Dorothy So takes a huge slurp of the world’s most nourishing comfort food. Photography by Calvin Sit
This is one of the two main classifications of soups. In French culinary tradition, the bouillon is considered the most basic clear soup and is made by simmering stock with an optional array of aromatic ingredients. Other clear soups can be made with additional ingredients and/or cooking steps as listed below.
This classic soup consists of basic stock or broth that has been clarified with egg whites then filtered and skimmed to remove all traces of grease from the surface. The result is a clean, clear soup that has a crisp and rich flavour. The simple soup is considered one of the most sophisticated culinary preparations and can be served au naturel or dressed in a variety of garnishes.
Sip it here Madam Sixty Ate’s chef Chris Woodyard serves a gussied-up bonito consommé with a fat slab of seared foie gras and tuna, and a soya bean-seaweed salad arranged on the rim of the plate. For something a little more delicate, Woodyard also plates up a deconstructed minestrone of clear tomato consommé with baby vegetables, capsicum, black olive flakes and an open lasagna layered with brown onion purée. 1/F, J Senses, 60 Johnston Rd, Wan Chai, 2527 2558; www.madamsixtyate.com.hk.
Perhaps the most well-known soup from Japan, miso soup is made by combining dashi stock with fermented soya bean paste.
Sip it here Hokahoka does a particularly comforting miso. Shop 51-52, G/F, Houston Ctr, 63 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2366 1784.
Herbs & spices
Herbs and spices are commonly used around the world to perk up simple, clear soups. For example, Thailand’s popular tom yum soup and Indonesia’s soto soups are loaded with fragrant, zingy ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal, cilantro and chillies. Medicinal herbs also feature prominently in Chinese soups (see slow simmered & double-boiled soups).
Sip it here Racha Moo Yang dishes up one of our favourite tom yum soups. Shop AB, 87 Hennessy Rd, Wan Chai, 2529 6378.
Slow simmered & double-boiled
These two techniques are popular in Chinese cooking and are both thought to create nourishing soups, especially when medicinal herbs are added to the mix. For slow-simmered soups, clear broths are cooked on low heat for several hours. Tough cuts of parboiled meat such as lean pork, pig trotters and old chicken are often used in slow simmered soups because the lengthy cooking process renders the meat tender and also draws out the rich flavours within the ingredients. The gentle heat also ensures that the nutrients released from medicinal herbs such as wolfberries and Chinese yam aren’t destroyed during the cooking process.
Double-boiled soups work in a slightly different way. These are prepared in a special doubled-lidded ceramic vessel that is sealed and then partly submerged in water (similar to a bain-marie) and boiled for upwards of three or four hours. The covered cooking vessel is thought to prevent delicate ingredients from drying out while also locking in all the nutrients and flavours. Because of this, the double-boiling method is favoured when expensive ingredients such as ginseng, fish maw and abalone are involved.
Sip it here Wah Fung offers a rotating selection of slow simmered soups every week while traditional Chinese medicine specialist Red More sells ready-to-drink double-boiled soups. Wah Fung, Unit 3, 4/F, James S Lee Mansion, 33-35 Carnarvon Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2312 2581; Red More, Shop L106B-C, LG/F, APM, 418 Kwun Tong Rd, Kwun Tong, 3148 9072.
The second of the two major soup classifications, these are categorised by the type of thickening agent added to the initial stock. Thick soups are mostly a Western culinary phenomenon as common thickeners – such as milk and cream – are not often used in Asian cooking.
There is no clear-cut definition of chowders but the term usually denotes hearty, stew-like soups that are chock full of chunky ingredients. Most chowders – such as the famed New England clam chowder – are cream-based and are further thickened with diced potatoes. This is not always the case though; Manhattan clam chowders use puréed tomatoes in place of a roux to give it more body.
Sip it here Café Gray Deluxe’s new menu includes a saffron scented New England lobster chowder served with lobster and aioli salad. The soup is almost bisque-like, made from whole ground lobster and finished with a touch of cream – but is also loaded with brunoise vegetables for an extra dose of heartiness. 49/F, The Upper House, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, 3968 1106; www.cafegrayhk.com.
As the name suggests, these are thickened with the addition of cream. Traditionally though, cream soups refer to those thickened with béchamel – a sauce made from adding hot milk to a flour and butter roux. Cream soups are usually strained after cooking.
Sip it here Frey & Ford’s mushroom and truffle soup is a quick grab’n’go option. Shop 69, B1/F, Hong Kong Station, Central, 2530 1298; www.freyford.com.
These are commonly vegetable-based soups, which are thickened by starches naturally present in the boiled and strained ingredients. Pulses and root veggies such as carrots, potatoes and parsnips are especially appropriate because of their high starch content. Purée soups are slightly pulpier than other thick soups but it is common practice to add milk or cream to achieve a smoother, more uniform consistency.
Sip it here Pret a Manger may be a chain but it offers a hearty, value-for-money pumpkin soup. Citywide, including shop 1015, 1/F, IFC Mall, 2295 0405; www.pret.com.hk.
Traditionally, bisques are made with shellfish such as crab and lobster with the shells still intact. These are simmered with basic stock and then puréed and strained. Cream is then slowly added to the mixture to give it a still thicker and silkier consistency. Meats or vegetables can also be used as the base in bisques but these are not as common.
Sip it here The Bostonian does a rich lobster bisque studded with scallop dumplings. B/F, The Langham, 8 Peking Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2375 1133.
Veloutés are the richest of all the classic soups. Basic stock is first thickened with roux (a cooked mixture of flour and butter). At this stage, the mixture is technically called a velouté sauce. A purée of the base ingredient (vegetable, meat or seafood) is then added to the sauce, followed by cream and egg yolks to form the thick soup.
Sip it here Caprice offers velouté soups on a regular basis and the current menu includes one spun from escargot. 6/F, Four Seasons Hong Kong, 8 Finance St, Central, 3196 8860.
The most widely used basic stock in the culinary world. The gentle flavour makes it extremely versatile to work with. When prepared with pork and Yunnan ham, it makes ‘superior soup’ – one of the most important broths in Cantonese cooking.
The high fat content of pork makes it the meat of choice for heavier soups. Pork-based soups are popular in Asia and are most commonly slow-cooked. Examples include Kyushu’s famously rich tonkotsu pork bone broth, as well as many double-boiled Chinese soups.
Fresh cuts or just the bones (usually roasted beforehand) create a brown stock with a rich flavour. Beef stock is the basis for famous dishes such as the classic French onion soup and Vietnamese pho broth, which is made from simmering various beef parts.
Simmering fish bones in water creates an extremely gentle stock. In Chinese cooking, a milky white stock is made with the whole fish, which is first gutted and cooked. The shells of crustaceans can also be used to make basic stocks for soup.
This stock can be made from any combination of vegetables. In classic French cooking, the most basic veggie stock comprises of mirepoix (diced aromatic veggies including carrots, celery and onions) simmered in water.
Kombu (seaweed) simmered with dried bonito flakes makes dashi. This is the most important basic stock in Japanese cooking and various ingredients can be added to dashi to create other soups and sauces.