The French Simmering Method That Ensures Richer Soups

On a cold, blustery winter day, there's nothing more comforting than sipping on a steamy bowl of soup. It warms both the body and the mind, and hearty variations fill us up for hours. When we're expecting so much out of our soups, it can be disappointing to whip up a fresh batch only to taste it and discover a watery, bland consistency; after all, a soup's richness is part of what gives it sustenance. Luckily, there are some traditional methods you can incorporate into your next soup recipe to give it that thick, rich boldness we all crave.

If you've ever tried étouffée — a dish often seen in Creole and Cajun cuisines — then you've experienced a traditional French-American method of cooking called smothering (in French, the word "étouffée" translates to "smothered"), which involves cooking vegetables or meat with liquid in a covered pan over low heat. The liquid creates steam, which then allows the ingredients' flavors to slowly develop and fuse together, resulting in a pronounced and robust taste. Why does this work for soup? After smothering vegetables — which should be left to smother for a least four hours — you can follow up by pureeing them for a creamy, naturally flavorful soup.

Of course, pureeing the vegetables isn't an absolute must. You can simply add the smothered veggies into any vegetable soup recipe. In fact, you can smother them right in the soup's broth, as these types of liquids are perfect for adding flavor to the steam.

Soup dishes that work with smothering

Any type of vegetable works great for smothering, so you can employ this technique on any soup recipe that involves vegetables. For example, our fall vegetable soup involves simmering onions, carrots, potatoes, leeks, and squash for around 35 minutes in 4 cups of vegetable broth. If you wanted to smother this dish, you would do so before simmering in the broth. Using only a small amount of liquid, you'd allow the vegetables to sit in a covered pot on very low heat for four hours or more. After this, you can proceed to simmer and continue to the rest of the recipe.

Moreover, smothering is a technique very similar to braising, which involves browning a meat or vegetable and then heating it, covered, with liquid on low heat. You can braise meats for chicken noodle soup, vegetable beef soup, or even pork chop soup for enhanced flavors before incorporating them into a given dish. You can braise vegetables as well, but since this browning them first involves more heat, just be sure not to burn them.