HYDE PARK, N.Y. -- Although the methods for making different soups vary, general guidelines apply to almost all soups. From ingredient and equipment selection to cooking, storing and serving, basic principles can help create delicious soups.
First principle: The best soups are made from the finest available ingredients. Because soups are mostly liquid, the flavor of a soup's liquid will strongly influence its overall flavor -- so begin with a homemade broth to define a soup's fragrance.
If time or resources don't allow for a homemade broth, commercially prepared broths and soup bases can be convenient time savers and can also yield a delicious finished product.
Depending on the soup, you can use a commercial product as is, or you may choose to fortify and enhance its flavor first by simmering it with fresh aromatic ingredients, such as herbs and vegetables.
Broths are a liquid essence of flavor, and the best broths are made from the most flavorful meats, fish, vegetables and aromatics. Meat cuts from the more exercised parts of the animal, such as the neck, shank, chuck or bottom round, will have a more pronounced flavor. Stewing hens, rather than young birds, are best for chicken-based soups.
Fish or shellfish should always be fresh. Generally, it is best to use lean, white-fleshed fish, such as sole, halibut, cod or flounder. Rich, oily fish, such as salmon and tuna, tend to lose freshness when their delicate oils are subjected to high temperatures for short time periods. Shellfish should be cooked in their shells in a small amount of liquid.
Vegetables broths can be made from any favorite combination of vegetables. You can combine a selection of wholesome trimmings from a variety of root vegetables to make a flavorful vegetable broth.
To make a basic broth, combine about 5 pounds of meat, poultry or fish with 8 cups of cool water in a tall pot. (Add a little more water during cooking to keep ingredients completely submerged.)
Bring the broth to a slow simmer over low heat, skim frequently, and simmer, along with a selection of spices, herbs, salt, and pepper, until flavorful (usually 30 minutes for fish, 3 hours for poultry, and 4 hours for meats).
For a vegetable broth, clean and chop about 6 pounds of vegetables (nearly 8 cups), season, and simmer for about 1 hour, or until richly flavored.
After the broth finishes simmering, strain it through a sieve or colander into a metal or glass bowl (plastic will insulate the broth and prevent rapid cooling). Set the bowl in a sink or large bowl with ice water, and stir the broth from time to time to speed cooling. Cover and refrigerate broths for up to three days, or place in freezer containers for up to six weeks.