Ultimate Soup Base and a few soupy examples

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The beginning of any great soup is its base.  Counter to what one might think,  using stock, bouillon, wines or even beer just can't make up for whats provided by a good base.  There are many classic soup bases, but the most adaptable is what I will be covering.  Its not so much what is in the base, but rather how it is prepared, like a water colour painting it is built in transparent layers.  Each layer setting the foundation for the next until it reaches its peak height of flavor.

History, well mine anyway:  Going back to my Vancouver days I started as a cowboy chef, "someone brought in to inject new blood", at an Italian bakery bistro called Ecco Il Pane.  We were situated central to two TV stations and several Recording studios.  Every day i cooked for the likes of Richard Gere, Sarah McLachlan, Tori Spelling, The Urban Gourmet and quite often the entire Vancouver Canucks Hockey Team.  Anyone filming in Vancouver at the time somehow found there way to us.  Most importantly its where I met my wife of 15 years, she worked in the office.  If anyone out there knows, cooking for celebrities can be very trying.  They always want the best, something new, yet hate change all at the same time, not to mention there special dietary needs.  Just look up David Duchovony, uh yeah.  This is where the soups come in.  Every morning I arrived at 5:00 am to start two 40 liter pots of soup.  One of which always had to be vegetarian, if not both.  The only allowable substitute would be to use our homemade chicken stock in one of them.  Here's the clincher, we had a no repeat policy for a minimum of 8 months.  Doing the math, including being closed on weekends, times two different soups per day meant I couldn't repeat a single soup until I had made 320 other completely original soups.  This may sound difficult, but in Vancouver we have a tremendous access to ingredients from all over the world which simplifies things greatly.  Mind you, we were primarily northern Italian with a to of french allowed, so no won-tons.... rats

The key to making so many different soups was to have a great base, something that you could turn into almost any flavor palette.  The following ingredients are provided in level of importance as these are key, where you go from there is up to you.  The trick is in the style of cooking that first involves sweating vegetables under fairly high heat, drawing out the sugars to caramelize on the bottom of the pot and introducing a new vegetable which once again will give up its moisture, deglazes and  simultaneously re-deposits its own sugars back into the pot, ready for the process to repeat.  It is this culmination of layering that builds such an amazingly rich flavor.

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This was so helpful and easy to grasp! Thank you!

gunnlaugursig3 months ago

Great and amusing instructable!

I love these kind of soups.

Packed with heavenly flavours and smooth consistency make them irresistible for us mere humans as well as those soup craving zombies!

Thanks a lot! :-)

gforsyth1 year ago
Great instructable! I would love a chicken soup recipe ( i hope i am not asking to much)
Housedog1 year ago
I love making soups, and I am very thankful for lessons from a pro!
Thank you for sharing your recipes and your process!

You used to cook at Ecco Il Pane! Oh how how I miss your soups and their Chocolate Sour Cherry Sourdough Bread.

Are you able to share the recipe for Chocolate Sour Cherry Sourdough Bread and your experience making it if you've tried?
ale-8-13 years ago
The onions burned right as they hit the pan. Is there anything I could do to avoid this? I think my pan may have been too large for the amount of oil used.
iminthebathroom (author)  ale-8-13 years ago
That sucks, sometimes this can happen if the pan is heated too long prior to adding the onions. yes that can happen if the pan is too large, but the biggest culprit is usually the type of pot/pan used. It makes a huge difference as to the thickness of the pot/pan bottom. I've made this in a thin stockpot with similar results as yours with scorched onions. The only thing you can do to avoid this is to either use a pot/pan with a thicker bottom, or turn the heat down quite a bit. Normally this is really isn't much of an issue but it can be. You can increase the amount of oil you use as well, this will reduce the scorching as well, but it can make it a little greasy. Of course you can always ladle this out when its simmering as the oil will float to the top. Curious, was it stainless? They make for great low heat cooking or boiling water, but aside from that not the best for caramelizing.
Thanks for the prompt reply. My pot is indeed stainless steel and I'm still cleaning it a day later. I will have to forgo this method of starting soup until I get a decent pot. Is there one you could recommend for a beginner? I keep thinking after creating a base, that chicken could be poached in it rather easily too. Chop up the chicken, add some noodles, and then chicken noodle soup.
Chanio ale-8-12 years ago
May I suggest using clay pots?
They heat slowly, are difficult to handle and to keep up but everything tastes great!

I would compare this way of cooking with clay pots like cooking with ashes. There is an additional taste but time is slower.

Thank you, 'soup-master' for your great lessons!
I am instantly putting them into practice.
iminthebathroom (author)  ale-8-13 years ago
My biggest advice for purchasing new pots or pans is to avoid buying sets, at least for this intended purpose. Calphalon is the aluminum pot of choice, but can be quite pricey. A cheat is to buy a non-Teflon aluminum pan, much cheaper then a large pot. Just do all your caramelizing, then deglaze the pan and pour all the goodies into your pot. A great place to buy pots or pans such as this is at a restaurant supply store. They will be almost the same price as buying at a regular store, but the quality is phenomenal. You will never buy a another one again. Even there you will find Teflon and other no-stick coatings - RESIST! Caramelization doesn't work well on these non stick coatings. Lastly, second hand stores are fantastic for finding old thick bottoms aluminum pots or pans. Yeah they will be kinda ugly, but with a good cleaning, nothing beats them. Surprisingly lots of them are now becoming collector items, especially those one with the enamelled exteriors in olive green, red or Catalina orange.
PurpleKat3 years ago
Thank you so much for this Instructable. I used it to start a pasta sauce, and everyone at dinner couldn't believe how good it was. Usually my husband is the acknowledged expert in sauces, but even he was asking me how I did it. :)

My parents hated to cook when I was growing up, and they taught me that resentment. Reading enthusiasm like yours shows me that there's another way to look at it.
iminthebathroom (author)  PurpleKat3 years ago
Excellent, glad I could help!
adamadkison3 years ago
Excellent instructable with great instructions!
I do have one question for you. While making the first base with the onions, celery and salt I made a clam chowder out of it, but I'd kept wondering if you had any suggestions for developing the first base into a cream-based chowder?
iminthebathroom (author)  adamadkison3 years ago
Thank you very much! The first base is the one we use for clam chowders in restaurants all ready, using clam juice as the stock being added to it, followed by cream at the end. Were you wanting a puree? or a cream base that is thick or thin. For thinner clam chowders (adding heavy cream at the end to flavourful stock) the addition of saffron and bacon is amazing, but if your looking for the thick type, you can't go wrong with the traditional dill of the east coast, adding a bit of fennel works as well surprisingly.
Have you ever tried cooked grains like quinoa in the meatballs?
iminthebathroom (author)  supersoftdrink4 years ago
For sure, i have also used steamed millet left over from what we used to add to bread. I usually find just like the couscous you should cook the grain first, this introduces moisture which sort of steams the ground meat from the inside. Similar to butter in puff pastry it opens up little pockets in the meat, which adds to the lightness. Flavours from the cooked grains also permeate the meat, and in exchange flavours from the meat permeate the grains. WIN WIN. This really isn't a new idea though, i remember growing up as a kid having porcupine meatballs. The rice used would have a similar effect. I have had it both ways, raw minute rice add to the ground meat, and cooked basmati mixed in.
CrLz4 years ago
Fantastic! Thank you for the teaching / discussing the "why" behind the methods. Illuminating for beginners like me.
iminthebathroom (author)  CrLz4 years ago
Happy to help, I'll be posting others soon. Decided to document what I do at the restaurant on fridays
I find myself searching for a "like" button for the above comment. :)
iminthebathroom (author)  supersoftdrink4 years ago
Seelos4 years ago
This is great stuff - well done!

If I wanted to have the primary flavor to be mushrooms, would I add them after completing 2nd base? Just toss them in there after the carrots and before the ~4 liters of water?  

Or do mushrooms count as an ingredient that can't handle the 'sweating in' process and need to be added toward the end of cooking?
iminthebathroom (author)  Seelos4 years ago
Hmm, I would probably reduce the carrot content by half, if adding it at all. Really depends on the mushrooms used. If you want a nice earthy flavor I would add a bit of dried mushroom that you have soaked for about 15 minutes. Reserve the soaking liquid. Regular button mushrooms can be added right after the celery and onion. Its also nice with portabella, these I would saute first on high heat in a separate pan with a little olive oil and add towards the last 30 minutes. Make sure to deglaze the pan and add the drippings. Even nicer, "cause i love them" are oyster mushrooms, except these are cooked the same way but on low heat, otherwise they toughen up. Add those right at the end. Finally that reserved mushroom liquid, add it when you add your main liquids. I used to do a mushroom ragout over polenta in Calgary when I worked at savoire Faire - similar cooking style.
excellent instructable that really works. I really dont need anything other than this. Thank you.
iminthebathroom (author)  queenofstring4 years ago
Thank you! :)
slackerdo4 years ago
Great 'Ible, just two questions. When you have finished the base do you strain out the solids that have just given their all for the base or are they left in to go toward the soup? Also wouldn't this be freezable for future stocks?
iminthebathroom (author)  slackerdo4 years ago
You leave the solids in, and yes you could freeze it, just remember the vegetables will loose more of there structure upon thawing. Not necessarily such a bad thing if you have picky eaters, as the solids in the base will almost disintegrate.
sanewby4 years ago
love <3
Dragontrap4 years ago
Clear and concise with room to play! Lovely instructable that I'll be sure to give a go next time I make some homemade soup :3
iminthebathroom (author)  Dragontrap4 years ago
I got a chance to make the soup today, and I have to say at the start I was a tad worried about such a high heat, but once I got going, the flavors it brought out were top notch! I ended up roasting a 2 day brined chicken and adding the meat/drippings to the final soup stock, along with some cilantro & precooked 10 grain mix.

Will TOTALLY be making this more than once :3!!
iminthebathroom (author)  Dragontrap4 years ago
Awesome! yeah high heat makes my wife nervous. I think its one of the top reasons restaurant food tastes the way it does, it just brings out the flavors! My brother in-law is always asking how I get sauteed mushrooms to taste the way i do when i make them. High High heat, a little olive oil, SALT and seasoning flavor of the day. certain food like mushrooms need that high heat to sear the tissue. Low heat literally boils it instead. The salt leaches out excess moisture as well, similar to your brined chicken. Anyway, happy it turned out well for you!
vandal11384 years ago
You have a perfectly good chain lock to keep the vultures away.... That's a zombie apocolypse waiting to happen...
Jayefuu4 years ago
Excellent Instructable! One of the best I've ever read :D I didn't even notice the pictures until the second time through the descriptions were so good!
CaptInsane4 years ago
Very well-written, lots of pictures, overall great. I'm definitely going to have to try this. My only attempt at soup was from leftovers after slow-cooking a chicken and was kind of weak
iminthebathroom (author)  CaptInsane4 years ago
Next time make the second stage base, but have a second pot with your chicken bits in it, just barely covered with water. Bring the chicken stuff just to a boil, and then set it to simmer. After about 30 minutes, drain out the chicken and add your stock to the base. Add some cubed potato or even sweet potato and cook for 25 minutes. Super yummy, if you add pasta though to make chicken soup, cook the pasta separately. The extra starch from cooking the pasta in the soup will muddy the flavors. Hope this helps!
Yeah, that helps a lot! Thanks! I did it all in the crockpot I made the chicken in and didn't cook the pasta separately so I'm sure that affected the taste.
I think I'm going to try this over the weekend. Thanks again
MKohen4 years ago
Good Lord that all looks so good. I really need to stop reading food guides when I'm hungry...
iminthebathroom (author)  MKohen4 years ago
I know, I'm the same way...
piperjon4 years ago
Brilliant! I've been a kitchen gourmet (read: food snob) since watching Julia Child at age 5, and correcting my mom when she mistook creme fraise for creme royale. I find your 'ible to be GREAT. I wish more people would take a look at details such as these, as this is the starting point for not good, but great food. Thanks tons for your writing! - Pj
iminthebathroom (author)  piperjon4 years ago
Thank you very much, I have learned a lot from working with great chefs over the years. I'll pass the credit along!
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