three

What it is about dark evenings and chilly weather that makes us crave stodgy food? All day I have been thinking about hot buttered toast, warm muffins and other comforting delicacies. I’m trying really hard not to overdo it in the run up to Christmas, though, so in the end I made a pot of soup.

When I make soup I almost always use proper, home-made chicken stock. It is a habit I got from my mother, like putting every last bit of potato peel in the compost bin. I was amazed to read in a Delia Smith book recently that ‘few of us have time to make stock these days’. Honestly, it is not onerous at all and it makes a huge difference to the quality of the soup. It also makes me feel secretly rather virtuous, as if I really were a paragon of thriftiness rather than the kind of person who spends far too much money on books and coffee.

This is what I do. After stripping every last bit of meat from a cooked chicken, I stick the carcass in a large pot. Then I add an onion, halved but not peeled; a carrot, ditto; a couple of sticks of celery, including some leaves, and a few peppercorns. Next I cover the whole lot with cold water and bring it to the boil very slowly. The slow boil is something I learned from Lindsey Bareham’s fabulous book A Celebration of Soup which has an absolutely masterly chapter on making stock out of everything from vegetable peelings to tripe (not that I have ever tried the latter).

When the water comes to the boil some scum forms, so I skim that off, then cover the pan and let it cook at the gentlest possible simmer for an hour. Any longer and it starts to get bitter, whereas what you are after is a kind of delicate sweetness. I strain the stock through a sieve, allow it to cool and then stick it in the fridge overnight so that any fat can rise to the surface and solidify. The next day, after removing the fat I freeze the stock in 1 litre portions.

My basic soup recipe is as follows: sweat a chopped onion in a little oil, add 1kg of chopped vegetables, stir around a bit, then pour over 1 litre of stock. Parsnip, sweet potatoes and butternut squash are fantastic at this time of year, especially if you add some chopped fresh ginger to the onion. Boil the mixture for about 40 minutes with a lid on, season with salt and pepper and liquidise with a stick blender. Of course you can use water, or stock made from a cube instead, but I swear the proper stuff gives the flavour a depth you can’t get any other way.

I do have a picture of some stock cooking but it's not very pretty, so here's some borscht I made earlier in the year

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8 comments

  1. I am impressed. I do make soup and stock and I own Lindsey Bareham’s book but I just chuck the bones in a pan/pressure cooker and boil maybe with a few pepercorns. Shall try to adopt one other thing. Perhaps you can recommend one.

    1. Oh good for you with the pressure cooker – I could never get the hang of them! My top stock ingredients (apart from the chicken, obviously!) are the onion and the celery with leaves attached. I’d probably go for the celery if I had to choose.

  2. I’m with you on the proper stock Joanna. It DOES make a difference. I’ve always got a pan of soup on the go – especially this time of year. Snow started to fall today. For years I’ve been trying to make soup just like my Granny, but it is NEVER quite as good. Sadly she took her recipe with her when she passed on. The borscht looks wonderful.

  3. Thank you Joanna. I will definitely give this a go. It’s snowing here today and I think it would be lovely to come home to this beautiful vibrant soup. I’ll let you know how I get on.

  4. I always try to make stock – again, a habit from my mum – but often actually don’t have time, just as Delia says! However, I just can’t bring myself to throw good bones away, so my freezer usually has a few tupperware boxes of chicken or other bones left over from another dish waiting to be stocked. It looks a bit gruesome, but when they’ve reached critical mass (or I have time), I stockify them! I just bung them in a pot – much as you do, although I often add a clove of garlic too – and then cook them from frozen. It does make me feel very thrifty and virtuous, so assuaging some of my guilt about spending too much money on yarn and books! And it means I usually have some stock for soup-making.

  5. It`s been a while since I read Lindsay Bareham`s great book on soup but I am pretty sure that in her section on making various stocks she advises that onions should be peeled otherwise their skins make the stock bitter. I hope I have remembered correctly because I have been taking the skins off for years!
    As yiou can tell I share your enthusiasm for home made soup.
    Best regards
    Harry March

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