Soup can be many things—comforting, nutritious, delicious—and a go-to meal-in-a-pot. But there’s a lot you might not know about this versatile dish. Here’s a ladleful of soup basics.
Stock/broth: Classically trained chefs know there is a subtle difference between stock and broth, but most home cooks tend to think of the two as one. Both are made by simmering water with various ingredients: meat and/or bones, vegetables. But here’s what sets the two apart: Broth is more complete and seasoned—think of it as “ready to go.” Let’s say it’s chicken broth; you can add noodles and shredded chicken and you’ve got soup (or you could sip it plain). Stock is what you might use to make soup, by punching up the seasoning. It’s a base or a soup starter. That said, for practical purposes the two are pretty much interchangeable.
Pro tip: Make broth or stock ahead and freeze it in ice-cube trays or individual-size serving containers for easy use. If you don’t make your own, skip the bouillon cubes and opt for homestyle store-bought stock or broth from good-quality brands, says Panera Bread® Food Team member Dan Kish.
Roux: Rhymes with moo and is made from equal parts (in weight, not volume) of fat and flour. Often roux is made with butter in a 2-to-1 ratio of flour to fat. Stir flour into melted butter and continue stirring until the floury taste cooks off. Use roux for thickening soups and stews.
Pro tip: Making a roux from pan drippings or even bacon fat (in place of butter) will add another layer of flavor to your soup.
Mirepoix: This medley of diced carrot, celery, and onion adds flavor and aroma to soups. Dice two parts onion, one part carrot, and one part celery into roughly same-size pieces and gently sauté them in your stock pot. The more finely these vegetables are chopped, the faster their flavor will infuse your soup base. Once they soften and fill the air with their aroma, you can begin to add other ingredients.
Pro tip: To change the flavor profile of your dish, try substituting leeks for onion, or green pepper for celery.
Bouquet garni: A bundle of herbs tied together with string, cooked in the soup, and removed before serving, it’s often made with a combination of fresh bay leaves, thyme, and parsley. You can also gather up dried seasonings—including fresh peppercorns—in a piece of tied cheesecloth or a tea infuser.
Pro tip: Know when to add seasoning. Pop in hardy herbs, like rosemary and thyme, early in the cooking process; more delicate varieties should be added closer to serving.
“The secret to making great soup: Layer in flavor,” Dan says. “If you choose ingredients that go together naturally—like butternut squash and apples, or beef and mushrooms—and season properly with spices and herbs, you will find flavor in each and every spoonful.”
Another tip from our expert: When using dried beans in soups, soak them (often overnight, depending on the variety) before adding them to your stock. But don’t toss the soaking liquid! “Use it,” he says. “It puts a lot of flavor back into your soup and enhances the natural taste of the beans.”