When it comes to choosing our favorite nourishing comfort foods, soup is at the top of our list. It’s a whole meal in one pot, not to mention a great way to use up any leftover meat and vegetables lingering in your refrigerator. Soup always sounds especially good when summer turns to fall, but there are plenty of reasons to stop thinking about soup simply as a cold-weather meal and to start thinking about it as the perfect Primal meal any day of the year.
Let’s begin by clarifying what the ideal Primal soup is not. It is not canned nor is it over-salted to make up for a wimpy, watery broth. It is not weighed down by bland potatoes or pasta or filled with limp, overcooked vegetables and itsy-bitsy pieces of unrecognizable meat. The pot of soup on our stove is filled with hearty chunks of protein simmering in a broth richly flavored by bone marrow, collagen and brightly colored vegetables. With a little planning ahead, the perfect Primal soup can be simmering in your kitchen, too, any day of the week and any time of year.
Loudly slurped or politely sipped, broth is more than just what your soup ingredients are swimming in. The ideal broth is swirling with healthy fat and vital nutrients extracted from meat and animal bones. This is why we use homemade stock as the base for our broth instead of buying cans of stock at the store that often have a thin texture, overly salty flavor and questionable nutritional value.
But wait…aren’t stock and broth the same thing? In the grocery store aisle, yes. For the chef or home cook, however, stock is a base ingredient that does not transform into broth until it is seasoned, combined with other flavor elements (the chunky parts of the soup) and then reduced by simmering to intensify the flavor and texture.
Stock can be made ahead of time and stored for several days in the refrigerator or several months in the freezer. Making an initial investment of time to fill your freezer with batches of homemade stock is something you’ll thank yourself for on hectic weeknights. Stock can be defrosted and quickly turned into a bowl of soup by simmering it with a little salt or other seasonings, some protein and vegetables. But if you just can’t see yourself storing up on stock, don’t despair. If you have several hours on a weekend to devote to soup-making you can make the stock and soup all at one time.
Spare Rib Vegetable Soup is a favorite of ours that uses this technique and we’ll reveal the recipe at the end of this post. But before we do, let’s just say that if you do have the desire and the space to fill up your freezer with stock, you’ll be pleased to find out it’s easier than you might think.
Stock is made by simmering bones, meat and/or vegetables in water to extract flavor. Although the veggies (plus a few bay leaves, parsley stems and peppercorns) do contribute to this end, it’s the animal protein, fat, marrow and collagen that give stock its nutritional value and pure, meaty flavor.
To make Primal stock, you need bones. Why bones and not just meat? We’ve given detailed explanations of the benefits of bones before, but in short, the gelatin derived from bone cartilage contributes flavor, texture and very important nutrients. You can use a variety of different bones to make your stock. Knuckle bones, neck bones, shank bones, ox tails and chicken feet have the most cartilage. Younger animals have more cartilage than older animals, which is why chefs favor veal bones. You’ll know you’ve succeeded at making a gelatin-rich stock if it’s thick and jiggly (like a savory Jello) when refrigerated.
Any type of animal bone can be used to make stock, although cow, chicken and fish are most common. Soup bones are sold in the meat department of grocery stores and can be bought in larger quantities from butchers and farmers’ markets if you order ahead. You can also just save bones at the end of your meals and freeze them until you are ready to make stock. For fish bones, ask the fish counter if they’ll set aside the bones and heads of fish they clean that day.
The second thing you need for stock-making is a blend of chopped onion, carrot and celery known in restaurant kitchens as mirepoix. The ratio for mirepoix should be roughly 50% onion and 25% of both carrot and celery. This blend of vegetables will be strained out at the end so don’t worry about cutting them perfectly, but do try to keep the pieces fairly small and about the same size. Herbs and spices also flavor the stock and can be tied up in cheesecloth or simply thrown in the pot. Lastly, you need cold water. Start with cold water because it helps promote the extraction of protein and collagen from the bones.
We’ve shared our secrets for chicken stock before, so this time we’re going to focus on beef stock. For roughly 2 quarts of stock, you’ll need:
The secret to a really richly flavored stock is roasting the bones before simmering, although this step is used much less often for chicken stock and fish stock. Some (not professional chefs, however) even say that roasting the bones can be skipped entirely without hugely compromising flavor. If you are making a beef-based stock and choose to roast the bones, make sure they are cut into smallish pieces (3-4 inches) and do not wash the bones since the wet bones will not brown well.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and place the bones in a roasting pan, drizzled with a little oil. Stir occasionally, to make sure all sides brown but do not burn. After a half hour, add the mirepoix (some cooks mix a few tablespoons of tomato paste in with the mirepoix to intensify the flavor).
Roast at least another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, and up to another hour or so until bones and vegetables are well browned. When roasting is complete, combine the bones and vegetables in a large pot with water, bay leaves, parsley and peppercorns. Do not add the fat in the roasting pan to the stock pot – reserve it for another use. Once the fat is drained out, add a little water or wine to the roasting pan to loosen all the caramelized bits and scrape them into the stock pot.
If skipping the roasting step, then simply brown the bones and vegetables with a few tablespoons of oil in a stock pot for 5-10 minutes before adding water, herbs and spices.
Simmer over medium heat without a lid for 3-5 hours. If needed, add a little water during this process to keep the bones covered with liquid. If a lot of foam collects on top of the stock, skim it off occasionally.
Strain the stock to remove all solids.
Cool to room temperature then transfer to the refrigerator to cool completely. You can then freeze the stock in containers or freezer bags for future use. Do not be disappointed if your stock does not have rich, amazing flavor at this point. Remember, it has no salt added and it needs to be reduced even more during the soup-making process to really bring out the flavor.
Now that you’ve got your stock, you need to put something in it. For soup to truly be a one-pot meal, the first thing in the pot should be protein. For beef soups, tougher and therefore less-expensive cuts from the chuck, shank and round are just the thing. Season the beef with salt and pepper and sauté a few minutes in oil to brown the meat before adding stock to the pot. Simmer partially covered with a lid until the beef is tender and pulls apart easily with a fork, usually 1-2 hours. This same method can be used for pork and lamb.
If you’re in a hurry, use a tender cut of beef or pork and simply add thin slices to already simmering stock. Ground meat is another quick addition to soup – either in the form of small meatballs or by quickly sautéing the ground meat before adding stock to make a little something one of our grandmother’s called “hamburger soup.”
If you have chicken stock on hand, you can’t go wrong with simple Chicken Soup or a variation like Chicken Shrimp Soup. If you’re in a hurry, just cut up bite-sized chunks of raw chicken and toss them in with simmering stock. The chicken will cook in ten minutes or less. Seafood of all kinds also cooks quickly in a pot of simmering stock, usually in a matter of minutes.
We’re not saying we wouldn’t be happy with just a bowl full of meat, but for the sake of balance it’s always good to add some veggies. And don’t be shy – this is a great chance to empty out your produce drawer. Chop veggies into chunks that are the same size so they cook uniformly and don’t add all the veggies at once. Start with those that take the longest cooking time – beets, parsnip, rutabagas and squash usually need a half hour to simmer into softness. Next, add vegetables like cabbage, carrots and cauliflower, which need 10-15 minutes. Five to ten minutes before taking soup off the stove, add faster-cooking vegetables like broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, kale and beet greens. In a real hurry? Use frozen vegetables, which cook up in a matter of minutes.
Broth made from homemade stock has a rich, full flavor that eliminates the need for excessively seasoning the soup. However, you’ll probably want to add just a little salt, since stock doesn’t have any in it, and maybe a bit of pepper. Beyond that, any additional flavors you add depend on what you’re in the mood for. Fresh herbs add a lot of flavor to soup, as do spices like star anise or even a cinnamon stick. Minced ginger gives soup a healthy kick, and pairs especially well with broth that has a little tamari or sesame oil drizzled into it. Any Italians out there will tell you that letting the rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese melt into a pot of soup will increase its flavor, and they’re right.
The easiest way to change the texture of soup is by drizzling in a little something creamy – we love Thai-inspired soups with a coconut broth and have been known to simply pour a can of coconut milk into a batch of chicken soup while it simmers. A little whole cream can also be added right before you serve soup, but don’t bother with half and half (it will curdle in hot liquids). Adding canned tomatoes in their juice or pureed tomatoes can also completely change a soup’s texture. Both cream and tomatoes are added to Artic Char Chowder, for the best of both worlds.
For creamy texture without adding ingredients, throw the soup in a blender (this works best for veggies soups, unless you’re into pureed meat). If you want a super-silky texture, blend the soup then push it through a mesh strainer. If pureed soups make you think of baby food, then blend only half the soup and leave the other half chunky.
So there you have it. For the perfect Primal soup, start with stock that is rich in flavor and nutrients. Add some protein, then some vegetables and any other desired seasonings or flavors. If you have stock stored up in your freezer, you can defrost it and be eating your soup in less than an hour. If you don’t have stock on hand, set aside three to four hours for soup-making but keep in mind that only a fraction of this time involves you actually cooking; mostly, the soup will be simmering unattended on the stove. The great thing about soup is that it tastes even better the next day, so spend some time cooking on a weekend and you’ll have lunch or dinner taken care of for the next day or two.
If it’s been a long time since you’ve tasted the amazing flavor of soup made entirely from scratch, then be prepared to fall in love with this recipe for Spare Rib Vegetable Soup. It doesn’t require making the stock ahead of time, instead, stock-making is incorporated into the process.
Lightly salt the short ribs. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a stockpot on high heat, and brown the short ribs in batches on all sides. If the pot begins to smoke, turn the heat down to medium.
Remove the browned ribs from the pot.
Add vinegar and stir it around to loosen up any bits on the bottom of the pot. With the heat on medium, add onions and garlic. Brown the onions and garlic then return the meat to the pot and add 10 cups of water, or just enough to cover the ribs. Partially cover and simmer for 2.5 – 3 hours. If needed, add a little extra water to the pot while simmering to keep ribs covered in liquid.
Remove the meat from the pot and cut it off the bone – the meat should be tender and easily pull apart. If there is excess fat or gristle, return what you want to the pot and discard the rest.
Return the meat to the soup pot and add beets, turnip and canned tomatoes.
Simmer with the lid on for 30 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, dill and cabbage. Simmer ten minutes more. Chop the beet greens up and add during the last five minutes of cooking.
Adjust the flavor of the soup with salt and pepper if needed. Drizzle a little apple cider vinegar into the broth to heighten the flavor. The soup will have even richer flavor the day after it is made.
This is the mini-challenge relevant to this post:
Cook at home: If you don’t know how to cook the challenge above really will be a challenge. Over the next 30 days we’ll be covering some essential cooking skills and techniques that anyone looking to go Primal should master. If you’re the type that dines out more often than dining in, and doesn’t know a pot from a pan, make an effort this month to get into the habit of preparing your own food.
(This is just one of many challenges. Learn about all of the 30-Day Primal Blueprint Challenges here.)