There are a lot of things stewing right now so I thought I would talk about making soup. I am seriously dysfunctional when it comes to cooking. I learned a lot about baking growing up from my Mom but other then that–I am a kitchen loooh—ser. loser. My Mom would make all these amazing soups and stews and I would not understand how it went from separate meats and veggies into this amazing tasting amazingness.
That was until moving to Philly last year when I bought a smoked Turkey wing because it was a SMOKED TURKEY WING–rare to come by in the NW. Anyhoo–I didn’t know what to do with it so I combined it with some chicken and it, by accident and no skill, turned into amazingness just like my Mom’s.
Since then I have learn a lot about soups and stews. The main lesson is that they are incredibly forgiving. Also, buying chicken or beef stock is completely unnecessary (though I do have powdered chicken stock on had in case I royally fuck something up.
One of the biggest lessons I learned was from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. This show is on Netflix watch instant and if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it. He goes through 10 skills every cook [person] should know such as how to cook a steak or how to cut an onion. He also teaches how to make Beef Bourguignon. Stupid easy and is the basis for how I approach beef cooking–well all as all soup cooking now.Here is my take on stews and soups:
1. Brown meat in soup pot (unless its chicken then you can skip this step). Dump the shittiest cut of beef you can find in a pot with a bit of oil (since it will most likely be very lean). You dont even have to cut it up. Brown it so that it gets all scuzzy on the bottom of the pot. This is good and adds flavor. Add a roughly cut onion and some smashed garlic cloves until these are carmelized too. Also add other herbs if you feel like it but you don’t have to and you have about 4 hours to add those later as desired. Aalso if you have beef bones those would be super good for the broth–if not no worries. Whatever.
2. Add water and alcohol. I add some water and alcohol to my soups from here. With chicken I start here (but carmelize onion first). I have literally taken a raw whole chicken from the package and dumped it in a pot of water and its turned out amazing–you can also use cooked chicken or turkey carcass. For alcohol I add red wine for beef bourguignon, beer for beef stew, white wine for chicken soup.
3. Cook for a fucking long time. Seriously with beef–like 4-5 hours at a low simmer. Chicken is more flexible and can get a wee mushy but I kindof like that in a soup. Yesterday, I cooked my beef stew for 3.5 hours then turned it off while I was at the gym and assembled the final stew when I got back–this is a good weekend dish or make night before thing but its so simple that you can make it for a late dinner too.
4. When you feel its cooked enough finish the soup. I am lazy so I get those tinsy potatoes and throw them in. Carrots–don’t peel, the skin is where the flavor is and I get small ones. For green, I love kale in soup because it holds up. I put the potatoes in as the soup is warming up so they get a while to cook–up to an hour (I like them falling apart), carrots next–I like them just slightly soft, kale is last cause I don’t want it wilted much–just boil for a second.
5. FLAVOR. Most flavor, honestly, comes from salt. If it tastes bland it usually just means it needs salt. BUT before you add salt I would suggest adding the juice from a lemon or a lime. It will often brighten a soup and lessen the need for salt. It won’t be enough to make the soup taste citrusy–just brighter. I worked at a cafe that had AWESOME vegan black bean soup–the secret was juice from an orange. Seriously made the difference. Still bland? Add salt. I also may add a touch of oyster sauce (mainly for chicken soup) because it has a ton of salt but also that umami flavor. When do you add salt? I add a citrus and salt as the broth begins to cook–it helps break down the meat but I would WAY UNDERSALT at this point because the flavors haven’t come together yet.
6. Don’t freak out–the soup/bourg/etc. will taste like shit until the last second. Its weird–you taste and taste and at first its separate flavors and gross and watery but then heat breaks everything down, then they come together and its awesome. Give it time, leave it alone, breathe, don’t freak out. Trust me.