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"Soup's On!"

by Tarla Fallgatter


In many families this cheery call means it's time to eat. A steaming bowl of hearty soup, a warm, crusty buttermilk biscuit or piece of cornbread, and a crunchy salad can easily be called dinner. I find I can make soups or stews ahead of time and leave them to be heated up as my family comes and goes throughout the week.


Soups can be the beginning of a formal dinner, the main course or even the dessert. It is something to appreciate all year round—steaming hot in chilly weather, cold in summer, or vice versa.

Soup is such a universally understood food that it hardly needs defining. Indeed, the word finds its way into many sayings that have nothing to do with eating. One gropes through a "pea-soup fog." Ordinary cars are outpaced by one with a "souped-up" engine. A troublesome situation has one "in the soup." Well-meaning meddlers are reminded that "too many cooks spoil the broth." And of course there is always the famous story of Stone Soup.

Types of Soup

Clear soups—Sparkling broth is a classic dish. Additions of meat, poultry or vegetables for flavor and color can be as simple or as complex as you choose. Homemade broth is clearly preferable to any of the canned, cubed or paste substitutes.

Pureed soups—When you cook vegetables in broth and then whirl them in a blender or food processor, the result is a smooth, naturally thickened soup. Such soups have an inherent elegance as first courses. Most are complemented by something crunchy on top.

Creamy soups—Adding milk, half-and-half or cream to a pureed soup changes its character considerably. Not only does the soup become silkier and seem special, its nutritional profile also expands with the addition of protein and calcium. Though still in the first-course category, such soups can be offered in smaller servings in keeping with their increased richness.

Fruit soups—It is said that a resourceful cook can make a good soup from anything. If you have never tried a fruit soup, consider serving one as a breakfast main dish—or for dessert. Fruit soups are something like a sparkly, lightly cooked fruit compote. You have the option of serving them hot or cold. They are also complemented with fruit, toasted nuts or a dollop of creme fraiche.


Stews are almost as much a part of everyday awareness as soups are. In addition to kitchen usage, we all know someone who "stews" over a vexing problem or, worse yet, is "left to stew in his own juices."

A very fine line separates the soup from the stew. It is probably a matter of liquid or, if you will, soupiness. The thicker the soup, the more likely it is to be considered a stew.

An ill-defined but much savored middle ground consists of dishes in which meats, poultry, or fish cook in an abundant broth. When all is ready, the flavor-packed broth is served as a first-course soup, followed by the meat or whatever as a main source.

Dishes such as French bouillabaisse and petite marmite, Italian bollito misto, and Austrian Tafelspitz are but a few examples of this sort of one-pot resourcefulness. They may be a problem to classify, but it is easy to appreciate them. Simmering a bouquet garni with most stews can give them a more well-rounded flavor.

Types of Stews

Meaty stews—Abundant in beef, veal, pork, lamb or variety meats, all these stews are substantial and have a certain finesse. Many use thrifty cuts of meat, so in serving them for a dinner party you may find that you have invested more time than money in their preparation.

When a recipe calls for cut-up meat, don't automatically reach for the so-called stew meat—already cubed—in the meat case. First have a look at a similar boneless whole roast; if the price per pound is less, it is probably worth your while to cut it into pieces in your own kitchen.

Poultry stews—The versatile chicken is a stewpot favorite. When it is cooked to juicy tenderness in broth, wine or cream, chicken is a dish that almost everyone likes. What's more, if you have an eye to economical entertaining, you can serve a delicious chicken stew that won't break the budget.

Time was when the chicken that went into the stewpot was a stewing hen—an ample bird of a certain age. These days, however, unless you shop at a special poultry store it is hard to find such flavorful chickens. But you can still achieve rich-tasting chicken stews using a young frying chicken weighing three pounds or more.

Fish stews—The dividing line between fish soups and fish stews is a very thin one. Oyster stew strikes many people as soupy, and many a clam chowder is thick enough to eat with a fork. The most famous fish stew is the bouillabaisse, a French seafood melange that comes from the area around Marseilles. It is a fine kettle of fish steaks and fillets, arrayed on a deep platter after cooking. Each diner serves his choice of fish into a pool of the saffron-scented broth in which all were cooked. A hot pepper mayonnaise, or rouille, seasons the fish. Toasted croutons of French bread are also offered.

Soup/Stew-Making Tools

Both soups and stews are such basic dishes that one hardly needs a sophisticated batterie de cuisine to do them justice. But experienced cooks find the following items helpful, and if you enjoy this kind of cooking, it will be useful to accumulate some or all of these utensils.

A big, heavy stock pot is essential for making your own broth. When you start with a quantity of bones, they take up a lot of room. For most first-course soups, a three-quart saucepan is needed. For full-meal soups, use a five- to six-quart Dutch oven. Many family stews need a 10- to 12-inch frying pan in which to sauté the meat. To strain out the bones and vegetables from homemade broth, you need a large colander with fine perforations, and for turning cooked vegetable mixtures into creamy, elegant purees, you will need a blender or food processor. Both do the job superbly, but the food processor also offers the convenience of grating, shredding, slicing and chopping vegetables as well as other soup and stew ingredients. You can also use a hand-operated food mill to puree vegetables.


Few foods freeze as easily or as well as soups and stews. Here are some ideas for freezing them at different stages during preparation, for convenience.

Freeze bones (beef, chicken, etc.) in sealed, heavy plastic bags until you are ready to make broth.

Freeze broth in quantities you can use easily to make soups and stews. About one quart is a good amount for a first-course soup; measuring one- and two-cup amounts are useful for stews. Remember to leave about one inch of room at the top of the container to allow for expansion of the liquid as it freezes.

Freeze finished soups, ready to heat and serve. Mark them with the freezing date, because they should be used within four months. Reheat over direct low heat, stirring constantly, unless the soup contains milk; creamy soups should be reheated in a double boiler over simmering water.

Freezing stews is somewhat trickier. The factor to look for is the thickening agent. If the stew is thickened simply by cooking it down until the liquid in it is of a substantial consistency—until it has enough body not to run all over the plate—then the stew can be frozen with no special precautions. Stew thickened with flour or cornstarch may break down and separate after freezing. If you plan to freeze such a stew to serve later, substitute rice flour, tablespoon for tablespoon for flour, or two tablespoons to one for cornstarch. Use frozen stews within four to six months.

Homemade Broth

The mainstay of a sturdy soup/stew (or even a light, delicate one) is a well-made broth. It is not difficult to prepare your own beef, chicken, fish or vegetable broth. You will need a large pot, a melange of flavorsome vegetables (available year-round), and enough time to let the broth simmer until it becomes a delicious, full-bodied infusion of all that has gone into it. Fortunately, once the broth begins to cook gently, you can leave it alone for hours without attention.

Broth is more than the heart of a good soup. On its own, clarified beef or chicken broth stars as sparkling consommé. Broth also makes a delicious liquid ingredient in many stews, sauces and gravies, and you will treasure your homemade broth for turning rice into a perfect pilaf.

To "Clarify" Soup

Perhaps you believe, as did a character in a short story by Saki, that clear soup is "a more important factor in life than a clear conscience." If so, you may be dissatisfied with broth that has only been strained. Although you may strain broth carefully, even through cheesecloth, there are still enough suspended particles in it to make it somewhat cloudy.

Here is the way to transform homemade chicken or beef stock into sparkling clear broth:

1. Measure broth; use two egg whites for every four cups broth. Beat the whites until foamy.

2. Bring the broth to a boil in a large pot. Whisking constantly, add the whites to the broth. Return to a full boil. Remove from the heat and let stand to cool slightly.

3. Line a colander (placed over a large bowl) with a dampened, well-wrung-out muslin cloth. Slowly pour the broth through the cloth. Twist the ends of the cloth and gently press out the liquid. Discard the solids. Reheat the broth and use at once, or refrigerate for up to two days.


A liaison is added to a soup or stew near the very end to stabilize pureed ingredients in their broth, to thicken them slightly, and to add an elegant, velvety finish. There are several kinds of liaison: a roux or beurre manie, a pureed rice or bread panade, the simple addition of arrowroot or cornstarch, and the Allemande, an egg yolk mixed with heavy cream.


A roux is made by heating butter and gradually incorporating into it an equal amount of flour to form a smooth paste. It is often used in thickening a cream soup. It is also traditionally used for making a bechamel, or even a traditional gravy. To use, add half a cup of the hot soup to the roux, stirring constantly until thickened, then return the pan to the heat and keep adding more of the soup mixture.

Beurre Manie

A beurre manie, a "manipulated butter," is just like the roux, except that the flour is added in equal proportions to cold butter. Use either a fork or a whisk in a small bowl to incorporate (or mash) the flour into the butter. To use, simply swish the fork or whisk full of the cold beurre manie around in the hot soup.


A panade is made either from scratch or with the leftovers of starchy vegetables or bread, pureed to a paste and added as a thickener to soups or stews. It is usually used cold and worked into the dish like a beurre manie. Stale, dry cubes of very good bread should be soaked in milk or boiling water, squeezed gently and whisked into the soup (use about half a pound of bread per each cup of liquid, or just put it into the soup stock and puree). Cooked rice whirled in a food processor with just enough stock to help create a paste is a panade, as is a very thick bechamel or cream puff paste without the sugar.

Cornstarch/Arrowroot/Potato Starch

To thicken a soup with cornstarch, arrowroot or potato starch use only a small amount. Dissolve one teaspoon of the starch in two tablespoons of cold water, mix and stir into one pint to one quart of hot liquid, depending on the thickness you require. Bring the mixture just to a bare boil before serving.


If you use any of the starch liaisons, you have the advantage of being able to bring the soup to the boil afterwards. This more delicate liaison of yolk and cream can only be gently warmed after its addition, or it will curdle. To avoid curdling the egg yolk when adding it, stir some of the liquid into the yolk first, warming it gently. Then add more hot liquid to it bit by bit, stirring, until it is quite hot. Proceed to pour the hot yolks back into the hot soup with moderate care, now that they are no longer shocked by the heat. It takes two yolks to thicken about one cup of liquid.

Soup Garnishes

No matter how good a plain soup tastes, something on top adds visual interest to entice the appetite. That something can be ever so simple: a dusting of nutmeg or freshly ground pepper, a few snips of chives or parsley, a single mushroom slice, a few fresh kernels of corn. A pureed vegetable or creamy soup takes well to a crunchy addition such as a homemade potato chip, a garlic crouton or even a dollop of mashed potatoes or a dumpling. Clear soups can be enhanced by poached tiny meatballs or cooked orzo or riso.

Another favorite "garnish" or last-minute add-in to almost any vegetable soup is pesto or pistou if you want a kick. Since pistou is fairly thick, ladle a scoop of your soup into the pistou to thin it, stirring to combine, then add this thinned-down pistou to the entire pot. It is good in any soup with beans or vegetables; it also turns a good but plain homemade chicken stock into something fragrant and very special.


Looking for an inexpensive bistro on the left bank of Paris? Try one of Guy Savoy's baby bistros, (Les) Bookinistes, located at 53, quai des Grands Augustins, 6th. Telephone: Metro stop: Saint Michel. There you will find delicious rustic soups, salads and the most delicious poached figs imaginable!

Here is an easy but very delicious creamy mushroom soup recipe:

Creamy Cremini Mushroom Soup

2 Tbsp. butter

1 1/2 lb. cremini (or domestic) mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced

5 1/2C chicken stock

1C cream

1 Tbsp. chives, snipped

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat, add the butter and heat. Add one half of the mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste, and sauté about 6 minutes or until slightly golden. Add the remaining mushrooms and sauté until nearly all the moisture has evaporated—about 8 minutes more. Add 4C of the stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer about 1-2 minutes.

Remove from the heat and puree in a blender until smooth. Return to the pot and add 1C of the remaining stock and the cream. Bring to a simmer. If the soup is still too thick, add the remaining 1/2C of stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among 8 bowls, sprinkle each with a little snipped chives and serve immediately.

Makes: 8 servings


Tarla Fallgatter is a well-known Orange County caterer, chef, teacher, restaurant consultant and kitchen tool manufacturer. She trained at Paris' Cordon Bleu, La Varenne, and Ecole Lenotre cooking schools, and was the first foreign woman to cook in the kitchens of Maxim's. She has traveled to over 60 countries throughout the world, "sampling" the local cuisine. She markets her "Tarla" all-copper rolling pin in fine cookware shops.


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