Soups, stocks, and broths all need simmering to bring out flavors and cook the ingredients. Some recipes call for a long time to simmer these pots, especially if you are using a slow cooker.
You might be wondering if it’s possible to leave the soup to simmer for too long? I love cooking soups of all kinds, and I’ve learned a lot about what makes soup great.
Leaving a soup on a vigorous boil too long could ruin it due to overcooking the ingredients or reducing the liquid too much. However, soups can be lightly simmered for up to 8 hours to develop rich flavors. Ensure there is enough stock or water to prevent burning and add salt after the soup has simmered.
There’s a massive difference between a boil and a simmer, and the one thing you do not want to do is leave a soup to boil – especially for any considerable length of time. But soups benefit from long, slow cooking times at a low heat to help develop the flavors and soften ingredients like tough cuts of meat and dried peas. Some soups will cook faster, while others need a long simmer to get just right.
Can You Simmer Soup Too Long?
Soup will only be simmered for too long if the ingredients inside will overcook or the liquid runs low. Lean meat will become tough and soft vegetables will become mushy with too much simmering.
A simmer is when food is cooked at a temperature that stays below boiling point. Usually, the easiest way to do this is to bring your stock or soup to a boil, then reduce the heat until your soup stays at a constant temperature. Simmering is a great way to cook food to avoid the meat toughening or ingredients breaking into pieces or burning.
If you use a crockpot or electric cooker, you’ll be very familiar with foods like soups, chilis, or stews left to simmer while you’re at work. It’s a great way of prepping food and then leaving it to cook, ready to be eaten on your return.
You might be wondering if you can leave a soup to simmer for too long – certainly if the temperature is too high, you leave the pot for too long, and you don’t have enough stock liquid, you run the risk of burning your soup. But in many cases, soups can be left on a low simmer, such as the lowest setting on a crockpot, for about 8 hours without worry.
Use cuts suitable for slow cooking like chicken thighs, brisket, or pork shoulder, and add any soft vegetables near the end of the cooking process. Root vegetables and potatoes are more suitable for longer cooking.
How Long Can I Leave A Soup To Simmer?
How long you can leave soup simmer depends on the ingredients. Ingredients that need short cooking require about a 30-minute simmer while ingredients that can be slow-cooked can have 4-8 hours on a low simmer.
Some soups will not need much simmering at all if you have the stock ready, for example, a vegetable soup which might only need 30 minutes. Others might need much longer to soften ingredients.
If you’re new to making soups, you might be unsure about how long is too long. If you’re a beginner soup maker, my first piece of advice is to follow a trusted recipe exactly. As you become more experienced with making soups, you’ll be able to make your own recipes with a good idea of how long you’ll need to simmer them, depending on the ingredients.
Remember that the longer you leave a soup to simmer, the more liquid will evaporate (should you simmer with a lid?), resulting in your soup thickening. A thicker soup has a more concentrated flavor and is easier to burn. If you’re planning to simmer your soup for a long time, it’s good to keep an eye on the pot and check it occasionally to make sure it’s not burning.
What Happens If You Simmer Soup For Too Long?
If you simmer soup for too long meat will become tough or fall apart, vegetables will become mushy and disintegrate and the texture will be ruined. You might burn ingredients on the bottom and sides of the pan if you run out of liquid.
As you simmer your soup, water will evaporate, the ingredients will cook and break down, and your soup will begin to thicken. This slow simmer is an essential part of the cooking process as you don’t want tough, uncooked meat or hard lentils or peas in a soup.
If you simmer a soup for too long, you can end up with a soup that has become too thick and salty. If you know you’re going to be leaving a soup to simmer for a long time, make sure that there is enough liquid or stock to prevent the soup from thickening too much.
Add salt and seasonings nearer the end, as the reduced soup may be too salty if the salt is added while simmering. If added too early, pepper or dried herbs can overcook to add unwanted bitterness to your soup.
With most soups, the items that take longer to cook, like split peas or lentils, will be added first, followed by root veg. Quicker cooking vegetables like greens, or frozen peas, will only be added towards the end of the simmering time.
Simmer the stock or soup before adding quick-cooking ingredients (like frozen peas), which end up grey and unappetizing if overcooked.
Should You Simmer Soup With Lid On Or Off?
Simmering with the lid on will prevent evaporation and is best for longer cooking times or dishes that don’t need reducing. Simmering with the lid off will thicken the soup.
Leaving the lid on or off will depend on your situation and recipe. By leaving the cover off, the stock will evaporate faster, leaving you with a thicker, chunkier soup. This might be perfect for you, especially if you’re simmering your soup for a shorter period of time, and you do not have meat or dried ingredients that need long cooking times.
When leaving a lid off, because the water evaporates much faster, you need to watch your soup to ensure it doesn’t get too thick and the bottom sections burn.
If your soup seems too thin, you can take off the lid and raise the simmering heat a little to help thicken your soup. If you still have problems thickening then check out my post on how to thicken soup for some more great tips.
When simmering for longer periods, we want to keep the moisture in, so it’s more usual to keep the lid on. By keeping the soup covered, you retain the heat and moisture, which allows the temperature to remain constant – which is what you want when simmering a soup.
How Long Do You Let Stock Simmer?
Stock should be simmered for a minimum of 40 minutes and up to 3 hours. The longer it simmers, the tastier the stock becomes from the ingredients, so it is worth taking the extra time.
40 minutes really is a bare minimum and will give you a light-tasting stock unless you are using a lot of bones. At around 1.5 hours you will get a decent stock and around 3 hours the flavor will be best.
When cooking a homemade stock as the base for a soup, you’re trying to extract every bit of flavor from the bones, vegetables, and herbs you are using, so this long simmer time is appropriate.
You can roast chicken bones first to make a brown stock that is stronger and suited for use with meat dishes. White stock uses raw bones and is lighter in color and taste – good for soups.
Once your stock has simmered, you should be able to drain it off and throw away the remaining bones and vegetables. You can then use this stock as a base for making your soups. Many soups use chicken or beef stock as the liquid ingredient, creating a richer flavor rather than simply simmering the meat and vegetables in water.
When cooking a soup with a ready-made stock, the simmer time will be shorter. Again, it will depend on the other ingredients: a soup made with stewing beef may need a long slow simmer time of 6-8 hours, while a butternut and carrot soup will only need to be simmered until all the vegetables are tender – about 40 minutes.
The simmer time of your soup will depend on the ingredients and recipe, but most soups are not simmered for longer than a few hours or up to 8 in a slow cooker. Stocks will need to be simmered longer to break down the connecting tissue and bones to develop flavor. Avoid oversalting soup or leaving it to burn when simmering for long periods, which will ruin the soup.