Soup and Stocks
It’s tough to know all the right tools that a soup aficionado’s kitchen should have. We’ve pulled together a “must have” list for a well stocked soup kitchen. Now, pulling together a well stocked soup kitchen is a snap!
Stainless Steel Straining Equipment: The perfect soup strainer is used in a variety of ways. You’ll need a chinois strainer, which is made of fine woven metal mesh and is designed to remove all solids. You’ll need a chinois to create smooth pureed soups or bisques. You’ll also need two sturdy strainers for removing solids from your stocks. Making stocks in a pot with a pasta insert makes removing large solids (such as a chicken carcass) safer and less cumbersome. We suggest getting an inexpensive china cap strainer for removing solids from hot liquid when you’re not using a large strainer. We found that after you identify strainers of reasonable quality, the key features to look for are ease of use, solid handles, and durable production. When you’re handling hot liquid, the perfect strainer will make your work safer and easier, and of course the end result perfect.
Blender: For cream soups and bisques you want the smoothest texture possible. To accomplish this, we highly recommend a good, quality upright blender. Be attentive to selecting a blender that is well made, has good capacity, and has internal raised ridges that guide the contents back down to the blades. When selecting the perfect soup-making blender you’ll want strong power, a good capacity blender jar with guiding flutes. You’ll pay more for all the electronic options and speed choices - which won’t add much, if any, advantage to your soup cooking efforts. We look for power, durability and a 40 to 48 oz. jar capacity.
Immersion Blender : The perfect companion to the food processor, and a required soup maker’s tool, is a top quality immersion blender. An immersion blender will make soup thickening, creamed soups, and puree’s a snap. Its highly convenient and is less messy to clean up, though the upright blender wins hands down for overall performance. We love the immersion blender because it minimizes messes and reduces the handling of hot soup. We highly recommend an immersion blender with variable speeds, powerful motor, stainless steel blending attachments and, of course, a splash guard.
Dutch Oven Enamel Coated Cast Iron : Some of the most amazing soups you’ll ever make will come from your dutch oven. There are two types of dutch ovens we recommend. First, a high quality enamel coated cast iron dutch oven. Le Creuset is wildly popular for justifiable reason. It cooks evenly and hot without scorching your food and the enamel coating allows for an easy clean up. Staub is a less popular brand, but also offers good quality. Your enamel coated cast iron pot is the best conductor of heat available and will allow you to cook on the stove top and in your oven all during the same soup creation, without switching pots. Some chefs prefer the uncoated cast iron dutch oven - they must like extra work, since regular seasoning to keep the cast iron in prime working condition is required.
Dutch Oven Stainless Steel: If you like great results AND want convenience, we suggest a stainless steel, heavy bottom dutch oven. The All-Clad is our favorite. These cook great, in fact we believe they work just as great as the Le Crueset, but allow for easier observation with it’s light colored interior. With this dutch oven, clean up is a snap. Frankly, we love the All-Clad look, and the brand is top notch.
Cutlery: Every great soup cook must have, at a minimum, one high quality chef’s knife and one excellent paring knife. Most on our team have 3-4 chef knives in their personal kitchens and swear they can’t do without any of them. Having 2 quality paring knives should suffice. We prefer two chef knives, Wustoff and Kershaw. These two knives are in the premium tier, but not nearly the most expensive, but just as high of performers. High quality knives will make your soup prep work much easier, safer and enjoyable. We’re often asked, “what size of knife should my soup kitchen have?” We agree, the choices can be perplexing, but the answer is not exact. It depends on your hands. The best knife for you, will fit your hand comfortably, allowing for nimble work. If you have smaller hands you may find a 6-inch or 8-inch blade is perfect. If you have larger hands we suggest trying a 10-inch blade, or possibly a 12-inch blade. Consider a knife with a slight curve to the blade, this allows for easier chopping. A great quality knife is designed to “catch an edge” making your cutting safer and easier, and frankly, more enjoyable. If you’re going to invest in quality cutlery, we also suggest an electric knife sharpener that controls the sharpening angle (a perfect 20 degrees).
Fresh Ingredients: Fresh. Fresh. Fresh. Nothing can replace the complex and wonderful flavors of fresh vegetables, meats, herbs and spices. Even ingredients such as olive oil offer the best flavor when freshest. Soup aficionados who make the effort to use fresh home made stocks are an inspiration to us all. In general your kitchen should keep a collection of fresh staple ingredients such as onions, celery, and carrots, fresh peppercorns, garlic, and parsley. It may not be possible to keep fresh soup stock handy, so use the best quality packaged stocks possible as a back up.
Food Processor: Some soups and stews require the power of a great food processor. We’ve heard from many die hard soup aficionados that they enjoy the dicing, chopping, and mincing with their chef knife. However, there are times, that a powerful food processor will cut your prep time and provide all the power work needed. Be sure to select one with reasonable volume capacity and the power to chop anything you’ll need. We do not recommend a food processor for creaming your soups, only prepping ingredients. Hot liquid will tend to leak out beneath the blade and the capacity of the processor is typically not sufficient for larger recipes, requiring multiple batches.
Soup Tureen: It would be a shame to create masterpiece soups and neglectfully serve them in ordinary serving bowls or pots. There’s an elegance to serving your soup in a high quality soup tureen. Plus a functionality. The lid keeps your soup warm, there’s a notch for your ladle, the handles and lid make carrying hot liquid safer, and the tureen’s materials are often designed to help hold in heat. One of our Soup and Supply cooks, at one point, had four soup tureens in her personal kitchen. Each offered a different look, allowing her to match the tureen to the soup or occasion. Her choices included an elegant tureen for formal occasions, rustic tureen for hearty/earthy soups, exotic for some her more adventuresome soups, and her favorite, a basic traditional homey tureen that was perfect for a classic soup such as Turkey & Noodles. We’re always hunting for new ones to feature, let us know if you find one that’s truly unusual.
Soup Bowls: Every passionate soup chef is aware that the bowls need to match the soup, even more so than your soup tureen. Fortunately, there are soup bowls that match every taste and style, and even some so exotic they may only match the soup! We suggest keeping 3-4 soup bowl varieties for your table. You’ll want the sets to accommodate a large variety of soup options, so no matter where your soup cooking creativity takes you, your bowls will be ready. We suggest wide saucer bowls, deep stocky bowls for heartier soups and stews, medium size set with a comfortable handle, and a decorative set that can handle the most exotic soup creations. The last thing a soup aficionado should do is put their culinary creation into a plane-jane cereal bowl.
Soup Ladle: Though many soup tureens are sold with matching lids and ladles, we encourage you to want more. There are luscious soup ladles that will rest in your hand like an old friend, giving your soup presentation and serving experience an unmatched finishing quality. There are certainly tried and true traditional ladles that are available at a variety of stores, but over time you’ll see their enamel scratch and rust creep in. We are fans of stainless steel for practical cooking, and silver, pewter, ceramic, and other high quality, weighted ladles for serving. Decorative handles, shapes, sizes, a variety of exotic decorative metals and textures make choosing your soup ladles an artistic decision that will offer your table the perfect finishing touch.
Spices: Often, a soup aficionado’s desire to tackle a new and exotic recipe may be cut short by the list of rare, hard to find spices that it requires. The true soup chef must clear a shelf in their spice cabinet (freezing infrequently used spices will help lengthen their life) and expand on their spice inventories. The soup kitchen’s spice rack should never limit ones ability to tackle a new and exotic recipe.
Stockpot: Your soup kitchen should certainly have the best quality stockpot your budget can accommodate. We suggest a 12-quart stockpot for starting out and adding larger and smaller sizes after you’ve built up your soup repertoire. You’ll find as a general rule of thumb that stockpots above $150/$180 tend to offer the quality that is needed for creating great soups. This price tier is due to the metals used and the quality of manufacturing. Apremium stock pot offers the heavier bottom design that allows for higher heating points for longer periods of time - without burning or scorching your efforts. Thin metal stock pots scorch much faster and are a mess to clean up. Since most of your soup making efforts will include your stockpot, we highly recommend finding the best quality pot you can afford. You should seek a stockpot that has a heavy bottom and is internally lined with non-reactive metals. Copper is the best conductor of heat, though expensive, we’ve found some other great choices to consider. Our team here boasts proudly of the Viking, All-Clad, Le Creuset and Maviel brands. For those on a little tighter budget, but still seeking good quality, consider the higher end Calphalon options. Good features on a high quality pot should include a heavy bottom, solid lid, strong form-fitting handles and non-corrosive metals. Non-stick coating options are available in these brand lines as well. However, care must be taken to protect the coating, and after 20 or 30 years, that may be hard to do.