by Prof. Steve Holzinger
"Of all the items on a menu, soup is that which exacts the most delicate perfection and the strictest attention, for upon the first impression it gives to the diner, the success of the latter part of the meal largely depends." —Escoffier 1
Soup making is becoming a lost art here in America. Homemade soup is healthy, economical and tasty. There is nothing like living in a house where the soul of the soup pot simmering reaches every room. "Hey, Mom, is it soup yet?" What a genius that first cook was, who figured out how to get a container to hold water and to cook foods in it! of all the things I cook, soup gives me the most satisfaction, and probably has taught me the most about cooking. Like bread making, it is elemental, soothing and satisfying to the soul as well as the body. I wonder, am I alone in this, or do you too feel this way?
We have explored classical vegetable soups, like mushroom barley, in past numbers, to get started with real cooking. If you cook a vegetable soup too long, it begins to break down and get mushy. with a little vigorous help from a strainer, chinacap or food mill it becomes a purée. During the summers when my kids were little, I used to cook at a camp, and fed 500 hungry mouths. I made soup every day. I had a bunch of old firebricks that I put on the back of the kitchen range 2. Just before I left for the day, I would fill a big pot with water or stock, heat it up, and throw everything for a split pea soup into it, and cover it securely. Then I would move it onto the firebrick, set the range for as low as possible, and forget about it. The next morning when I came in everything would be kind of mushy, and a few good hard stirs and it was ready to season and serve. Any meat bones in it would have given up their meat, and came out of the pot looking like something from a natural history museum.
If you intend to make a large batch of soup and save some, which makes great good sense to me, then from a sanitary point of view, you need to make the soup very hot, to sterilize it. Then move from hot to cold very quickly, to insure that the time spent around human body temperature where pathogenic bacteria thrive is as short as possible. The danger zone is from below 140 degrees F to 38 degrees F. Remember that when you put away your soup. By the way, when you put it away, if there is fat in it, leave it to form a protective seal over the soup that is easy to remove when cold. You can do the Campbells Soup trick. Just make the soup with half the liquid you should, or reduce what you are going to freeze. Then you have "condensed" soup. One can of soup, one can of water, and soups on!
Creams and purées are very much alike in their differences. If that seems paradoxical, read on. This diagram may help. It roughly follows the model of Escoffier, any errors are mine.
|25%||Milk and 1/3 Cream||Stock|
Predominant Ingredient 2/3 volume butter 6 oz / gallon flour 4 oz (1 cup) / gal. White Mirepoix 1/3 of base volume shallots, white pepper, aromatic herbs
Predominant Ingredient 2/3 volume bacon or ham fat 4-6 oz / gallon
Dark Mirepoix 1/3 of base volume tomato optional, garlic black pepper arotmatic herbs and spices
Keep in mind that what I am about to say are generalizations, there are exceptions that prove each rule. The predominant or main ingredient is what gives the soup its most recognizable flavor and often figures in the name of the soup, such as Cream of Asparagus or purée of Split Pea. 3
Creams use succulent (juicy) main ingredients like asparagus, fresh peas, carrot, leeks, and such. Cream of Potato and Leek is an exception that proves the rule, and it requires you to split the rules according to its nature.
Creams use a white mirepoix (chopped celery, onions and the white part of leeks, and some shallot if you like), sweated (cooked slowly over a low heat to burst the cell walls and release the juices) and then have flour added for thickening. I used to use six ounces of butter and six ounces of flour (per gallon) years ago, then I went to four ounces of flour, and now I often use no flour at all, and double (and even more) the predominant ingredient for body.
The liquid in Creams is milk with a little cream (10 oz per gallon). If you use 50 percent stock and 25 percent cream you have moved into a veloute, which I will discuss in a later article. Many cooks today make creams with part stock and part milk for better flavor and less fat, and I see no harm in that. Indeed, when I was cooking at a boys school I used to make "high protein milk" for cream soups by mixing nonfat dry milk solids with white or chicken stock to make cream soups, and they were delicious. White pepper should be used, not black, as black looks like flyspecks in a cream soup.
I love to use a Cuisinart for these soups. In the pot blendors are excellent too. I melt the butter in a heavy pot, and chop the mirepoix and predominant ingredient in the Cuisinart, dump them in the pot with the butter, and cook slowly to express the juices, stirring with a wooden spoon. Then I add the flour, stir some more and add the cold milk. (You are making a thin vegetable flavored bechamel here, so the hot roux, cold liquid idea applies). Bring it to the boil and simmer 20 minutes. Succulent vegetables don't need long cooking. Add 1/3 back to the Cuisinart, (you didn't have to wash it) and zzzzzzzzzzzzz and add the rest gradually.If what you are making is green in color, hold out some at first to add at this time to brighten the color. Cook some of the best parts of the main ingredient like the tips of asparagus or broccoli florets, and reserve them to add just before serving as a garnish. If you don't like to use flour, you can add cooked potato or rice when you purée. As a matter of fact you can add instant potato flakes 5 minutes before the end of cooking or baby Rice Cereal Flakes at the end, a trick I used for years to add a touch of body to even the thinnest soups. Gerber's baby rice cereal is undetectable.
In general, purées use a starchy main ingredient, so there is no need for any flour to thicken them. These starchy ingredients need long cooking, up to an hour or two. Presoaking dried peas and beans overnight in the refrigerator takes little effort and speeds things up a lot. Also remember to check them for small stones before using. Anywhere from 1 to 2 lbs. Of these legumes per gallon can be used, according to how thick you like the soup. They run about 2 cups to the pound.
For purées with legumes, I like to use a dark mirepoix: chopped carrots, celery, onions and leeks, both white and light green parts and some garlic as well. Often, some tomato product will improve the look of the soup as well.
Smoky fats like bacon and ham fat complement this kind of a soup well. 4 I sauté the mirepoix with the bacon on a high heat to brown the mirepoix. Then add the predominant starchy ingredient, along with the three parts of stock, bring to the boil, and simmer until tender, and then purée and season it. If you were making a bean soup, for example, once the beans were tender, you could, if you had taken a little extra care with dicing the mirepoix and tomatoes, serve it as a soup as is, or purée it.
So you can see how these two kinds of soup are similar, with the differences dictated by the nature of the ingredients. Having said all this, what remains is to give a few recipes, which you should follow very irreverently, as though they were inscribed on tablets of jello! The whole point of this exercise is to get you working along the natural lines the food suggests. For example, I often asked my students to prepare a cream of white mirepoix, where the mirepoix that was supposed to be the background flavor, becomes the main flavor. It is my belief that creativity in cooking is most encouraged by first learning the "rules." That is to say, understanding the natural interaction of ingredients with methods, and then extending these into new combinations, combining the old and the new, the expected and the unexpected.
In future articles I will deal with Veloutes, Bisques, and Coulis, and of course, Consomme will have a complete article.
©1996, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
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