Techniques for a flavorful weeknight soup.
Whew! The Thanksgiving madness is over. 🥱 And I don’t know about all of you but cooking “projects” are not what I want to spend this week doing.
So let’s talk soup.
It’s healthy. It’s warming. It’s satisfying. And after all the heaviness from Thanksgiving, it’s the perfect meal to welcome December.
Simmering a soup for hours will make sure it turns out delicious. After all, time is a wonderful tool for flavor. But what do we do when we need to put dinner on the table fast? ⏲️
We might be out of luck…
Just kidding. You still get soup!
For a satisfying weeknight soup, we have to create a flavorful base. 🎶 Because you know I’m all about that bass, ‘Bout that bass, no treble 🎶.
The “base” is the starting point for a soup before you add any liquid. It’s typically vegetables and some seasonings. And we want it as flavorful as possible.
I like to start with bacon or pancetta in a cold pan with a touch of oil. As the pan heats up, the fat starts to render, and the meat browns. You’ll have a salty, umami-rich starting point for your soup. After all, flavorful ingredients make for a flavorful soup. (Thanks, Captain Obvious 👨✈️)
But if you aren’t feeling the pork, start here. Next add your aromatic veggies—like onions, celery, mushroom, carrots, etc.—and continue browning. Give the veggies enough time to get golden. Since we aren’t going to have this soup simmer for hours, browning or almost caramelizing the vegetables intensifies their flavor. There is a reason recipes are bossy about how your onions are supposed to look.
Note #1: Recipes often call for sweating your vegetables, which is cooking them down without browning or caramelizing them. This gives you a subtle, sweet flavor. However, when we throw soup together quickly, we want bold flavor! So brown away.
Depending on the flavor profile of your soup, add tomato paste or miso to your vegetables as they start to turn golden. Applying direct heat (so yes browning them too) extracts even more flavor out of those two umami-rich ingredients. They’re a must-have in my book, especially if you skip the pork in the beginning.
Once everything is golden, you can move on. But not a moment before!
BUT WAIT!!!!! 🛑 Don’t add any broth yet!
Herbs and spices release more flavor molecules when they are in direct contact with fat. So before adding any liquid, let your herbs and spices cook for about 60 seconds in oil, butter, or the pork fat. You want to coax all the flavor out of them you can. You’ll smell what I’m talking about.
Just make sure there is enough fat. I’ll often move the veggies to the side and clear some space to make a well in the middle of the pot. That’s where I’ll add a little extra butter or oil first if needed. And then the spices and herbs.
Note #2: I also like to use fresh, whole spices that have been lightly crushed or ground—like cumin, fennel, red pepper flakes, or even black peppercorns. You’ll get even more intense flavor.
Note #3: When it comes to adding herbs to the base, I recommend using sturdy ones like rosemary, thyme, cilantro stems, or dried bay leaves. The flavor from these types of herbs holds up better when cooked than more delicate ones like mint, basil, or cilantro leaves. You’ll want to add those right before serving!
Note #4: I have too many notes.
No! Still no broth.
Make sure to scrape up the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan from the veggies and meat (aka the fond). We worked hard to develop all that flavor. Let’s not waste it. I like to use a bit of wine to deglaze the pan here. It adds a touch of acidity. But you can also use a touch of stock or water to incorporate all that flavor. #SaveTheFond
Now you have my blessing to add your broth. Which means…