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Why Does Roasting Ingredients Improve My Homemade Soup Recipes?

The answer to that question can be summed up in one word: carmelization.

Carmelization is the process that converts sugar into something more complex and tasty. Since almost all food has sugar of some sort (otherwise the cells in the plant or animal would die), carmelization can almost always be used to help increase the overall flavor.

For carmelization to happen, the sugar must reach a temperature of about 325 to 350 degrees. Also, it must be in a moist enough environment that the molecules can move around and combine and break down, and do whatever it is that they do. In a bone-dry environment, that can’t happen.

So why not just boil the food? Well, water just simply cannot get that hot. At 212 degrees Fahrenheit water boils, which means some of it will escape as steam. Once the hot steam escapes, it takes the hottest part of the water with it, lowering the overall temperature of the water. This keeps the water at 212 degrees, and no higher.

So what liquid will reach such a high temperature?

Oil. A simple dollop of olive oil, or pretty much any vegetable oil, will give the food enough moisture for the sugars to carmelize, and it won’t evaporate. Most oils, with the exception of high-quality oils like grapeseed oil, will easily withstand the high temperatures we need. You really don’t need that much, just enough to coat the surface of your food.

Of course, a lot of food has water in it too, otherwise it would be stiff as a board, and brittle besides. We want to get as much water out of that food as we can, and for two reasons. The first is that the escaping steam from the food can keep the heat lower than the best temperature for carmelization. The second is that by bringing the water our of the cells, we can also extract some of the flavor.

The best way to do this is with salt. Sprinkling salt on the food will help coax the water out (not all, just a significantportion), releasing flavor, and letting oil replace it. The result is faster, tastier carmelization.

The last thing to note is that the food you are roasting should all be a similar size, otherwise you will end up with different degrees of “doneness”. If that is okay with you, then no problem.

To roast food in the oven, simply preheat the oven to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, place food in a roasting pan or baking dish, oil and salt the surface of your food (cut the food open if it has an inedible surface, as squash does), cover with foil, and let it roast in the oven for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half.

Not all carmelization needs to take place in the oven. Onions can be slowly carmelized in a pot on medium low witholive oil, as well as butter if you like. Again, make sure you use salt, as it will help remove the water in the onions. Of course this method is a bit more tedious than oven roasting because you need to keep stirring, but you can achieve a moreaccurate degree of carmelization because you can see it and stop it right away when you are done.

Carmelizing meat is a slightly different process. Generally you need to use a higher temperature. There is less sugar in meatthan in vegetables and fruit, but it is there, and it can be carmelized. In fact, browning meat is actually carmelizing the sugar on the surface of the meat.

Again, meat can be carmelized either in the oven or on the stove, but you need higher temperatures to do that. 450 degrees in the oven is optimum, but for a much shorter time (15 minutes before it will start to char).

On the stove, there is a trick to carmelizing meat. When you place an oiled, salted piece of meat in a hot pan (just above medium, about 6 on a dial from 1 to 10), the meat will immediately stick to the pan. Do NOT move the meat around, as this will just tear off the tasty parts you want. The meat will let you know when it is finished carmelizing by relaxing and letting go of the pan. If the meat moves when you pull at it gently, that’s when that surface is done. Then you can flip it to another surface.

Make sure you do not place too much meat into a pan to carmelize, or “sear”. Doing so will reduce the temperature of the pan, and the surface will boil rather than carmelize, and that is just not as tasty.

In many of the homemade soup recipes you will see on this site I will mention roasting, and even give detailed instructions. But don’t be afraid to try your own roasting ideas!

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