Making soup with great flavor starts with maximizing four essential elements:
You may have heard people talk about soup making as merely throwing leftovers and wilted vegetables into a big pot. But soup is more than a hodgepodge of ingredients.
The finest master chef of the 20th century, Augustine Escoffier, said, "Of all the items on the menu, soup is that which exacts the most delicate perfection and the strictest attention."
As beginners, perhaps, we can aim at something in the middle.
One thing is for certain - a great soup is not merely thrown together; it is built in flavor-layering steps.
The first element involved in making soup with great flavor is the stock. It must be made ahead of time or can be purchased pre-made. But it should be noted that it is the stock made by you that will make your soups taste like they came from a top-notch restaurant.
Stock is a flavorful liquid that adds delicious, deep taste and body to soup. It's made by slowly simmering ingredients in water to extract their flavors. Classic ingredients used in stock include a blend of vegetables (carrots, onions, and celery), bones (chicken, beef, or fish), plus herbs and spices all covered with water.
As the flavor foundation, its job is to absorb flavors from other ingredients and carry them to the taste buds. In fact, it is so important that if the stock isn't delicious, the entire soup will lack taste.
For more detail about stock, refer to my article How to Make Great Stock Every Time.
The second element of great soup relies on coaxing the maximum amount of flavor from a blend of vegetables called aromatics.
The most common aromatic combination is mirepoix (pronounced meer-pwah). It's a mixture of 50% onions, 25% carrots, and 25% celery. These vegetables are put through a process called sweating to release their flavor.
Generally, it's the main ingredient which gives the soup its most distinct flavor, as well as its name.
There are even ways to enhance the flavor of these main ingredients before adding them with the rest. One method to increase the overall flavor of vegetables is by roasting. As the vegetables roast, a process called caramelization converts their sugars into something complex and flavorful.
Herbs, spices, and seasonings make up the fourth element of great soup. Not only are they flavor powerhouses, they also provide great health and healing benefits.
Wonderful herbs such as rosemary, thyme, parsley, and basil which are commonly used in soups also provide some of the most powerful health-enhancing benefits.
Layering flavor in steps means you'll be making soups of superb quality… masterpieces that beckon to be shared. Give some of these soups a try:
"Auguste Escoffier Quote: Of All the Items on the Menu, Soup is That..." A-Z Quotes. Accessed May 30, 2015. http://www.azquotes.com/quote/664471.
Culinary Institute of America. Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003.
Dornenburg, Andrew, and Karen Page. "Composing Flavors." In Culinary Artistry, 37-59. New York: John Wiley, 1996.
McGee, Harold. "Sauces." In On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, 580-644. New York: Scribner, 2004.
Peterson, James. "The First Step to Great Flavor." FineCooking.com. Accessed May 31, 2015. http://www.finecooking.com/articles/first-step-great-flavor.aspx.