The Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton

Chapter V.


General Directions for Making Soups.

88. LEAN, JUICY BEEF, MUTTON, AND VEAL, form the basis of all good soups; therefore it is advisable to procure those pieces which afford the richest succulence, and such as are fresh-killed. Stale meat renders them bad, and fat is not so well adapted for making them. The principal art in composing good rich soup, is so to proportion the several ingredients that the flavour of one shall not predominate over another, and that all the articles of which it is composed, shall form an agreeable whole. To accomplish this, care must be taken that the roots and herbs are perfectly well cleaned, and that the water is proportioned to the quantity of meat and other ingredients. Generally a quart of water may be allowed to a pound of meat for soups, and half the quantity for gravies. In making soups or gravies, gentle stewing or simmering is incomparably the best. It may be remarked, however, that a really good soup can never be made but in a well-closed vessel, although, perhaps, greater wholesomeness is obtained by an occasional exposure to the air. Soups will, in general, take from three to six hours doing, and are much better prepared the day before they are wanted. When the soup is cold, the fat may be much more easily and completely removed; and when it is poured off, care must be taken not to disturb the settlings at the bottom of the vessel, which are so fine that they will escape through a sieve. A tamis is the best strainer, and if the soup is strained while it is hot, let the tamis or cloth be previously soaked in cold water. Clear soups must be perfectly transparent, and thickened soups about the consistence of cream. To thicken and give body to soups and gravies, potato-mucilage, arrow-root, bread-raspings, isinglass, flour and butter, barley, rice, or oatmeal, in a little water rubbed well together, are used. A piece of boiled beef pounded to a pulp, with a bit of butter and flour, and rubbed through a sieve, and gradually incorporated with the soup, will be found an excellent addition. When the soup appears to be too thin or too weak, the cover of the boiler should be taken off, and the contents allowed to boil till some of the watery parts have evaporated; or some of the thickening materials, above mentioned, should be added. When soups and gravies are kept from day to day in hot weather, they should be warmed up every day, and put into fresh scalded pans or tureens, and placed in a cool cellar. In temperate weather, every other day may be sufficient.

89. VARIOUS HERBS AND VEGETABLES are required for the purpose of making soups and gravies. Of these the principal are — Scotch barley, pearl barley, wheat flour, oatmeal, bread-raspings, pease, beans, rice, vermicelli, macaroni, isinglass, potato-mucilage, mushroom or mushroom ketchup, champignons, parsnips, carrots, beetroot, turnips, garlic, shalots, and onions. Sliced onions, fried with butter and flour till they are browned, and then rubbed through a sieve, are excellent to heighten the colour and flavour of brown soups and sauces, and form the basis of many of the fine relishes furnished by the cook. The older and drier the onion, the stronger will be its flavour. Leeks, cucumber, or burnet vinegar; celery or celery-seed pounded. The latter, though equally strong, does not impart the delicate sweetness of the fresh vegetable; and when used as a substitute, its flavour should be corrected by the addition of a bit of sugar. Cress-seed, parsley, common thyme, lemon thyme, orange thyme, knotted marjoram, sage, mint, winter savoury, and basil. As fresh green basil is seldom to be procured, and its fine flavour is soon lost, the best way of preserving the extract is by pouring wine on the fresh leaves.

90. FOR THE SEASONING OF SOUPS, bay-leaves, tomato, tarragon, chervil, burnet, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, mace, black and white pepper, essence of anchovy, lemon-peel, and juice, and Seville orange-juice, are all taken. The latter imparts a finer flavour than the lemon, and the acid is much milder. These materials, with wine, mushroom ketchup, Harvey’s sauce, tomato sauce, combined in various proportions, are, with other ingredients, manipulated into an almost endless variety of excellent soups and gravies. Soups, which are intended to constitute the principal part of a meal, certainly ought not to be flavoured like sauces, which are only designed to give a relish to some particular dish.

Soup, Broth and Bouillon.

91. IT HAS BEEN ASSERTED, that English cookery is, nationally speaking, far from being the best in the world. More than this, we have been frequently told by brilliant foreign writers, half philosophers, half chefs, that we are the worst cooks on the face of the earth, and that the proverb which alludes to the divine origin of food, and the precisely opposite origin of its preparers, is peculiarly applicable to us islanders. Not, however, to the inhabitants of the whole island; for, it is stated in a work which treats of culinary operations, north of the Tweed, that the “broth” of Scotland claims, for excellence and wholesomeness, a very close second place to the bouillon, or common soup of France. “Three hot meals of broth and meat, for about the price of ONE roasting joint,” our Scottish brothers and sisters get, they say; and we hasten to assent to what we think is now a very well-ascertained fact. We are glad to note, however, that soups of vegetables, fish, meat, and game, are now very frequently found in the homes of the English middle classes, as well as in the mansions of the wealthier and more aristocratic; and we take this to be one evidence, that we are on the right road to an improvement in our system of cookery. One great cause of many of the spoilt dishes and badly-cooked meats which are brought to our tables, arises, we think, and most will agree with us, from a non-acquaintance with “common, every-day things.” Entertaining this view, we intend to preface the chapters of this work with a simple scientific résumé of all those causes and circumstances which relate to the food we have to prepare, and the theory and chemistry of the various culinary operations. Accordingly, this is the proper place to treat of the quality of the flesh of animals, and describe some of the circumstances which influence it for good or bad. We will, therefore, commence with the circumstance of age, and examine how far this affects the quality of meat.

92. DURING THE PERIOD BETWEEN THE BIRTH AND MATURITY OF ANIMALS, their flesh undergoes very considerable changes. For instance, when the animal is young, the fluids which the tissues of the muscles contain, possess a large proportion of what is called albumen. This albumen, which is also the chief component of the white of eggs, possesses the peculiarity of coagulating or hardening at a certain temperature, like the white of a boiled egg, into a soft, white fluid, no longer soluble, or capable of being dissolved in water. As animals grow older, this peculiar animal matter gradually decreases, in proportion to the other constituents of the juice of the flesh. Thus, the reason why veal, lamb, and young pork are white, and without gravy when cooked, is, that the large quantity of albumen they contain hardens, or becomes coagulated. On the other hand, the reason why beef and mutton are brown, and have gravy, is, that the proportion of albumen they contain, is small, in comparison with their greater quantity of fluid which is soluble, and not coagulable.

93. THE QUALITY OF THE FLESH OF AN ANIMAL is considerably influenced by the nature of the food on which it has been fed; for the food supplies the material which produces the flesh. If the food be not suitable and good, the meat cannot be good either; just as the paper on which these words are printed, could not be good, if the rags from which it is made, were not of a fine quality. To the experienced in this matter, it is well known that the flesh of animals fed on farinaceous produce, such as corn, pulse, &c., is firm, well-flavoured, and also economical in the cooking; that the flesh of those fed on succulent and pulpy substances, such as roots, possesses these qualities in a somewhat less degree; whilst the flesh of those whose food contains fixed oil, as linseed, is greasy, high coloured, and gross in the fat, and if the food has been used in large quantities, possessed of a rank flavour.

94. IT IS INDISPENSABLE TO THE GOOD QUALITY OF MEAT, that the animal should be perfectly healthy at the time of its slaughter. However slight the disease in an animal may be, inferiority in the quality of its flesh, as food, is certain to be produced. In most cases, indeed, as the flesh of diseased animals has a tendency to very rapid putrefaction, it becomes not only unwholesome, but absolutely poisonous, on account of the absorption of the virus of the unsound meat into the systems of those who partake of it. The external indications of good and bad meat will be described under its own particular head, but we may here premise that the layer of all wholesome meat, when freshly killed, adheres firmly to the bone.

95. ANOTHER CIRCUMSTANCE GREATLY AFFECTING THE QUALITY OF MEAT, is the animal’s treatment before it is slaughtered. This influences its value and wholesomeness in no inconsiderable degree. It will be easy to understand this, when we reflect on those leading principles by which the life of an animal is supported and maintained. These are, the digestion of its food, and the assimilation of that food into its substance. Nature, in effecting this process, first reduces the food in the stomach to a state of pulp, under the name of chyme, which passes into the intestines, and is there divided into two principles, each distinct from the other. One, a milk-white fluid — the nutritive portion — is absorbed by innumerable vessels which open upon the mucous membrane, or inner coat of the intestines. These vessels, or absorbents, discharge the fluid into a common duct, or road, along which it is conveyed to the large veins in the neighbourhood of the heart. Here it is mixed with the venous blood (which is black and impure) returning from every part of the body, and then it supplies the waste which is occasioned in the circulating stream by the arterial (or pure) blood having furnished matter for the substance of the animal. The blood of the animal having completed its course through all parts, and having had its waste recruited by the digested food, is now received into the heart, and by the action of that organ it is urged through the lungs, there to receive its purification from the air which the animal inhales. Again returning to the heart, it is forced through the arteries, and thence distributed, by innumerable ramifications, called capillaries, bestowing to every part of the animal, life and nutriment. The other principle — the innutritive portion — passes from the intestines, and is thus got rid of. It will now be readily understood how flesh is affected for bad, if an animal is slaughtered when the circulation of its blood has been increased by over-driving, ill-usage, or other causes of excitement, to such a degree of rapidity as to be too great for the capillaries to perform their functions, and causing the blood to be congealed in its minuter vessels. Where this has been the case, the meat will be dark-coloured, and become rapidly putrid; so that self-interest and humanity alike dictate kind and gentle treatment of all animals destined to serve as food for man.

The Chemistry and Economy of Soup-Making.

96. STOCK BEING THE BASIS of all meat soups, and, also, of all the principal sauces, it is essential to the success of these culinary operations, to know the most complete and economical method of extracting, from a certain quantity of meat, the best possible stock or broth. The theory and philosophy of this process we will, therefore, explain, and then proceed to show the practical course to be adopted.

97. AS ALL MEAT is principally composed of fibres, fat, gelatine, osmazome, and albumen, it is requisite to know that the FIBRES are inseparable, constituting almost all that remains of the meat after it has undergone a long boiling.

98. FAT is dissolved by boiling; but as it is contained in cells covered by a very fine membrane, which never dissolves, a portion of it always adheres to the fibres. The other portion rises to the surface of the stock, and is that which has escaped from the cells which were not whole, or which have burst by boiling.

99. GELATINE is soluble: it is the basis and the nutritious portion of the stock. When there is an abundance of it, it causes the stock, when cold, to become a jelly.

100. OSMAZOME is soluble even when cold, and is that part of the meat which gives flavour and perfume to the stock. The flesh of old animals contains more osmazome than that of young ones. Brown meats contain more than white, and the former make the stock more fragrant. By roasting meat, the osmazome appears to acquire higher properties; so, by putting the remains of roast meats into your stock-pot, you obtain a better flavour.

101. ALBUMEN is of the nature of the white of eggs; it can be dissolved in cold or tepid water, but coagulates when it is put into water not quite at the boiling-point. From this property in albumen, it is evident that if the meat is put into the stock-pot when the water boils, or after this is made to boil up quickly, the albumen, in both cases, hardens. In the first it rises to the surface, in the second it remains in the meat, but in both it prevents the gelatine and osmazome from dissolving; and hence a thin and tasteless stock will be obtained. It ought to be known, too, that the coagulation of the albumen in the meat, always takes place, more or less, according to the size of the piece, as the parts farthest from the surface always acquire that degree of heat which congeals it before entirely dissolving it.

102. BONES ought always to form a component part of the stock-pot. They are composed of an earthy substance — to which they owe their solidity — of gelatine, and a fatty fluid, something like marrow. Two ounces of them contain as much gelatine as one pound of meat; but in them, this is so incased in the earthy substance, that boiling water can dissolve only the surface of whole bones. By breaking them, however, you can dissolve more, because you multiply their surfaces; and by reducing them to powder or paste, you can dissolve them entirely; but you must not grind them dry. We have said (99) that gelatine forms the basis of stock; but this, though very nourishing, is entirely without taste; and to make the stock savoury, it must contain osmazome. Of this, bones do not contain a particle; and that is the reason why stock made entirely of them, is not liked; but when you add meat to the broken or pulverized bones, the osmazome contained in it makes the stock sufficiently savoury.

103. In concluding this part of our subject, the following condensed hints and directions should be attended to in the economy of soup-making:—

I. BEEF MAKES THE BEST STOCK; veal stock has less colour and taste; whilst mutton sometimes gives it a tallowy smell, far from agreeable, unless the meat has been previously roasted or broiled. Fowls add very little to the flavour of stock, unless they be old and fat. Pigeons, when they are old, add the most flavour to it; and a rabbit or partridge is also a great improvement. From the freshest meat the best stock is obtained.

II. IF THE MEAT BE BOILED solely to make stock, it must be cut up into the smallest possible pieces; but, generally speaking, if it is desired to have good stock and a piece of savoury meat as well, it is necessary to put a rather large piece into the stock-pot, say sufficient for two or three days, during which time the stock will keep well in all weathers. Choose the freshest meat, and have it cut as thick as possible; for if it is a thin, flat piece, it will not look well, and will be very soon spoiled by the boiling.

III. NEVER WASH MEAT, as it deprives its surface of all its juices; separate it from the bones, and tie it round with tape, so that its shape may be preserved, then put it into the stock-pot, and for each pound of meat, let there be one pint of water; press it down with the hand, to allow the air, which it contains, to escape, and which often raises it to the top of the water.

IV. PUT THE STOCK-POT ON A GENTLE FIRE, so that it may heat gradually. The albumen will first dissolve, afterwards coagulate; and as it is in this state lighter than the liquid, it will rise to the surface; bringing with it all its impurities. It is this which makes the scum. The rising of the hardened albumen has the same effect in clarifying stock as the white of eggs; and, as a rule, it may be said that the more scum there is, the clearer will be the stock. Always take care that the fire is very regular.

V. REMOVE THE SCUM when it rises thickly, and do not let the stock boil, because then one portion of the scum will be dissolved, and the other go to the bottom of the pot; thus rendering it very difficult to obtain a clear broth. If the fire is regular, it will not be necessary to add cold water in order to make the scum rise; but if the fire is too large at first, it will then be necessary to do so.

VI. WHEN THE STOCK IS WELL SKIMMED, and begins to boil, put in salt and vegetables, which may be two or three carrots, two turnips, one parsnip, a bunch of leeks and celery tied together. You can add, according to taste, a piece of cabbage, two or three cloves stuck in an onion, and a tomato. The latter gives a very agreeable flavour to the stock. If fried onion be added, it ought, according to the advice of a famous French chef, to be tied in a little bag: without this precaution, the colour of the stock is liable to be clouded.

VII. BY THIS TIME we will now suppose that you have chopped the bones which were separated from the meat, and those which were left from the roast meat of the day before. Remember, as was before pointed out, that the more these are broken, the more gelatine you will have. The best way to break them up is to pound them roughly in an iron mortar, adding, from time to time, a little water, to prevent them getting heated. It is a great saving thus to make use of the bones of meat, which, in too many English families, we fear, are entirely wasted; for it is certain, as previously stated (No. 102), that two ounces of bone contain as much gelatine (which is the nutritive portion of stock) as one pound of meat. In their broken state tie them up in a bag, and put them in the stock-pot; adding the gristly parts of cold meat, and trimmings, which can be used for no other purpose. If, to make up the weight, you have received from the butcher a piece of mutton or veal, broil it slightly over a clear fire before putting it in the stock-pot, and be very careful that it does not contract the least taste of being smoked or burnt.

VIII. ADD NOW THE VEGETABLES, which, to a certain extent, will stop the boiling of the stock. Wait, therefore, till it simmers well up again, then draw it to the side of the fire, and keep it gently simmering till it is served, preserving, as before said, your fire always the same. Cover the stock-pot well, to prevent evaporation; do not fill it up, even if you take out a little stock, unless the meat is exposed; in which case a little boiling water may be added, but only enough to cover it. After six hours’ slow and gentle simmering, the stock is done; and it should not be continued on the fire, longer than is necessary, or it will tend to insipidity.

Note. — It is on a good stock, or first good broth and sauce, that excellence in cookery depends. If the preparation of this basis of the culinary art is intrusted to negligent or ignorant persons, and the stock is not well skimmed, but indifferent results will be obtained. The stock will never be clear; and when it is obliged to be clarified, it is deteriorated both in quality and flavour. In the proper management of the stock-pot an immense deal of trouble is saved, inasmuch as one stock, in a small dinner, serves for all purposes. Above all things, the greatest economy, consistent with excellence, should be practised, and the price of everything which enters the kitchen correctly ascertained. The theory of this part of Household Management may appear trifling; but its practice is extensive, and therefore it requires the best attention.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31