Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Saving the Soup

I made carrot soup on a chilly day last week. We like to add tiny frozen peas to it, which makes it colorful and comforting, like something I'd imagine nannies fed to Edwardian children in the nursery.

I make soup improvisationally, without a recipe. This time, I used a packaged, low-sodium chicken broth from Trader Joe's for the liquid, along with a couple of pounds of carrots. I softened an onion and celery in butter before adding the carrots and broth, and then I added salt, pepper, nutmeg, and ginger. After the carrots softened, I puréed them, added some milk and a little orange juice, and stirred in the peas. It tasted bland, so I added more seasonings plus a pinch of cinnamon, and crossed my fingers.

At the table, it tasted spicy but still bland, which I didn't know was possible. The soup lacked "body" although it had savory top notes. Then I realized that I'd neglected to put a bouillon cube in the pot. This is one of the secrets of my grandmother's stellar chicken soup, which I've struggled to recreate. She never told us her recipe because she made soup so automatically that it was hard for her to explain. It was like asking her to describe how she breathed. But we know she used bouillon cubes.

The next time I heated up the carrot-and-pea soup, I reached for the chicken bouillon cubes. Then I remembered that I had a fresh jar of Better Than Bouillon. It's  truth-in-advertising — a  highly concentrated, fat-free, liquid soup base that's mostly meat or vegetables. It doesn't contain nasty additives like MSG and excess sodium as bouillon cubes do. An 8-ounce jar costs about $8 and it's worth it. I added a scant teaspoon of the organic chicken flavor to the carrot soup, and we both raved about the transformation.

If you typically use canned broth or stock for your soup base, this stuff will make it rich and hearty. Vegetarian soups in particular often taste too much like water to me, and I'll bet that Better Than Bouillon's vegetable, "no-chicken vegan," or mushroom flavors would fix that easily.

I like to use homemade chicken broth/stock for soup, but it's such a production to make stock in a small kitchen that I tend to feature it in chicken soup rather than overwhelm it with a pile of vegetables. To get this much flavor, I'd need to use many pounds of bones and leftover meat, and cook it down to nothing in a giant pot. I don't have the pot, kitchen or attention span suitable for doing this all the time, so I'll happily shell out $8 and enjoy really good soup.

Click the link above to find a shop that sells 26 varieties of BTB, ranging from premium ham to kosher chicken to vegetarian options to lobster, and you'll also have to choose between organic and regular flavors. I wonder what this stuff would do for gravy....


  1. I buy big jars of chicken and beef at Costco. There are smaller jars at Whole foods and Amazon has them too. I think I want to try the lobster, clam and turkey.

    Let me know if you want me to pick some up at costco.

  2. According to that website, they are discontinuing the large-size jars, so they're selling the last ones for half price.


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