Everything You Need to Know about Soups – Hot and Cold

A famous quote from the equally well-known French gourmand, Grimod De La Reymiere, goes:  "Let the soup be so devised that it sets the tone of the whole meal, in the same manner as an overture announces the subject of an opera."

Often in meals, soups are served as a first course.  Depending on the amount of meat, fish, and vegetables, they could be served as a main course.  Basically, soups are liquids which can be very thin or quite thick depending upon what they contain and are classified according to their thickness or to the principal liquid or other ingredients they contain.  Here are the six classifications of soups:

1. Bisques.  These are heavy-cream soups containing shellfish.

2. Chowders.  These are thick soups or stews usually containing seafood, potatoes, and milk or cream.

3. Cream soups.  These are thickened with a thin veloute’ Bechamel or white sauce.

4. Potages.  These are broths heavy with ingredients, such as gumbo, chicken noodles, or vegetables.

5. Purees.  These are thickened with cooked vegetables or fish passed through a sieve or comminuted by some other device such as a blender.

6. Stocks or Broths.  These include their derived bouillions and consommes.

Hot soups:

Basic soups are similar to basic or mother sauces in that dozens of variations can be made from the fundamental item.  Garnishes added to soups also change their character and call for a new name.

Since cream soups contain milk or cream, there is always the possibility that the milk will curdle.  Curdling can be caused by high or extended heat or by the presence of excessive acid or salt.  A stable cream soup is made by sauteing vegetables until tender, adding flour to make a roux, and then adding pulped vegetables and stock.  This is then blended into rich milk.

Chowder is a heavy soup usually including diced onions, potatoes, bacon or salt pork, and seasoning.  The main seasoning agent in chowders may be clams, beans, corn, fish, or tomato.  The liquid in the chowder is usually thin, but the quantity of ingredients which are added makes the soup thick and heavy.

French onion soup can be made heavy with onions and even heavier by the addition of large crouton covered with toasted Parmesan cheese.  Gumbo soup is made heavy by the addition of shellfish, okra (gumbo), tomato, and rice.  Such heavy soups are frequently called potages or peasant soups.  Some soups are so heavy as to be more like stews than soups.  For example, Boullabaise from Marseilles, France is a stew/soup containing 6 or 7 types of fish.

Mulligatawny, originated in India, literally means "pepper water."  It is chicken broth with different vegetables and diced chicken meat.  Raw grated apples and curry give it a distinctive flavor.  A traditional Canadian soup is pea soup.  It contains yellow peas cooked with ham or salt pork until tender and then pureed.

A Spanish national soup is called Olla Podrida (literally "smelly pot"), seasoned with saffron.  The Chinese are great soup fans and favor very delicate ones which contain vegetables barely cooked in a light broth.  The soup is served immediately and frequently a bit of sesame oil is passed around for seasoning.

Cold soups:

Soups are often thought of as being served hot, but there are many cold ones as well.  Jellied consomme may contain enough gelatin to gel when cooked or gelatin can be added.  Vichyssoise is a cream of potato soup which is served cold and garnished with a bit of chopped chives.  Borsch is served chilled and Scandinavians love a cold fruit soup which contains a quantity of cooked diced fruits.  The Spanish Gazpacho is a refreshing whole tomato soup served chilled.

Some clear soups may be clarified by chilling.  The flocculent materials settle to the bottom and the stock or clear soup may be decanted, leaving the solids in the bottom.  To obtain maximum clarity, the process of clarification is more complicated.  Egg whites, raw ground lean beef, and a mirepoix, sachet and sauteed browned onions are put in the stock or broth.  As the eggs and meat coagulate, they carry with them the solid materials in the stock.  To further ensure clarity, the stock can be strained through layers of cheese cloth.

Because of the progress of the food technology, soup bases or concentrates are available in the market which can be used for making excellent soups.  The bases eliminate much labor and reduce costs and mess in the kitchen.  Of course, if meat, fish and poultry bones and other materials for making stocks are on hand, they should be used.  A base can be added to heighten the flavor.  Soup bases list their ingredients according to the amount present, from the most to the least.  Select bases that list as principal ingredients the essence of the flavor desired.

Nothing is easier than soup.  Soup recipes are delightfully flexible, which adds to the fun.  Money is saved by using your ingenuity and your left-overs, in equal parts, to produce delectable surprise soups.  Almost any left-over vegetables, buzzed in the blender with a liquid, plus seasoning, equals a gourmet delight.  Yesterday’s gravy and the remains of a cooked meat, go around together in the blender with onions, parsley, celery, and garlic, to make smooth meat soup.  Do not throw away the water you simmer your vegetables in.  This flavorful liquid does so much more for any soup than water can.