THE QUESTION: I’ve heard and read in many places that “soup is better the second day”, but I’ve never found that to be true. Am I making it wrong?
THE ANSWER: If you enjoy it, then there is no wrong in making soup.
Stand behind your own taste and cut your favorite soup recipes in half if you think it it not as good the next day. [This next statement will probably be taken with a grain of salt since I am a food blogger] General food knowledge or truisms are not infallible, especially when that knowledge is propagated by the internet. In short, my main advice in this instance is to trust your taste buds and look for the intent behind click-bait food phrases. But of course as a food blogger I do have several soup-related tips and tricks that may help you find the mythical day-after soup or perhaps prove to friends and families that it is indeed mythical.
I would suggest that before you give up on soups or change the way you make them, try a completely new kind of soup to you. Perhaps unfamiliarity will allow your taste buds to sense things in a new context. I suggest trying out the Pistachio Soup from blockbuster cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It is similar to traditional Virginia Peanut Soup but is simultaneously a brand new experience (the orange juice was a revelation for me). You can find the book at CRRL or just that recipewith some tips on the vegan cooking blog Braisen Woman.
While there is no “wrong way” to make soup, you may be trying to apply the second-day theory to the wrong kinds of soup. Stews, chilies, and other hearty soups with big flavors tend to taste richer and more balanced after all of the components have been hanging out together for 12 or more hours. The seasoning gets distributed evenly and the chemical processes that happen when food cools and then gets reheated means that those deep flavors gelatinize into large bits like meat or potato chunk, making the entire dish more flavorful and more tender. You can read a little more about the phenomenon here.
Tips for soups that are “better the next day”:
- Cuts of meat that require long cooking times to break down the proteins are best for stews, curries and chilies. They have more membranes for the flavor to burrow into and the long cook time allows for even more flavor mingling.
- Reheat as slowly as possible. If you put cold stews into a pot over high heat it will heat unevenly and scorch creating unpleasant bitter flavors to emerge instead of the comfort food vibe you are aiming for.
- When seasoning, remember two things. Salt intensifies in liquid when it condenses and thickens in a stew so be conservative when salting at the beginning of cooking. Most flavors will mellow overnight, so if you want that sharp hit of cayenne the next day you will need to add a little extra when you re-heat.
On the other hand, plenty of soups benefit from distinctiveness in their flavors and textures. I wouldn’t want the carrot, celery and fennel to blend into a uniform vegetal-ness in my minestrone, and I would hate for the egg noodle iin a chicken noodle soup to fall apart the second my spoon hit it.
Tips for soups to eat immediately:
- Cook smaller batches. If you know that when a recipe says 4 servings it will actually be 8 for your family because you are eating the soup as a side, cut your recipe in half.
- Cut ingredients uniformly so that they all cook at the same rate. Also, know how long they will take to cook; peas will turn to mush before a potato has cooked through. Adding different ingredients at different times will help you achive textural perfection.
- Garnish with fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon, parmesan cheese, or all three. While great on their own, these flavors also balance the flavors of a bright, fresh soup. The lemon brings out sweet and salty notes, the cheese adds a depth of umami and fresh herbs act like harmonies in a great Motown song.
- Cook noodles and grains separately. Sometimes a soup gets ruined sitting in the fridge overnight because noodles or rice become soggy. You can save your soup by hydrating noodles and rice on their own then simply warming them in the soup right before serving. If there are leftovers your starch will be safe from disintegration.
- Make all of your soups in the model of pho. In this Vietnamese comfort food most components are fresh herbs, veggies and meat that was cooked separately. You arrange these in a deep bowl and then pour a fragrant and flavorful broth over top. (pictured below on left, Pho components waiting in a bowl for broth).
[PRO TIP] If you find yourself with leftover soup that has gone sad and soggy, dont throw it out, you can probably save it. Give soggy soups a second life as pureed soups. With the help of a blender and a little cream or extra stock your sad leftovers will become Cream of Insert-original-soup-here. Crispy garnishes like the croutons pictured above on the right, a little soft cheese or sour cream, and fresh cracked black pepper and suddenly that second day really is magical.