There are times when a thick soup undeniably hits the spot, but clear soups are too-often underrated. They have the versatility to go from light delicacy to substantial meal. Every culture has its version of at least one iconic clear soup, although the range of possibilities in both the broth base and the added ingredients means that you can probably find a clear soup to try for virtually every day of the year.
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1. Basic Broths
Broth differs from stock in that it can be used either by itself or as a base for both clear soups and thick soups. Stock, which begins by roasting beef, chicken or fish bones, is simmered for a longer time with complementary vegetables. Broth comes from simmering meat (and sometimes bones) with carrots, celery, onions and herbs for less time than the stock requires.
The faster cooking time and added seasonings of broth make it more suitable for enjoying by itself than stock, which is unseasoned and denser. Beef broth is one of the classic wintertime clear soups, offering richness through its tomato-beef flavors without any solids to interfere with its "sipability." For a lighter clear soup that's also warming, try chicken or vegetable broth.
2. Consomme Soups
Consomme soups are the sophisticated cousins to basic broth soups. These intensely flavored soups are often enjoyed on their own, as an appetizer or as the base for other dishes. They start with a previously made stock made from either beef, chicken or fish as well as the less-classic vegetable.
To the stock, cooks add a ground-up mixture of the type of beef, fowl or seafood being used along with tomatoes, other vegetables and egg whites. Egg whites and the acidity of tomatoes are crucial when making consomme soups because they help release the fat and other solids from the simmering liquid. This rises to the top during the simmering and stirring process. Most of the solids are then scooped from the top, while the rest is removed by straining the consomme through cheesecloth.
3. Noodle Soups
American-style noodle soups usually begin with light chicken broth and cubed or shredded chicken. The increasingly popular Vietnamese clear soup, pho, typically combines beef broth, rice noodles, complex spices and a small number of other ingredients that are thinly sliced. Japanese noodle soups typically feature ramen noodles and pork or chicken broth along with Asian vegetables like bamboo shoots.
4. Consomme-Based Clear Soups
The rich, complex flavor of consomme soups make them ideal starter points for special-occasion soups. Spoon fish consomme over cooked shrimp, fresh herbs and radishes, for example, or ladle chicken consomme over sliced, poached chicken breast and vegetables. Beef consomme, of course, forms the basis for French onion soup.
5. Delicate Clear Soups
For the lightest take on clear soups in which other ingredients are added, consider French-style julienned soups, featuring shredded vegetables. Japanese light soups start with dashi broth, made from dried fish flakes, seaweed and water. Dashi can then be used in miso soup, featuring fermented soybean paste and other ingredients such as tofu and daikon radishes.
6. Heartier Clear Soups
You don't have to create cream-based thick soup in order to have a satisfying main-course soup. The more filling options for clear soups that verge on stews include wedding soup and minestrone soup, both from Italy. If you're feeling "fishy," try seafood-based soups such as cioppino or bouillabaisse.
7. “Hospital” Soups
There are times when the term "clear soups" means only one thing: food that's safe to eat when prepping for or recovering from a medical procedure. In those cases, your best bet is to stick with chicken or beef broth. In a pinch, you can strain clear soups and discard the solid ingredients as with strained chicken noodle or vegetable soup.