I guarantee you already have the secret ingredient in your kitchen.

We are officially in soup season, and for many of us that means we are currently either making huge batches of homemade stock to stash in the freezer or loading in plenty of boxed stock so that we are ready to get our soup on at the slightest whim. There is something so soothing about a rich soup or stew made with stock: It intensifies meatiness and offers great mouthfeel.

But stock has its limitations. A meat stock or bone broth will bring flavor to your recipe, and if that recipe is for a vegetable soup, now your soup will taste as much of chicken or beef as it will of vegetables. Chicken stock is mild but will still compete a bit in a fish-based or other delicate soup. Beef or veal stock bring wonderful flavor complexity, but you don't always want that in your minestrone.

Even vegetable stocks vary in flavor and pungency, and while they can work well in soups or stews with a lot of ingredients, if you are trying to make one ingredient shine, it can deaden or dilute that flavor. I want my cream of broccoli soup to taste of broccoli first and foremost, not of either chicken or carrot and celery.

Enter my secret weapon for bright flavor in your soups and stews, and the best part is that you already have it at your house.


Credit: Getty / rudisill

Why making soup or stew with plain water instead of stock is a great idea

Water is the ideal vehicle to bring all the flavor out of your soup and stew ingredients without imparting any of its own. This is nothing new, in fact: There are long traditions in Italy and France, for example, of making many soups with plain water as the vehicle.

Soups to make with plain water as the base

A potato soup made with plain water has much more intense potato flavor than one made with chicken stock. Tomato soup that is made with water is brighter and sweeter that one made with stock. And if your recipe for French onion soup calls for beef broth as the base, try swapping it out for plain water and watch the deep sweet savory notes of your darkly caramelized onions come immediately to life.

You can, of course, also make soups and stews that have meat in them with water as well, since the water will draw out those flavors anyway.

I make simple chilled vegetable soups all summer long by just adding just enough water to cooked vegetables to puree into a smooth soup, and then seasoning to taste. Try it with frozen green peas or sweet corn and see. 

What to know about making soups with plain water

Soups made with plain water may need more or different seasoning than your recipes with stock, so be sure to taste as your soup cooks and adjust to your preferences. I will often up the aromatics like onion, carrot, and celery by about 20-30% to make up for the aromatics that are usually present in a basic stock, but it may not be necessary. 

The best part is that if you find you prefer some of your soups made with plain water, you will free up plenty of room in your freezer or pantry!