The woolly Mammoth still roamed the earth. The last of the saber tooth cats were just about extinct. The world was only one millennium from the last ice age. The construction of the great pyramids of Giza was still four thousand years in the future. The world population was about five million. The cow was just starting to be domesticated. And man was consuming his first bowl of soup. That’s because 9,000 years ago is when the discovery and use of clay pottery began to flourish. Before you can invent soup, you have to invent a heat/water resistant container to cook it in.
Surely it was a cosmic microsecond between the first clay bowl and the first pot of soup. What could be more natural than combining water with meats and vegetables, heating it, and then luxuriating in one of the classic comfort foods of all time? So simple, so basic, and yet so functional. Soup was hygienic, (the boiling water drives impurities from itself and the soup’s contents), practical, (an efficient way to utilize scraps and extend your food supply), and delicious. It’s no wonder that virtually every culture on the planet has soup in its culinary repertoire.
The term soup derives from “sop,” a piece of bread upon which broth was poured; a primordial crouton shall we say. Eventually it became vogue to serve the broth sans bread. The word soup entered the English language in the seventeenth century, prior to that it was known as broth or pottage. By the eighteenth century soup had established its role as a quintessential first course.
Soup is probably the most versatile concoction in the culinary realm. The sky is truly the limit when it comes to the liquid base, the ingredients and the seasonings. While it would take a small treatise to fully delineate and describe all the types of soup, here are some basic categories. Clear soups are made from a broth (a simmered mixture of meat, vegetables and seasonings, also known as a bouillon), or consommé. Consommé is a broth that has been clarified via a filter of ground meat, egg whites and vegetables so that it is ultra clear. Cream soups, at least not in the traditional and stricter use of the term, are not simply soups based on cream. Classic cream soups were based on a béchamel sauce (milk thickened with roux) or a veloute, (a white stock thickened with roux), and then finished with cream and sometimes egg yolk. Nowadays “cream” soups encompasses soups that are enriched solely with cream. Puree soups are soups made from pureed vegetables. Bisques employ cream and inevitably some form of crustacean. Sometimes pureed vegetables are included as well. Chowders are usually, but not always based on cream, and sometimes seafood. Chowders are chunkier than bisques and inevitably contain potatoes. Gumbos vary in ingredients but generally rely on a dark roux. Cold soups also run quite a gamut and can be composed of purees, cream, diced vegetables, fruits, etc. Remember to season cold soups more strongly since cold inhibits flavor. Cold soups make great summer fare and the fruity/sweeter ones can also function as a dessert.
While the breadth of soups is evident from the brief synopsis above, the foundation for most soups is a stock or a broth. The difference between the two is that a stock is based on simmered bones while broth is based on simmered meat. Bones provide body, (from the denaturation of proteins into gelatin), while broths create more robust flavor. While we all use canned broths in a pinch or when feeling slothful, nothing beats a homemade stock or broth. While a good veal stock is an all day affair, a broth can be made in a few hours or less. If you’ve never done it, I urge you to make your next soup from homemade broth. There is a dramatic difference from the canned counterpart.
Soups, as previously stated, are a good means of using up excess ingredients and/or scraps but I wouldn’t push the envelope with that agenda. A soup, stock or broth should not be a wastebasket for items that are stale or going bad. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say. Finally, soups are a good choice for the cook who needs to complete some of their menu ahead of time. The flavor of most soups will benefit from a day’s rest in the fridge. A little common sense is in order however. Delicate items that are best when first cooked, such as lobster or crab meat, are best consumed in the moment. Soups finished with milk, or lower fat dairy products will also probably break when reheated the next day. Sometimes the soup du jour must be for that day only.
CREAMY BACON VEGETABLE SOUP RECIPE
• 5 slices of bacon, diced
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 2 small carrots, diced
• 2 celery ribs, diced
• 1 small to medium onion, diced
• ¾ cup chopped string beans
• 1 medium potato, small dice
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 4 garlic cloves, chopped
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 1 quart chicken broth
• 4 oz. chopped spinach
• Thyme, chopped, to taste
• 4 oz. heavy cream
Sauté the diced bacon until crisp and you’ve rendered as much of the fat as you can without burning it. Remove the bacon and set aside. You should have about two tablespoons of bacon drippings. Add one tablespoon of butter to the drippings and then sauté the carrots, celery, onion, string beans, and potato with salt and pepper. Dice the potato a little smaller than the other vegetables to ensure even cooking. When the vegetables start to soften add the garlic and cook one more minute. Add the flour and stir constantly for two minutes. Slowly pour in the chicken stock, constantly stirring. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until the vegetables are softened to your liking. Just before the vegetables are done add the spinach and thyme. When done cooking add the cream. Return to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for a minute or two. Assess for additional salt and pepper and serve.
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