(Photo: Anshu via Getty Images)
Making soup from scratch seems relatively simple — you throw ingredients into a pot and let it simmer away. But small mistakes, like adding too much salt or putting all of your ingredients into the pot at once, can ruin the taste and texture. And, since soups take so long to make, it can be frustrating when the final result is a salt bomb or super bland.
To help us make stellar soups this fall and winter, we’ve turned to professional chefs, who have graciously shared some of their cooking wisdom with us.
Mistake #1: Oversalting … or undersalting
If a recipe tells you to use one teaspoon of salt, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll come out tasting perfectly seasoned. The most important thing is tasting and seasoning as you go, and freeing yourself from the notion that you have to follow the recipe exactly.
Getting the salt level just right can be tricky when making homemade soup, because as it simmers the liquid evaporates (if you have the lid off) and the saltiness of the soup increases. For best results, our chef experts recommend gradually adding salt throughout the cooking process.
“Salt should be added a little in the beginning, some along the way and again at the end when the soup is almost done,” said Einav Gefen, a chef at the hospitality company Restaurant Associates.
If you’ve accidentally added too much salt, there are a few ways to fix it. Lisa Brooks, executive chef of Heart and Soul Personal Chef Services, recommends adding potato chunks to the soup and letting them absorb the salt.
“This should work in most broth-based soups,” Brooks said. Gefen recommends adding more liquid (like broth), or fat (like cream) if the soup already has some in there. As a last resort, you can add in a little bit of everything that’s already in the soup to help change the salt ratio.
Mistake #2: Dumping in all your ingredients at once and not allowing flavors to build
At its core, soup is simmering a bunch of ingredients in broth. But that doesn’t mean you should just throw meat and vegetables into some boiling liquid and call it a day. If you’re using onions, for example, don’t just boil them in a pot.
“Onions need to be sautéed at least somewhat before adding liquid,” said Ben Goodnick, executive chef of Coastal Soups (a seasonal soup concept run by Summer House in Chicago). He recommends sautéing onions until translucent for a brothy soup, or browned for more hearty soups. “This makes the flavor sweeter and more mellow and complex,” he said.
Fine, fresh herbs should be added at the end of the cooking process, not the beginning. (Photo: Alex Walker via Getty Images)
It’s all about building flavor. “Sauté your aromatic base (onion, garlic, carrots, celery, ginger) and sear the protein (sausage, chicken, beef, pancetta, bacon),” Gefen said.
She recommends adding hearty herbs like thyme, rosemary and bay leaf early in the cooking process for maximum flavor extraction, then fine herbs like parsley, basil and cilantro toward the end. “Sometimes I use the stems of the parsley as a flavor booster early on and the parsley leaves towards the end,” she said.
Mistake #3: Not cooking it for long enough
Good soup takes time, and when making it, “low and slow” is the way to go.
“A gentle simmer is best, giving all ingredients time to infuse flavors and create a balanced, delicious soup,” Gefen said. There’s no hard and fast rule about exactly how long you should let a soup simmer, because that will depend on the ingredients you’re using.
Gefen notes that vegetable soups can come together in as little as 45 minutes, while soups with beans and legumes will need about an hour to an hour and a half. Beef-based soups made with tougher cuts typically need one to two hours for the meat to become tender.
“‘Low and slow’ is not only for the key ingredients to fully cook, but also for the flavors of all components to release into the liquids and create a delicious concoction,” Gefen said.
Mistake #4: Always leaving the lid on
To cover, or not to cover: That depends on the soup. In general, Gefen covers legume-based soups to minimize evaporation and avoid getting a soup that is too thick. She leaves most brothy soups uncovered and controls how much liquid evaporates by cooking over low heat.
Goodnick does this as well, noting that leaving the lid off so water can evaporate intensifies and concentrates the flavor.
Mistake #5: Cooking all the ingredients for the same amount of time
To ensure everything in your soup is cooked to an ideal consistency (aka no crunchy potatoes or mushy carrots), add ingredients into your soup according to their cooking time.
“If I am making a seafood chowder, I start stewing the harder vegetables like potatoes first,” Brooks said. “Any softer or frozen vegetables can be added later, and the last thing that should go in is the fresh seafood, since it takes mere seconds to cook through.”
Gefen said legumes and pulses take longer to cook than pasta, so they should be added first.
Before you go, here’s everything you need to make the best soups, stews and chilis:
A soup-freezing tray
If you're cooking a large batch of soup but want to save some for later, then you have to try out these Souper Cubes. Each holds one cup of soup, making it the perfect serving portion. This silicone freezing tray and lid is wildly popular right now, and is just what you need to up your soup game.
A stock pot with a steamer insert
Don't you love when you get two kitchen products for the price of one? This Food52 x GreenPan nonstick stock pot comes with a steamer basket so you can multitask with the best of them. Use it for pastas, veggies, shellfish, soups and much more. It has a ceramic nonstick interior that won't blister or peel and is oven-friendly.
An immersion blender
An immersion blender like this one from Mueller Austria is an absolute must for creamy soup lovers. It includes a hand blender as well as a whisk and milk frother attachments.
An elegant trivet
Keep your counters and tabletops safe with this chic trivet from West Elm. It's handmade from stoneware coils and is as stylish as it is functional. It's practically a piece of art!
A fresh set of oven mitts
Heat resistant and waterproof, Gorilla Grip's oven mitts have a soft quilted lining interior and a flexible silicone exterior that is easy to clean and will keep your hands safe.
A retro-inspired casserole dish
We can't get enough of this kicky hot dish from Great Jones. It's a 9x13-inch ceramic casserole dish inspired by vintage designs but built with modern technology. Incredibly versatile, it's great for roasting veggies, making lasagnas, whipping up a casserole or pasta bake and making cobblers. You can also purchase a lid to enable safe transport.
A spice rack
We can't forget seasoning! Upgrade your spice rack with this lovely acacia wood 18-jar spice rack from Crate & Barrel. Spices include dill weed, seasoning salt, oregano, basil, marjoram, parsley, crushed mint, coriander, bay leaves, herbs de Provence, gourmet sea salt, pizza seasoning, Italian seasoning and more.
A trending pink pot
Although it comes in many colors, there's a good chance you've seen Our Place's pink pot on your social media feeds. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it does everything from boiling, baking, crisping and steaming. Perfect for all your cold-weather meals.
An oven-safe glass baking dish set
These Amazon Basics glass baking dishes are BPA-free and safe for the oven, freezer and microwave, adding to their versatility. They're perfect for casseroles, lasagnas and more.
An iconic cast iron steel stock pot
Get that Le Creuset quality with their durable, beautiful and stain-resistant 8-quart stockpot. As with all Le Creuset products, it's a definite investment, but thanks to easy-to-clean surfaces and its versatile uses, it pays for itself. It's available in a variety of classic and beautiful colors.
An enamel cast iron casserole dish
Lodge's 3.6-quart enamel cast iron casserole dish can braise, bake, roast and more, up to a whopping 500 degrees. You can use it to sauté, simmer and fry on the stovetop then transfer it to your oven to finish your recipe. It comes in a variety of colors and is a high-quality investment piece for your kitchen that will last for decades with the proper care.
A stainless steel stock pot
Make a batch of soup, prep some broth or make a roast with Made In's 8-quart stainless steel stockpot. It's made of 5-ply metal that heats evenly for perfectly cooked meals.
A chic set of oven mitts and pot holders
Food52's oven mitts and pot holders are pretty enough to display in your kitchen and come in a range of colors to match your aesthetic. They also happen to be wildly practical thanks to magnets and loops for hanging, platinum-grade silicone to protect your hands, low maintenance machine-washable cotton and terry fabrics, and extra arm protection. They're a little pricier than the average oven mitt, but it's worth it.
A gorgeous Dutch oven
Great Jones' Dutch oven isn't just pretty to look at. It's a 6.75-quart enameled cast iron pot that can be used on the stovetop or in the oven. It comes in seven cute colors and has a convenient oval shape that's as perfect for roasting a chicken as it is for your bubbling stew. It's a worthy investment.
A set of silicone cooking utensils
You won't mind having this lovely minimalist set from Chefa USA on display. It includes a spoon, slotted spoon, soup ladle, slotted turner, spaghetti server, spatula and oil brush. They have wooden handles and non-stick heat-resistant silicone tops.
A cauldron-like stockpot
If you've got a witchy vibe going, then you probably need this Cuisinart 12-quart stockpot. It comes with its own cover, has superb heat distribution thanks to a hard-anodized aluminum core construction and a nonstick surface.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.