James Whelan Butchers: Bowled Over by a Great Soup

I’m always conscious of the balance between time invested, money spent and the result.  Some things in life just aren’t worth it.  Puff pastry is an example.  Getting puff pastry right is a skill and for the amateur it requires time and patience.  If you have a burning desire to master it then go ahead, but for the rest of us I would say, “buy it”.  If your family is fond of tomato ketchup that too can be recreated at home but it’s a lot of work.  Homemade ketchup might be considered the healthier option perhaps but, unless they are consuming it by the bucket load, then a squeezy tube is the way to go.

Now some people would automatically lump soup into the ‘easier to buy’ category and that’s where we would part company.  If you can use a knife and you own a pot you can make soup!  If there are only two things you do for your children when it comes to the kitchen then teach them the versatility of the humble egg and secondly how to make a decent soup.  If you do this at a young age and let them perfect both before they fly the nest you will have fulfilled your role as a parent.  We’ll leave the eggs to another day but for now I think we should agree that there is really no excuse for buying packet soup. Granted there are some wonderfully nutritious ready made soups available in today’s marketplace, but making your own soup is very satisfying, economical and surprisingly quick.Cream of Chicken Soup

The possibilities for flavours and varieties of soup are endless but write down the steps if you’re making up your own recipe as you may want to re-create it if it turns out well. There are a few rules to follow with soup making but generally it is a simple culinary art to master. It is also pretty much a one pot affair and so the washing up is minimal. Soup is also a handy way of using up any odds and ends that are left in the fridge. Potatoes are invaluable to the soup maker as while adding flavour they also provide a natural thickening agent. While I enjoy making both meat and fish soups, I will often keep it very simple with just a basic mushroom or other vegetarian offering. I have found that pulses like lentils and chick peas can make soups really hearty and filling and these are also a good source of protein, significantly boosting the nutrition factor. Onions are essential in preparing a base for any soup and don’t forget herbs and spices. Herbs and spices are not only a wonderfully flavoursome addition to soups but they also add colour. If you have to cheat at anything then I’ll turn a blind eye to bought stock. I could actually write an entire piece on stock alone and I will do in the near future, but for the beginner in the soup arena we’ll forgive a little shop bought stock.  I tend to make up batches of stock for the freezer, but there are some excellent natural stock and bullion bases available to buy they do the job perfectly well. A word of caution though, I would say that you get what you pay for when it comes to stock and that the very cheap versions can contain a ridiculous amount of salt. Read the labels! As a general rule of thumb all soups use a minimum of about one to one and half pounds of ingredients (450-675g) to every one and half pints of stock (1 litre). Japanese Miso Soup

In the language of soup making the terms ‘sauté’, ‘sweat’ and ‘soften’ are often used in recipes to describe the initial cooking of onions or vegetables in oil or butter. They all practically mean the same thing. The idea is to just soften the ingredients slowly rather than browning them. Always use a gentle rather than a high heat for this and you should be fine unless the actual recipe calls for ‘frying’.

Soups generally fall into two categories clear soups like consommé or broth and thick soups.  Thick soups either use a thickening agent or are reduced to the point of thickness.  Thick soups would often have a cream base also.  When it comes to the actual consistency of a thick soup it’s a personal choice. Some soups call for lumps and chunks where the texture of the ingredients are considered part of the enjoyment but I personally like mushroom soup for example to have a smoother texture and therefore I always purée it at the end of the cooking process. It really is a matter of taste, do whatever you like best. Most soups also freeze really well and it’s easy and very economical to batch cook.

Soup is one of the oldest dishes in the world and every culture had its own; New England chowder, Spanish gazpacho, Russian borscht, Italian minestrone, French onion, Chinese won ton and vegetable broth which was popular with Celtic traditions. They are all just variations on the same theme. According to food history the modern restaurant industry was built on soup. ‘Restoratifs’ (also where the word ‘restaurant’ comes from) were the first items served in public restaurants in 18th century Paris, suggesting that they might ‘restore’ one if you were weary.  Soup is still restoring us to this day and works well as a light lunch, a starter or a warming supper before bedtime.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers



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