I have been teary-eyed since January 20, but today it’s not because of political relief, it’s because of onions. Why is it we can send Rovers to Mars, why is it we have people living year-round on the International Space Station, but we can’t chop onions without crying? Tens of thousands of years of tears and we can’t do better than the list below?
I’ve tried them all. Believe me, I have.
Onion-cutting tips that work (more or less)
- Chill your onions
- Fan away the fumes
- Cut under cold water
- Sharpen that knife
- Work on your knife skills
- Cut near an open flame
- Cut off the top of the onion
- Wear goggles
There are more ideas, but not a one of them is worth squat. Sure, you can mask up like a scuba diver, but come on.
Anyway I’m not writing this today to talk about onions, or even provide an actual recipe for the potato soup I’m making at the same time I’m composing this post. I’m writing to provide this big take-away point: Soup truth is universal truth. I’ll let that thought simmer in the back of your mind while you read on.
Truth: All soups are both equal and unequal
Sure, one soup may end up looking and tasting way different from the next. A soup can be thick or watery, can be any color, can be purely broth or full of chunks. Any combination but it’s really no more and no less than soup no matter what you call it: Bouillon, consommé, bisque, cream, potage, stew. (Yeah, stew is really a kind of soup when you come down to it).
Now, there’s soup and then there’s soup. Throwing veggies and meat chunks into boiling water will make soup, but that doesn’t do much for the taste buds. Most people sauté the ingredients as a first step and that includes me. Root veggies and celery stalks and whatever strikes my fancy go into the soup pot in order of density and/or toughness. It probably doesn’t make any difference in the long run, but it’s how I do it. I almost always will use olive oil, but lots of recipes call for meat fats (for potato soup, bacon is most common). Come on, it’s soup — I’m saying use whatever you want, but sautéing those veggies in fat adds a depth of flavor that just boiling everything in water won’t.
Once the ingredients are sautéed to my satisfaction, I add the liquid. Today I used beef consommé because I had it in powdered form (be careful — it’s salty!). This is the time to throw in herbs and spices, Cover and let simmer to blend the flavors.
How long? Until I get around to finessing the soup – and honestly, while it could be as little as after half an hour, with me finessing can sometimes happen the next day.
Truth: Older is better, yes it is
Here’s another truth about soup: Almost all the time (covering my butt with that qualifier), a soup that’s been cooked, cooled, and reheated — or cooked for a long, long time — is a better tasting soup. I once made a base of soup from a Thanksgiving turkey carcass and kept the broth cooking on my wood stove till sometime in the following January. I’d use some broth and then add veggies and bones to replace what I was removing.
This long-term cooking is called hunter’s stew, perpetual soup, or maybe you’ve heard it called stone soup. It’s a fantastic way of using up odds and ends as well as being a kind of home-made fast-food. The few months of keeping my pot going is no biggie, not compared to a beef noodle soup that’s been simmering for 46 years on a Bangkok sidewalk. I’ve not been there to try it, but I’ve read that it’s super popular and, contrary to what you might think, a 46 year old soup is still a healthy soup. As long as it’s kept simmering it’s too hot for fungus or bacteria to grow.
The only thing that grows is the flavor.
Truth: Soup is awesome because it’s soup-er food
Soup has been a staple of human meals for something like 20,000 years or so. Back before pots for cooking were dreamed up, people boiled water by dumping rocks heated in fires into in hide bags or even watertight reed or bark containers. They’d throw in whatever they had gleaned: acorns or roots, maybe some leaves and stems, a meaty bone, probably insects. They’d keep adding rocks till everything was cooked, and voila — a cheap meal that’s loaded with nutrition, and that can be made anytime, anywhere, with whatever is available.
Cookware was invented after a while and people got fancy with their cooking — but soup was still a fundamental part of meals. And it still is, today. It’s easy, it’s cheap, it’s good for you, and it never has to be the same to deliver all of that goodness.
When you think about it, soup is like everything that exists in the universe we know. It’s all made of the same stuff but each thing is different, too. Whoa – that is profound! So profound it drives me to want to drink. But wait! Wine is a great soup ingredient! So is beer. And coffee!
And remember when adding those liquids: Be like Julia Child. One for the pot means one for the cook.
Finessing today’s potato soup
I used an immersion blender to smush up about half of the cooked ingredients. Leaving some veggies unsmushed gives the soup a more interesting texture.
I added half a cup of coffee left over from this morning’s pot, some heavy whipping cream that needed using before it went bad, then tasted the soup to see if it really needed white wine. It did not. I added half a cup anyway because then there had to be wine for the cook. I garnished with parsley for the photo.
Well, okay, a wee salty because I used consommé instead of broth. But still.