tomato soup

Chef’s Secrets for Your Soups

A good soup warms body and soul! We asked the head chef of Panera Bread® for tips to take soup from flavorful to truly memorable.

Classically trained chefs know that the secret to sensational soup is matching the freshest quality ingredients to the right culinary techniques. “Layering flavor is key,” says Dan Kish, head chef for Panera Bread. “If you handle your broth, spices, and other ingredients properly, you will find flavor in every spoonful.” Here’s his recipe for soup success.

Start with the Best Broth

Homemade broth is a great soup starter, says Dan. And with a little planning and prep, making your own doesn’t have to be complicated. Invest in a good stockpot, one that is taller than it is wide. The shape enables flavors to concentrate with less evaporation. To extract the most flavor, use just enough water to cover your other ingredients (meat bones or a mixture of vegetables and herbs).

“Soup is typically two-thirds liquid, so the broth you use has a major impact on flavor,” says Dan. If you can’t use homemade broth, opt for a good-quality, low-sodium variety from your local grocery store.

Another smart idea: When making a legume- or bean-based soup, save the soaking liquid to use during cooking. “When we make our Low-Fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup, we add the water the beans were soaking in to the soup pot. It gives a lot of flavor back to the soup and enhances the flavor of the beans,” says Dan.

Layer Complementary Flavors

Some soup ingredients just go together—carrots, celery, and onions; butternut squash and apples; fresh corn and potatoes. When you combine flavors in this way, you enhance the profile of the entire dish. For example, the truffles in our Country Style Mushroom with Truffle Soup deepen the flavor of the other mushrooms, explains Dan.

And here’s another good example: Panera’s Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup features a varietal blend of tomatoes to lend the most flavor. “Sweet tomatoes are added to balance the acidity of plum tomatoes, while other varieties are chopped—rather than pureed—to give the soup a little texture,” he says.

Spice Up Your Soup

Professional chefs know how and when to add herbs and spices. Dan offers this advice.

  • Thick-stemmed herbs, like rosemary and thyme, as well as bay leaves, need to be added to the broth early in the cooking process.
  • More delicate herbs, such as basil, dill, and parsley, should be added right before serving.
  • Buy dried herbs and spices in small containers and replenish them often. Even dried spices need to be fresh to provide optimal flavor.
  • Freshly grind whole spices, like peppercorns and nutmeg, whenever possible.
  • Add salt while sautéing the vegetables; then adjust the seasoning to taste right before serving.

Still need a little taste inspiration? Stop into a bakery-cafe and enjoy a featured soup.