Here's what every soup-maker should know to elevate their soup game to its tastiest level.

By Vanessa Greaves
Updated December 11, 2020
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Credit: KGora

Soup is comforting on so many levels, you could call it an all-purpose hug in a bowl. Even the act of making a soothing pot of soup feels cozy and nurturing. But like anything else you cook, the quality of your soup depends on ingredients and technique. Here's what you need to know to make the best soups

How to Make Soup: 9 Top Tips

1. Get a Head Start From Leftovers

A quick shortcut to making great soups is to make stock from leftover roast turkey or chicken or a ham bone; take advantage of all that cooked-in flavor instead of tossing it away. Strip the meat off first, then use the bones to make stock. Strain the stock and add the meat back in along with a fresh batch of vegetables to finish making your soup. If you can't make stock right away, freeze the bones for later. If you can't use the stock right away, you can freeze that for later, too.

Get the recipe for Lemon Turkey Soup.

If you don't have leftovers to jumpstart your soup broth or stock, you can still intensify the flavor by searing or roasting bones and vegetables before adding water to simmer. It's perfectly fine to use store-bought stock or broth for your soup, go with the low-sodium option so you can control the seasoning. (Even though the terms are often used interchangeably, stock is made by simmering water with bones, and broth takes stock a step further by adding meat and more seasonings.)

Video: How to Make Roasted Chicken Broth Watch and learn how to make a delicious broth by roasting a whole chicken with vegetables, and cooking it down into a rich broth for Chef John's Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup.

2. Flavor Boosters

  • If roasting vegetables for making stock deepens flavors, the same holds true for vegetables you're adding to any soup recipe. Get tips for roasting vegetables for soups.
  • Here's a reason to save your Parmesan cheese rinds—they add amazing flavor to minestrone, bean, or hearty vegetable soup. Just save your rinds in the freezer and toss one in when you simmer the soup. It will add saltiness, so taste before seasoning at the end. Remove the rind before serving the soup, of course.

3. Toasted Spice

Brief cooking in a dry pan deepens the flavor of whole spices, and is especially effective for bringing authenticity to Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. To toast spice, choose a heavy pan large enough to hold the spice in a single layer. Heat the pan over medium-low heat, add the spice, and stir constantly to keep the spice from burning. When your senses tell you the spice is warm and toasty, remove the spice from the pan immediately to stop the cooking. Let the spice cool, then grind for use.

Try toasting spices for these soups:

4. Skim Off the Top

As soup liquid comes to a simmer, fat and foam may rise to the surface (depending on what kind of soup you're making.) You can remove this, if you choose, with a wide, shallow spoon. It's best to remove the foam before your soup comes to a boil so it doesn't reincorporate into the liquid and cloud the soup.

5. How to Thicken Soup

If your soup turns out to have a thinner texture than you'd like, there are several ways you can thicken it up:

  • Blend it: Put all or part of the soup (except for the meat) into a blender or use an immersion blender. (Scroll down to see safety tips for blending soups.) This works best if the soup ingredients you're blending are starchy, like potatoes, rice, or beans.
  • Add cornstarch or flour: Start with a tablespoon of cornstarch or all-purpose flour in a small bowl, and whisk in enough water to make a thin slurry. Add it to the soup and let it come to a simmer. If the soup needs more thickening after it simmers for a few minutes, add a little more slurry.
  • Add beurre manié: That's flour and butter paste to the rest of us. Mash equal parts butter and flour together to make a thick paste (start with a tablespoon of each) and stir it into the soup. As the soup simmers, it will thicken.
  • Add cream or yogurt: Cream gives any soup a slightly thicker and definitely richer texture. Use full-fat cream to get the best results. If you use yogurt to thicken the soup, be sure you don't boil it after adding or else the yogurt could split and curdle the texture. (Scroll down for more tips for adding dairy to soup.)
  • Add bread, potatoes, rice, or pasta: For best results, blitz the bread in a blender and stir in the fine crumbs. Add peeled cubes of russet or Idaho potatoes and let them cook down (or cook them separately, mash them up, and stir them into the soup. Cooked rice or pasta will also thicken the soup if you simmer them together.

6. How to Purée Soup

Photo by Tricia Winterle Jaeger

To blend ingredients for a smooth and silky soup, remove any whole herbs and spices, ladle a cup or two of the liquid into a measuring cup, then put the rest of the solids and liquid into a countertop blender or food processor. (Or use an immersion blender.) Blend the ingredients, thinning it out with the reserved liquid as needed. When using a countertop blender or food processor, don't fill it more than halfway before blending. A food mill or potato masher will give you a slightly chunkier result; you should strain the soup to get any large bits you might have missed.

Try these pureed soups:

More: Learn different ways to thicken soups.

7. How to Add Dairy to Soup

Soups thickened and enriched with dairy can easily curdle unless you follow these three easy tips:

  • Use full-fat milk, yogurt, and cream — they don't separate and curdle as easily as low-fat dairy products.
  • Add the dairy at the very end.
  • Take the soup off the heat. Stir ½ cup of heated soup liquid into the milk, yogurt, or cream to temper or warm it before adding it back to the soup. Heat the soup until steaming, but do not let it come to a boil.

8. Noodles and Grains

If you're making a big batch of soup that contains noodles, rice, barley, quinoa, etc, the starch will soak up a lot of the soup liquid if you store it all together in one container overnight. The solution is to cook the starchy ingredient separately and ladle the hot soup over it to serve. Then you can store any leftovers separately.

9. Finishing Touches

Photo by Aja

Soup toppings give any soup extra eye appeal, texture, and flavor. Toppings and garnishes can be as simple as minced herbs, toasted croutons, grated cheese, citrus zest, or toasted nuts. Check out more ideas for easy soup toppings.

Soups for All Reasons