trick of pre-cooking these items and chilling them. Then just before serving they get added to the hot soup and heated back up. Cooking the pasta separately gets the starch out of the broth and lets you get more salt into the pasta enhancing its flavor.

Do the final salt and pepper check just before serving. Remember to always add the wine and garlic before the final salting as they both intensify the salt flavor. A word about wine and soup – never use “cooking wine” in a soup, it is usually vinegar, salt and a little wine for flavor, it will make your soup uneatable. Turn off the heat and let your soup stand about 5 minutes, just to let all the flavors blend and get the final salting absorbed. Plus, soup should be served hot but not burn your mouth.

I know that initially this might sound like a lot more work, but it is really not. What you are actually doing is just cutting up adding and cooking the continents in the correct order. To practice the technique I have included one of my favorite soup recipes. With all recipes I always recommend you follow the recipe the first time, then you can modify it to your families taste.

PS; I also have a very unique method of writhing recipes. My ingredients are listed in the exact order they are used in the recipe. Try your skills on this: g's Seafood Chowder & Sausage

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