Thursday, October 9, 2008

Saute? Or Not to Saute?

I think my soups are fabulous, in fact I could live on my soups, but what makes them so good? Is it the homemade chicken stocks? Is it the organic vegetables, or does the method of cooking deserve the credit? If my last few batches of celery soup are any clue, then the credit goes to the cooking method!

I have always made my soups in a large saute pan, 6qt.(pictured right) because it has a large bottom surface, and short sides, to best brown/saute/carmelize the onion, and any other base veggies I might be using....celery, carrot, peppers, etc.(if I use a soup pot, then it is one with a large bottom surface to accomodate this step), and although I use my pressure cooker for making stock, I don't use it for veggie soups, but definitely for any soups that have meat, beans, or grains (rice). One of the differences between using a crockpot and a pressure cooker is that you cannot use a crockpot to brown, or sear, meat or can in a pressure cooker, a very important step, as I'll continue to explain....

I made three batches of celery soup this week, one made using my traditional method of browning onion and celery first, adding the garlic in the last minute of browning, then adding my stock, deglaze (pictured left), taste for seasoning (salt), cooking until veggies are soft, and then the final puree.....yummy! And the next batches using my pressure cooker, to which I simply put in my stock, added diced onion, and celery, maybe garlic (I don't remember), brought it up to pressure for 5 minutes or so, let the pressure come down naturally, then pureed it. Big difference! The first pressure cooked soup was watery, which I expected, but stringy too, it tasted like stringy celery water. In the next I added a small diced carrot, and less water....problem almost solved....the carrot is a must in my opinion for weight and it adds a small amount of sweetness (keep in mind it will change the color, unless you use a yellow or white carrot), but the soup lacked the depth of flavor of the sauteed version, and the only differences in ingredients was 1 tbl. olive oil.

Sauteeing does a couple of things, besides soften the veggies, it starts to carmelize them, and condense the flavors. Carmelizing is when the natural sugars cook and turn brown bringing out the sweetness, that's what happens when you make toast for instance, you're actually carmelizing the bread. The other thing that happens as you saute, is the heat of cooking condenses the veggies flavor even more as it causes the water in the veggies to evaporate, kind of like the difference between a grape and a raisin. More natural sugars and more condensed flavor equals yummy! (Same with roasting vegetables)

Trying to save the 100 calories of 1 tbl olive oil just wasn't worth it, but soup made in a pressure cooker has it's place. In the first PC'ed batch I ended up pureeing some chipotle black beans with the watery celery soup, therefore adding more weight to the soup and a totally new flavor....I ate it! Most anything can be saved in the kitchen! Is it cooked? Is it edible? Does it taste good? In that order!

(Pic #1, making squash soup in my favorite soup pan, adding garlic in the last minute of sauteeing, #2 deglazing the pan with chicken stock, #3 adding the can see, in this pic, how little stock I use. This batch made 2 qts.)

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