11 Must-Know Tips and Tricks for Your Best-Ever Soups and Stews
There's something primally pleasurable about slow-simmered soups and stews in these both literal and figurative dark days of winter: the rich, savory aromas in dry, hot air; the texture of the liquid base as it clings to your taste buds; the fattiness of rendered fat and collagen from bones steeped for hours; the feel of the meat or beans as it softly collapses on your tongue before you even have a chance to set your teeth down fully.
Then there's the tangible sensation of comfort—they're called comfort foods for good reason—that comes with the soothing feeling of warmth sinking into your belly, like a hug from the inside as it warms you up to the tips of your fingers and toes. Whether you're making a soup or a stew, a chowder or a puree, this guide to improving any soup or stew will help you capture that feeling in all its homey goodness.
The basic principles of soup-er soups and stew-pendous stews
Time and patience are the primary bases of any excellent soup or stew. Sure, a pressure cooker like an InstantPot can magically extract immense flavor from your soup or stew vegetables and proteins like nothing else, but you still have to take the time to chop it all up—and there are plenty of exclusions to the time and patience rule.
All soups and stews must have three major components in order to be tasty: an undercurrent liquid, aromatics, and volumizing ingredients. In every case, they're layered together until all of the flavors meld together in a harmonious, silky balance. Before we get into hot takes on how to make your best-ever soup or stew, first, let's decide which one of the two you're making. Soup is a broad category of food—it can be thin and clear like consommé, or as hearty and dense as a chili, which is technically a stew.
But really, there are only a few criteria to differentiate between soups and stews, and proportion of liquid to other ingredients lies at the crux of it. It doesn't matter whether you make your concoction in a stock pot, Dutch oven, slow cooker, or pressure cooker—it literally just boils down to the proportion of solids. Those solids can include anything—part of why soups and stews have long been the province of thrifty cooks worldwide since the beginning of time. (Stone Soup, anyone?)
At its simplest, a soup requires that its ingredients be boiled to cook through before simmering, whether in water, stock, or broth. At the end of its cooking process, there must be liquid enough to require eating it with a spoon. A stew will typically have larger chunks of ingredients—predominantly protein—that peek just over the surface of the liquid they're simmered in, as opposed to submerged, as they get tender and thicken the broth, stock, wine, beer, tomato, or curry base to a gravy-like consistency.
Whichever route you choose to take to slurp satisfaction, the following tips will help you get there.