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The guide: mastering the basics of soup

Whatever the kind, all soups follow a similar road to deliciousness: Aromatics and main ingredients go into a pot, a liquid is added and the whole thing is simmered until done. While a good soup recipe is a great thing, their similar paths mean you don’t actually need one.

— Before You Start

Think about the bowl of soup you want to sit down to. Is it a brothy chicken noodle? A chunky minestrone, or a puréed butternut squash?

With that image in mind, build a foundation using cooking fat, an aromatic base and seasonings. First, consider the cuisine that inspires the dish, and choose a fat based on that. For example, use butter for a French soup, olive oil for an Italian one, and coconut or peanut oil for Thai flavors.

Next, do the same to select among the aromatic bases, built on chopped vegetables: Will your soup call for a classic French mirepoix, an Italian soffritto, or Southeast Asian shallots and ginger? If commitment scares you, keep things simple by cooking onions and garlic in a neutral-tasting oil.

Then, pick your seasonings, whether bay leaves and peppercorns, or a spicy curry paste. Just remember: Less is more. Stick to three or fewer seasonings to keep from muddying the soup’s flavors.

— Building Flavors

Cook the aromatic base and seasonings in the fat you have chosen. Once the vegetables are tender, add stock or broth. No single element wields as much influence on a soup’s taste as its liquid. You will want about a cup of liquid per serving — a little more for a brothy soup, a little less for a hearty one.

If you’re after clean, light flavors, or if you don’t have any stock on hand, use water. It’s never a bad choice, but sometimes stock is a better one, especially if your goal is a hearty, savory soup. Avoid canned and boxed stocks, and instead make and freeze stock, or buy good-quality fresh or frozen stock from a butcher. It will make all the difference.

After building layer upon layer of flavor, there is the payoff of adding the ingredients — heaps of meat, grains, beans or vegetables — that first inspired you to make soup. When you can, add them to the pot raw so they can release flavor into the soup, and absorb flavor from it.

— Finishing Up

As the soup simmers, taste and adjust the seasonings, and stir often to prevent sticking and burning. You will know the soup is done when all of the ingredients are tender and the flavors come together, about 25 minutes for tender vegetables and up to three hours for tough meats like pork shoulder. If you’re planning on making a puréed soup, use a hand blender in the final stages of cooking to get it to the desired consistency.

Serve your soup topped with any number of garnishes — a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, some croutons and a drizzle of good olive oil. Or, make a large batch, and freeze the leftovers for up to two months. You will thank yourself for your earlier generosity and foresight.

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