Here's how to add richness to soups: a good broth, caramelized vegetables, and browned meat.
From Our Kitchen
Don't overcrowd the pan, or the meat will steam rather than caramelize.
| Credit: Beth Dreiling / styling Lisa Powell Bailey

Tips and Techniques
Don't be tempted to skip the browning step when adding meats to soups and stews. As the meat browns, bits and pieces cling to the bottom of the skillet or pan and develop a mellow, sweet flavor as they caramelize.

After browning, add a small amount of broth or wine to the pan; then stir and scrape the surface of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any caramelized portions. These bits impart a lot of flavor to any soup or stew. Here are a few secrets for successful browning.

  • Use a heavy, stainless steel or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. The meat should sizzle as soon as it hits the pan.
  • Use paper towels to pat the meat dry before browning. Moisture, as well as a pan that isn't hot enough, will cause the meat to stick.
  • Don't try to brown frozen meat, which cools the pan, causing the meat to release juices and steam rather than form a crisp, caramelized crust.
  • Use a small amount of oil or a combination of butter and oil to prevent the butter from burning. You'll need to use a little more oil if the meat is floured.
  • Brown the meat in batches, if necessary. Meats brown quickly if the pan isn't too crowded for the juices to evaporate.

Harvest Of Flavor
Diced and sautéed in butter or oil until tender, vegetables such as bell pepper, carrot, onion, celery, and garlic add flavor to soups and stews. Store the cooked mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days or in the freezer for up to two months. You can make a quick heat-and-serve soup by combining broth with vegetables and leftover chicken or beef. It's a smart way to use up extras that might otherwise get tossed.

Quick Starts
A good broth or long-simmered stock adds richness to soups and stews that water alone cannot provide. If you don't have time for homemade, there are some terrific shortcuts on the market that deliver big flavor--from quick-dissolving granules and foil-wrapped bouillon cubes to canned broths and concentrated soup stocks. Just follow the package directions. Most of these products contain high levels of sodium, so hold off on adding any extra salt unless it's needed.

Packets of dried soup mix also amp up the flavor, as do leftover cooking liquids from meats and vegetables. If you're going meatless, opt for Knorr Vegetarian Vegetable Bouillon cubes rather than canned vegetable broth. Smoky ham-flavored bouillon cubes pair well with dried beans and greens.

From Our Kitchen is from the February 2006 issue of Southern Living.