A Winter For Soups
This has been a winter for soups. Nearly every week, I have made broth from a roast chicken and devised some new take on an old theme - and each pot of soup has improved over the last one as I learned the tricks of the soup maker's trade.
The first and most important trick is, of course, the stock. No, you don't have to make it from scratch if you are short of time but, if you do, let it simmer long and low, hours and hours, to extract all the goodness from the bones. Really good chicken stock will actually jell when you refrigerate it to remove the extra fat that congeals on the top and is easily scooped off and discarded. (That's the second trick, by the way).
The third trick is that soup, like stew, always tastes better the second day, when the ingredients have swum around together in the broth and rubbed shoulders for a time. Like a high school dance, they need time to get to know each other and to become a real "thing."
Another bit of advice is to add fresh stuff to the soup as you serve it. Fresh things add texture and interest to what might otherwise be nursing home food. When I make chicken soup with a Mexican bent, I add cubes of avocado, fresh chopped tomato, slivers of lemon or lime, chopped cilantro, and tortilla chips in little bowls for people to add what they like. When I make "American style" chicken soup, I add frozen peas to the bowls and ladle the hot soup over them - just a few minutes in the soup is enough to thaw the peas and they add a wonderfully fresh touch.
My final hint is to add ingredients that are unexpected - you never know what kind of serendipity you might stir up. A good example is the coffee I added to the pot of Portuguese Bean Soup I made on the last day of winter.
Coffee?? In soup?
Sure, why not!
It added such a nice, deep "belly" to the soup. I'm sure it would have been delicious even without the coffee, but I had just been watching my hero, Jacques Pépin, on TV and he told us that he never wastes anything so, when I was cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast and had about two cups of coffee that we didn't drink, I opened the lid of my soup pot and poured it in.
Now, I wouldn't suggest that for chicken soup, but it worked like a champ with the spicy sausage in my bean soup. So, think about some interesting ingredients that you might add to your next potage. There's nothing like a big pot of soup to warm the cockles, to share with the neighbors, and even to freeze for the inevitable day when spring turns back into a winter for soups.
Portuguese Bean Soup, inspired by the soup we had at the Punahou Carnival in Hawaii one year.
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 box of chicken stock, 32 ounces (or homemade if you have it)
8 ounces tomato sauce
1 can black beans (or any beans, really)
2 andouille sausages, diced (fully cooked, smoked sausages)
1-2 cups black coffee (optional)
1/4 head green cabbage, coarsely chopped
Hot sauce to taste (optional)
In a large pot, sauté the onion, carrot, and celery in the olive oil until the onion is clear. Pour in the chicken stock and the tomato sauce, add salt and pepper to taste. Add the beans, the sausage, and the coffee. (Andouille sausages are rather spicy - if you don't have spicy sausages to use, you may want to add some hot sauce to give a little zing to the broth)
Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for an hour or more. Let cool and refrigerate over night. To reheat, bring back to a boil, add the cabbage, lower the heat, and simmer until the cabbage is just transparent but still has some texture.