When the weather turns cold and the days get shorter, nothing hits the spot like a comforting bowl of soup.
But unfortunately it’s all too easy to produce a subpar bowl of stew. Luckily these easy soup hacks will help you make your next bowl of soup your best bowl of soup.
1. Get a good base
Your soup is only as good as its broth. Making homemade stock is easy — just save your leftover meat bones, poultry carcasses and veggie scraps in a big bag in the freezer. When you’re ready to make soup, simmer these ingredients for a couple of hours in a big pot on the stove, then strain the broth, and use it for your soup. You can roast your stock ingredients before simmering to add an extra dimension of flavor. Check out these five broth recipes to make your next soup the best ever.
2. Hack canned broth
Don’t have stock bones on hand but still want to make sure your broth is flavorful? You can still simmer carrots, onions, celery and some herbs in the broth before making the soup to give it that homemade flavor. Just strain, and cook on as usual.
3. Up your umami
Sometimes even stock you make from scratch tastes bland. In that case, there are a few ways you can boost the soup’s savory flavor:
Soy sauce: Soy sauce will add saltiness and some caramelized complexity to your broth. This is great in beef or pork stocks, which tend to be darker than chicken, but you can use a splash in chicken or veggie stock too.
Dried shiitake mushrooms: These flavor-packed mushrooms should be soaked in hot water until they’re rehydrated. You can then strain their soaking liquid and add it to your broth for an earthy umami boost.
Miso: Great in veggie and chicken soups, adding a tablespoon or two of white miso paste at the end of cooking your soup will give it a salty, slightly sweet and nutty edge.
Parmesan rind: Add a Parmesan rind to your soup, and let it simmer, releasing its nutty, salty, umami flavors into the broth.
Tomato paste: Even if your soup isn’t supposed to be tomato-y, adding a dollop of tomato paste to it can add a depth of sweetness and tang that will liven up the whole pot. Try adding tomato paste to beef-based soups to help brighten up the rich flavors.
4. Keep things clear
Sometimes you just want a nice, clear broth for your soup. To prevent a cloudy broth, you should skim any foam that rises to the top both when you’re making your stock and when you’ve added your soup ingredients. You can also strain your broth through cheesecloth before adding the other ingredients to keep it extra clear.
For truly crystal-clear stock, you can go a step further. Strain your stock, then add an egg white that’s been combined with 1/4 cup of cold water to the hot stock. Bring it up to a boil, then let it sit. The egg whites will attract any scum from the broth. Strain the broth again, and enjoy some crystal-clear broth.
5. Cook it well
Most soups have a variety of vegetables, proteins and grains. It’s important that each ingredient is cooked just right so that it’s not overdone or still raw when your soup is finished. You can cook your meat by poaching it or simmering it in your broth until it’s cooked through, then straining it and adding it back before serving so it doesn’t become tough. And make sure you check a cooking time chart so that you add your veggies in the right order — root veggies (like carrots and turnips) first, greens (like spinach) last.
And nothing is worse than soggy grains in your soup, so try cooking them until slightly al dente in a separate pan of broth, then adding to each serving individually. This will ensure you don’t wind up with mush.
6. Sweat it out
One way to make sure your soups pop? “Sweat” your onions and veggies before adding the broth. This helps marry the different flavors of your aromatics for a smoother flavor. It takes only a couple of extra minutes, and it’s totally worth your time.
7. Thicken it up
When the weather gets colder, you might start craving a thicker, heartier soup. Luckily there are tons of different ways to thicken up your soup. You could use a roux; add a scoop or two of mashed potatoes (this works wonderfully in chowders and bean soups); strain a cup or two of your soup, and blend it before adding it back to the soup pot; add a can of pureed beans; add some cream or milk, and simmer until thickened — there are a ton of options, and each will give you a unique and tasty result.
8. Use your aromatics
Spices, herbs and alliums are your friends. Don’t be afraid to use a variety of flavors — ginger and lime for Asian soups; garlic, lemon zest and basil for a bright vegetable soup; and even orange zest and coriander for a hearty black bean stew.
9. Use your jars wisely
Sometimes all a bland soup needs is just a spoonful of something you already have in your fridge. Add a dollop of Dijon to your chowder to cut through the cream, some hoisin to round out the flavors in your pho or a spoonful of pesto to turn your chicken soup from classic to chic. Just see what you have lying around, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
10. Keep it easy
You can make your soup experience as complicated as you want, but don’t let all the options scare you. Sometimes a great soup can be as simple as a can of veggie broth, a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, a can of black beans, a sprinkle of whatever spices you have on hand and maybe a dash of soy sauce. Canned broth, a can of tomato soup, some cream cheese and a package of frozen tortellini make a great soup too. The key is to taste as you go and to make sure you have a nice balance of flavors and textures. With that in mind, you can have soup whenever, wherever, no stress needed.