Stocks & Such
Nothing beats coming inside on a cold day and breathing in the comforting aroma of garlic, herbs, and vegetables simmering in stock on the stove. Around the world, from rustic cooking fires to utterly modern kitchens, soup—in its most simple sense, meat, vegetables, or fish cooked in liquid—has always satisfied. Soup is versatile, simple, healthful, convenient, and economical. It can be a crystal-clear, intensely flavored consommé served as just one course of many in a special dinner, or it can be a homey one-pot meal of vegetables, meat, and beans in a hearty broth. Today we're lucky to have easy access to an international array of ingredients and recipes, making the soup pot the perfect place to draw together a mix of cultural influences and flavors.
At the Bistro, we like to play with different flavors and steer clear of common dishes, and our soups reflect this philosophy. Like many home cooks, we often don't have the time to prepare soups that require long, intensive processes. Mark's soups are innovative and exotic, or traditional with a twist, and he prefers quicker preparations that work well for the home cook.
You can't go wrong by serving soup as the focus of a meal; a loaf of good bread and a fresh green salad make dinner complete. In fact, when Mark throws a dinner party at home, soup is almost always the star attraction. For him, each recipe inspires a different serving idea. He'll serve chicken soup in vintage bowls or fill souvenir coconut-shell bowls with his Spicy Peanut Soup with Curry and Vegetables(page 39).
If you serve soup as one of several courses, make sure its flavors and heaviness match the rest of the meal. For example, you wouldn't want to serve contrasting flavors like a potato-leek soup with a Thai dinner, and a creamy seafood bisque followed by a heavy, rich pasta would overwhelm even the boldest appetites. On the other hand, Chanterelle Velvet (page 19) served with grilled chicken is an excellent pairing, especially if you serve it with a nice Pinot Noir.
Soups are the perfect dish for practicing variations. For example, our basic potato purée starts with potatoes simmered in stock. When the purée is prepared with a chicken stock, we might add a mushroom duxelles and toasted hazelnuts, whereas with an asparagus stock, we might garnish it with asparagus tips and watercress.
On a more practical note, soup is often better the second day. If you have leftover soup, store it in a clean container and refrigerate it right away. Reheat soup very gently, either on the stove over low heat or in the microwave. Most soups will keep several days, but if you're making soup that contains seafood, it's best to make just enough for one meal; most types of seafood don't reheat well.
Although soup is a great dish to make when it comes to improvising, it's helpful to understand the various types of soups and their traditional definition or method of preparation.
Broth-Based Soup As the name suggests, this is a soup prepared with broth—meat, bones, vegetables, or all three, simmered in water or stock. Mediterranean Vegetable Soup (page 97) and Chicken with Noodles and Herbs (page 22) both fall under this multipurpose category.
Bisque These days, a range of creamy soups are mistakenly called "bisques," but the real thing is a shellfish soup flavored with the essence of the crushed shells and thickened with a roux.
Chowder With its roots in the American East Coast, chowder's primary elements are bacon or salt pork, potatoes, fish or chicken stock, fresh seafood or vegetables, and usually cream. Mark likes to make smoked seafood and corn variations, and sometimes thickens chowder with mashed potatoes.
Purée One puréed main ingredient, such as a legume or vegetable, characterizes this type of soup. The purée is finished with stock and seasonal flavors. Purées can range from a hearty bean soup to a light and refreshing roasted pepper purée.
Stew Traditionally a stew consists of meat cut into bite-sized pieces and braised with vegetables until fork tender. At the Bistro, our stews might be curried lamb or bourguignonne-style beef stew, as well as seafood stews like bouillabaisse and gumbo.
Always remember that, in addition to quality stocks, using the freshest ingredients will reward you with memorable soup every time!
Even if your personal soup-making experience is limited to opening a can and measuring out the water, you can easily learn the basics. Always start with a quality stock, preferably homemade. Stocks can take up to several hours to simmer, but their preparation is extremely easy. There is no need to hover in the kitchen; simply combine the ingredients, add cold water, and let your stove do the rest.
Freeze perfectly good stock ingredients that you otherwise might throw away, like chicken carcasses, crab, shrimp, and lobster shells, beef bones, and the ends of celery and carrots. When the mood strikes, make a few batches of stock and freeze them, so you'll always be ready to create a flavorful soup. To do so, first cool the freshly made stock in a shallow container in the refrigerator. Then transfer it for freezing into several two-quart heavy-duty plastic zip-top bags or plastic containers.