Soups of fresh stock are good eating

January 22, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

What is the difference between soup, chowder and stew?

Soup is the umbrella term for liquid food often containing vegetables and the like. Chowder usually has onions, potatoes, vegetables, some fish or meat and milk in it. Stew generally is chunkier and thicker than what we'd call soup and it's cooked by covering food with liquid and simmering slowly for a long period.

Going beyond definitions, there is some revisionism going on about how to make a good soup.

Soup may be simple and part of our rainy, cold-day childhoods, but modern chefs have a few nits to pick with the way our moms made it.

Usually cheap to make and including many of the basic food groups, the soup of our past was often made with leftover vegetables and the pot was put on to simmer in the morning.

This technique may become a thing of the past. With more double-income families and nobody in the house all day, it is more difficult to make a homey, slow-simmering soup on anything but a weekend.

Some soup addicts say slow-cookers solve this problem, but that is debated by those who contend that flavors don't bloom unless the ingredients are sauteed beforehand and the crock pot is used only for its simmering value.

John Moody, kitchen systems manager for the Fresh Choice restaurants, where diners daily down about 70 gallons of 25 different types of homemade soup in 17 California locations, thinks only the freshest ingredients -- not the dregs at the bottom of the vegetable bin -- should be used in making soup. He offers these other tips on soup-making:

*Be careful not to overcook it. Overboiling can break down ingredients. For example, if you put potatoes on to boil at a roar, they will break down into small pieces. Keep the soup simmering below the full boil and stir gently.

*If adding cream, add it right at the end unless you want the cream to reduce.

*If adding beans of any kind, soak them the night before so they are softened. You won't have to cook them so long and they won't end up mushy. Bean soups need very little but spices added to them.

*If adding a beurre manie (equal parts flour and softened butter) to thicken a soup, make ahead and add in small pieces to prevent lumps. Then cook just below a boil at least 20 minutes to get the floury taste out.

*Remember that stocks are eminently freezable, but soups with ingredients such as potatoes and vegetables do not hold up so well. Cream soups do not freeze well.

And also remember these facts about stock, sodium and fat:

*A key to a good soup is good stock. If you do not make your own, remember that most of the canned varieties contain high levels of sodium, as much as 1,800 milligrams, more than half what experts recommend people consume daily. To reduce the levels, add water.

*Lots of companies are now marketing soup mixtures, such as packages of different kinds of beans, along with flavoring packets. You don't have to use all the flavoring package mix, which contains lots of sodium.

*If you are concerned about fat, make sure to skim it from the top of soup. Often this is easiest after the soup has been refrigerated and the fat has risen to the top and hardened.

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