When the air turns crisp and the evenings become dark earlier, a comforting and flavorful soup or slow-simmering stew on the stovetop is a welcome way to bring calm to a busy day's end. Served alongside a bright salad and a crusty loaf of Italian bread, the warmth and aromas of a good soup throughout the home can heal and soothe, like food for the soul.
Today, I'm sharing four cooking techniques that will add tons of flavor to your stocks, sauces and soups. Standard bouquet garni, sachet d'épices, oignon brûlé and oignon piqué are traditional French aromatic preparations called for again and again in recipes. Meant to enhance and support the flavors of a dish, they add subtle undertones of earthiness to stocks, sauces and soups by gently infusing the liquid with their aroma.
Try one of these techniques next time you set out to make a stock from scratch or a pot of soup, and your friends and family are sure to be impressed.
You'll need some kitchen twine and cheesecloth, which you can find at craft stores, such as Michaels or Hobby Lobby.
1. A bouquet garni, literally translated as "garnished bouquet," is made up of fresh herbs and vegetables tied into a bundle. Ingredients include:
1 sprig of fresh thyme
3 or 4 parsley stems
1 bay leaf
2 or 3 leek leaves and/or 1 celery stalk, cut in half lengthwise
1 carrot, cut in half lengthwise (optional)
1 parsnip, cut in half lengthwise (optional)
Rinse the leek leaves thoroughly, then use them as a base for stacking and wrapping the remaining ingredients. Tie a piece of kitchen twine around the bundle, and be sure to cut a piece of string long enough to tie the bouquet to the pot handle for easy removal. Note: Parsley leaves are stripped from the stems because they will impart unwanted color in your dish. You can always chop them up and use for garnish.
2. Sachet d'épices (pronounced "sa-SHAY DAY-pees") translates to "bag of spices." Containing ingredients that would otherwise get lost in the sauce, so to speak, such as peppercorns, cheesecloth is used to form a makeshift sack. Ingredients include:
3 or 4 parsley stems
1 sprig of thyme or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of cracked peppercorns
1 garlic clove (optional)
Bundle the ingredients in a small rectangle of cheesecloth and secure the sack by tying it together with kitchen twine. As with the garnished bouquet, be sure to cut a piece of string long enough to tie the sachet to the pot handle for easy removal. Drop the sachet directly into the pot.
For small batch soups, stocks and sauces (less than 1 gallon), sachets and bouquets should be added in the last 15 to 30 minutes of cooking. For batches of several gallons or more, add it about one hour before the end of the cooking time.
3. The oignon brûlé has got to be my favorite technique. Translated "burnt onion," an oignon brûlé is made by peeling and halving an onion and charring the cut faces in a dry skillet. This may be the one time that it's OK to burn something intentionally while you're cooking! This technique is used in some stocks to provide golden brown color. I've used it while preparing vegetable stock, and the outcome was delightful.
Peel an onion, slice it in half, then place both halves face down in a dry skillet over high heat. If you have a gas oven, the onion may be placed directly on the flame. Be sure to burn the onion halves until they are black.
Place the burnt onions directly in the pot while your soup, sauce or stock simmers, and remove when the dish has finished cooking.
4. Oignon piqué, or "pricked" or "studded onion," is prepared by studding an onion with a few whole cloves and a bay leaf.
Attach one or more bay leaves to an onion by pushing whole cloves through the leaves into the onion like thumb tacks. Much like with the oignon brûlé, the oignon piqué is added directly to simmering liquid during the cooking process.
Try these techniques with recipes at SomeKindaGood.com, where you'll find lots of inspiration, like my Hearty Hamburger and Roasted Root Vegetable soups and Wild Georgia Shrimp and Corn Chowder. It was French Chef Louis P. De Gouy who said, "Good soup is one of the prime ingredients of good living. For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish."
Georgia native Rebekah Faulk Lingenfelser is a food enthusiast, aspiring cooking show host and writer. The personality behind the blog SomeKindaGood.com, she is a student at Savannah Technical College's Culinary Institute of Savannah. Search Facebook for Some Kinda Good or tweet her @SKGFoodBlog.