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Back to basics with soups and stocks

Get the basics right and then you can get creative


Dishes such as soups, stews and casseroles take centre-stage at this time of year. Here, we offer some tips and advice when tackling soups and stocks.

There isn’t much that a hearty helping of soup can’t fix on a dull day. Nourishment for the soul in a steaming bowl of goodness, there is no end of flavours to experiment with in the kitchen, with as many possibilities for vegetarians as carnivores. Getting to know the basics for soup recipes means that you can easily try your hand at your own unique recipes, while a basic knowledge of stocks can transform a wide range of meals.

READ MORE: Spiced lentil and carrot soup

Bowled over

Soups are usually classified into two categories: clear soups and thick soups. Although predominantly served hot, gazpacho or vichyssoise are examples of soups that are usually served cold. Soups are a great use of leftovers, and many freeze well, making a great homemade instant meal for the freezer.

  • Clear soups: A consommé is a strong, flavourful meat or fish broth that has been clarified. A broth is made like a stock, however, a broth uses meat instead of just bones and can be served as a finished dish.
  • Thick soups: Thick soups are usually thickened by a thickening agent or, more commonly, by reduction. Some thick soups are cream-based. A bisque is a rich, smooth soup of French origin, classically made from a strained broth of shellfish, with added cream. A chowder is a chunky soup, traditionally made with seafood or fish and containing potatoes, but can also be made with poultry, vegetables, and cheese. A potage is a thick soup or stew with meat and/or vegetables boiled down.

READ MORE: Cumin and chilli spiced beetroot soup

The right blend

The majority of soups are blended, however, in keeping with the versatile nature of soups, it is completely up to yourself as to whether or not you blend your soup and at what stage. For example, it can be nice to add a few finely sliced bits of leek to a blended leek and potato soup to give a little texture. Croutons, cream and herbs will also add more flavour, colour and bite to your dish right at the end. And don’t forgetto sample as you go, seasoning to your taste.

Taking stock

Stock is a strained, thin liquid in which vegetables, meat, poultry or fish has been simmered with herbs. Making your own stock adds real flavour to a wide range of dishes, from soups to casseroles and sauces. The difference between stock and broth is that broth is a basic soup where the solid pieces of flavouring – meat, fish or vegetables – remain.

It’s important to simmer stocks and soups gently, and not over-boil them. Take care when adding salt to stocks, as they can become overly salty, particularly after being frozen. Meat stocks can be simmered for several hours to extract the collagen and gelatine from the bones. Fish and veg stocks should be cooked for a shorter time, keeping the flavour light.

  • White stock… A light, pale liquid made from bones that have not been roasted or browned – typically using chicken and vegetables. Mild in flavour, white stocks can remain colourless and can be used as a substitute for water when cooking rice for example.
  • Brown stock… An amber liquid made by first browning/ roasting meat, typically beef or game bones, resulting in a rich, brown stock full of flavour – great for making gravy and stew.
  • Fish stock… Made with fish bones and heads, this can form the basis of fish soups and sauces. A concentrated fish stock is referred to as a ‘fumet’, which usually has white wine added to it.
  • Remouillage… A weak stock made from bones that have already been used to make stock. It is sometimes used to replace water.