Thursday, January 26, 2023

The ultimate soup guide, part 2

I am very passionate about soup. I love making soup. I love eating soup. I love talking about soup. And I so desperately want to share that love with you all by helping you make the best soup possible. I’m sure you’ve realized by now not all soups are created equal. There can be a significant difference in taste between the soup you make at home and the soup you order from a restaurant.

I created this blog post as a follow-up from my previous “The Ultimate Soup Guide” to share a few more thoughts on how you can improve your soup. I’m also sharing one of my favorite recipes, minestrone soup.

And in case you're curious (I'm sure you're not), I have Chef Brown, owner and executive chef of the Flatiron on Penn, to thank for my passion for soup. He was my chef instructor for my Soups, Stocks, and Sauces class in culinary school.

Take stock of your stock

A good foundation is of the utmost importance when making soup. If you start with something that tastes good on its own, then you’re already in good shape. In a perfect world, we would only ever use homemade stock. It’s significantly more flavorful and richer than what you can buy at the store, and you can control the sodium content. However, the reality is that’s totally impractical. So I would say if (when) you make homemade stock, use it for brothy soups—those soups that make you want to slurp the last few drops. (Find my stock recipes here.)

Magic mirepoix

Pronounced meer-pwah, mirepoix is crucial for flavoring soups, stews, sauces, braised dishes, etc. When in doubt, start with mirepoix. Mirepoix is a mixture of 50% onions, 25% carrots, and 25% celery by weight. So if your soup has 8 ounces of onions, it should have 4 ounces of carrots and 4 ounces of celery. As previously mentioned, a good foundation is important, and mirepoix is part of that flavor foundation. It’s the base that your soup recipe is built upon. You can control the direction of the soup be either sweating or caramelizing the mirepoix .

To sweat mirepoix, cook it in a pot over low heat with butter or oil until everything softens and releases moisture. This helps to concentrate flavor. The flavor remains concentrated even when you add liquid to the pot later. No browning occurs when you sweat mirepoix. The flavor profile of the vegetables will not change.

As you probably guessed, when we caramelize mirepoix, we brown (but NOT burn) the mirepoix. When we do this, the "maillard reaction" occurs. When mirepoix is heated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and above, the sugar breaks down and caramelizes. The sweetness of the vegetables deepens and intensifies, and the flavor profile changes.

To caramelize mirepoix, cook just the onions and carrots over medium low heat with butter or oil. As the vegetables cook, they will soften and release moisture. Once the moisture evaporates, the onions and carrots will start to caramelize. Make sure to stir every so often so it doesn't burn. When the onions and carrots are evenly brown, add the celery. Celery doesn't brown in the same way that onions and carrots do. Celery is low in sugar and has a lot of moisture, which can prevent the onions and carrots from adequately caramelizing. That's why it's added last. Once the celery softens, add your liquid to the pot.

One last thing about mirepoix (and all vegetables you add to your soup): Make sure everything is uniformly cut. Two reasons: it ensures everything cooks evenly, and it makes the soup taste better because it creates better mouthfeel.

Sear before you simmer

Just like with the caramelization of mirepoix, searing or browning your meat is important for flavor. Browning the meat before adding it to the stockpot imbues the soup with rich flavor and it also releases some fat and gives the meat some structure so it doesn’t just become a  floppy glob that disintegrates as the soup cooks.

Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer

Simmer means to cook over medium-low heat as small bubbles gently break the surface every once in a while. Boiling is done over high heat, and lots of big bubbles break the surface of the soup.

Most of the time, it's best to cook your soup over a simmer. If you cook it at a boil, the ingredients in the soup will jostle around too much and break apart. Also, too much liquid will evaporate before the flavor can develop.

So why bother bringing it to a boil if we’re just going to simmer it? The answer is twofold: First, it can take a lot of time for soup to reach a simmer at medium-low heat, and second, you can control the temperature of your soup better if you know what its boiling point is.

Don’t part with your parmesan rind

When you finish a wedge of parmesan cheese, stick the rind in the freezer and save it for when you make soup. The rind will infuse the soup with rich, umami flavor. The rind will become soft but not fully dissolve, so make sure to remove the rind before serving.

Perfection takes time

Sure, you can finish a soup in 20 minutes, but the flavor won’t be nearly as profound as a soup that’s been simmering for an hour.

Add acid

Have you ever tasted something and thought, “This tastes flat”? It’s probably because you need an acid. Acids brighten and enhance flavors while also balancing sweetness and bitterness. Acids come in many forms. Some of my favorites for soup are lemon juice, vinegar, and wine. I like to incorporate acids throughout the cooking process, like when I deglaze the pot with vinegar or wine. But it’s also a good idea to stir in an acidic ingredient at the very end.

Minestrone soup

Yield: 6 servings

Time: About 2 hours


  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
  • 10 ounces yellow onion, small dice
  • 5 ounces carrot, small dice
  • 5 ounces celery, small dice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup white wine (Plus 1/2 cup reserved for finishing the soup, if desired)
  • 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 ounce piece parmesan cheese rind (optional but adds tremendous flavor)
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tablespoons dry Italian seasoning
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1 medium zucchini, medium dice (or butternut squash)
  • 8 ounces kale, coarsely chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until it starts to brown.
  2. Add onion and carrot (and butternut squash if using) and cook until they start to caramelize. Add celery and cook until soft.
  3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
  4. Deglaze pot with white wine.
  5. Add diced tomatoes, beans, parmesan cheese rind, rosemary, bay leaf, and Italian seasoning, stirring after each addition
  6. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer. Cook for 30 minutes.
  7. Add orzo (and zucchini if using) and cook until tender, about 9 minutes.
  8. Add reserved white wine and kale and stir until wilted.
  9. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  10. Serve in bowls, drizzling a little olive oil and sprinkling a big pinch of parmesan cheese over each serving.


  1. This food is very much tasty and delicious. Many people like it, especially while travelling, and enjoy a lot. I also eat it from different restaurants with my friends. Do you like it?

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