by Prof. Steve Holzinger
"Soup of the evening, beautiful soup."
—Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
as sung by the Mock Turtle in the Lobster Quadrille.
Now that the air has a chilly bite to it, and that cold smell in the late afternoon and evening says it is going to snow soon, it is time to begin our discussion of soup. We actually started back in eGGsalad #1, when we talked about old fashioned Italian Broccoli Soup, and then we picked it up in #3, when we discussed making stock.
It is told that the master Chef Escoffier, who had an exquisitely delicate palate, would pass up all the great dishes in his kitchen and eat the vegetables and broth from the stock pot. Louis Diat, of the old Ritz-Carlton says, that like most Frenchmen, he was raised on soup. He says, "If any one element of French cooking can be called important, basic and essential, that element is soup."
Both are agreed that is the fresh high quality of the ingredients (not the high cost) that makes a great soup. Escoffier adds in Ma Cuisine, "Serve it very hot." Soups should be considered in 6 major classifications.
The simplest, and perhaps most difficult simple soup to make is Vegetarian Vegetable. It is difficult because there is no meat stock to give it flavor. Vegetarian Vegetable is the soup and the stock itself. How can we develop flavor? There are a number of ways.
The most important piece of equipment for making vegetable stocks is a gallon sized baggie in the freezer. All my vegetable peelings and trimmings, tomato and celery tops, mushroom stems, even a few onions skins for color are saved . Potato peels are the best part of the potato, so surely add them too. The only thing I throw out is corn husks and leek tops and anything nasty looking. When the baggie is full, dump it in a pot, cover with water, and take a look to see if you want to add some onion or garlic. Cover them with water, bring to boil and simmer 20 minutes. Do not season. Drain, and reduce by half, and freeze in quart containers. Do you remember that a stock is a water extract of food? That is what you made.
The cooked peelings can go in the compost heap, to appear again on the next turn of the Wheel of Life. There is something rich and satisfying about being thrifty and ecologically sound, just as the smell of food cooking is my favorite part of working in the kitchen. I call it enjoying the soul of the food. My favorite aroma is bread baking. What's yours? My favorite stock pot soup is one my grandmother of blessed memory always made for me because I loved it so is Mushroom Barley. She often had a big pot of it, made vegetarian style, simmering on the back of the stove, perfuming the whole house with the aroma of dill, which she used lavishly. I later discovered the reason for the big pot of soup. My grandfather, of blessed memory, liked to come home with company....unannounced. "Becky, pour water!" he would say as he entered his castle, handing my grandmother a loaf of fresh rye bread he picked up on the way home with his hungry pal. This meant that my grandmother should add water to the soup, so there should be enough. She never had to: there was always was enough, big steaming bowls of soup and fresh bread. What matter the portions of chicken were smaller...we were full of glorious soup. No one ever left her table hungry. "She holds out her hand and satisfies every living thing," was my grandmother to a T.
Isn't it about time we made some Mushroom Barley soup? "Is it soup yet?" Not quite...like Wolf Stew, first we got to catch the wolf. The supermarkets are doing a lot better with mushrooms these days. There always were the plain white ones, but now it is easy to get tasty crimini and portobellos almost anywhere. Dried ones are another story, but a search for "mushroom" will return a fair number of web sites.
Brown Mushroom Barley. When I have my favorite dried Polish mushrooms, I refresh them by making a tea with the mushrooms, by pouring boiling water over them and letting it sit for 30 minutes. The softened Polish mushrooms must be rinsed vigorously after the tea is made as they hold lots of sand. The stems of Shitakes, if you use them, must be removed because they are tough. Throw them in the baggie in your freezer. The reserved mushrooms are sliced, to be added to the simmering soup later.
I peel the vegetables I am going to use for the soup. All the vegetable peelings, mushroom stems, parsnip tops (hamish parsley) and mushroom tea are put together in a pot, sufficient water added, and simmered to make a stock. I get more, if I need it. from the freezer. Forget about bouillon cubes. You don't want your soup to taste like that, do you? Sometimes I like some potatoes in this soup and if I'm using them, the peels go in the stock pot. Some frozen dill stems go in too. When I have too much dill, I freeze it. It works well from frozen.
Now that we have our stock pot going, I dice and sauté the veg in peanut oil, because that's what my grandmother used, a Mr. Peanut jar of Planters Peanut Oil. It has a special taste. I add some diced plum tomatoes and aromatic garlic too. Dried mushrooms have the flavor power to stand up to this treatment, and I like the rich color and flavor tomato gives. Now I strain the mushroom stock on to the Mirepoix, leaving any sand at the bottom of the pot. I then add the barley and the sliced mushrooms, and simmer slowly and carefully until tender. You may need to add more stock or water. It is amazing how much liquid barley cooks up. It absorbs flavor along with the water. Season and add some parsley, dill and chervil. Frequently, I use Goya Adobo seasoning, the kind with pepper, it is well balanced and easy to use. For extra rich brown color, I use Mushroom Soy Sauce made by the Pearl River Bridge Company in 1.79 liter plastic containers. It gives a lovely brown color without the unpleasant bitterness of caramelized sugar products. Use it before the salt, naturally. Another trick to enhance the flavor is to use some dried mushroom powder.
Beef or Lamb Barley. For either variation, both of which are made on the brown style, make small cubes of meat (about 1-2 lb. per gallon of soup) and sauté them brown before the veg. Or, if you like to chew bones, use neck bones, because they are cheap and meaty. Use white or brown stock to simmer the peelings, and add some roasted lamb bones (for Lamb Barley) to the stock. In a half an hour this will change the flavor of the stock to lamb. The same trick works with duck trimmings and carcasses to make duck stock. I call this the "change the flavor" trick. I wish I had a better term. In painting it is "fool the eye." Words are important in cooking. We need to have a clear understanding of our vocabulary. That is why I define so many terms in basic cooking.
White Mushroom Barley. When the mushrooms are of the common white kind, I often use butter and shallots and milk as the stock. First I wash and peel all the veg and simmer the peelings in the milk, to extract their flavor and soluble vitamins and minerals. While that is going on, I dice all the veg and sweat them in butter. This means that I cook them very slowly, so as not to color them. They begin to let out their juices into the butter, because cell walls are bursting, and the flavors are released as they fall (soften and collapse). Then I add the milk, barley and simmer until the barley is tender. While this is going on, I add some dill stems tied with string for a while, just to capture the flavor, and then I add some snipped fresh dill after I season with s&wp. In my slimmer days I have been known to finish this soup with cream or sour cream. By now you may have figured out why my grandmother made the basic soup vegetarian. That way she could change its style to cream soup or meat soup, depending on what she wanted to serve. A lot of that soup never made it to dinner time. When I came in out of the cold, the soup pot pulled me by the nose into my grandmother's warm fragrant kitchen. I'll bet you have your own golden memories too.
Talking about golden memories, Christmas is almost here. It is not too late to make up a batch of plum puddings for our Christmas Dinner. A student of mine, Janice Suter, of English heritage, developed this recipe in my class. I think it is a classic, and so I'm going to share it with you. It's too late to do fruitcakes for this year, so we will do them early in next year, and soak them in rum and brandy, put the cakes in tins, and hide them on the highest shelf for a year. Would you like to send me your favorite fruitcake recipe for our readers to make and store for next year? Never mind if its expensive or a lot of work to make....we know that great fruit cake is never easy. Send them in, along with memories of fruitcakes past you would like to share.
The next time I talk about soups, I'll get into the heavy duty stock pot soups, that are really meals.
**Diat, Louis The Gourmet Cook Book pg 27 Gourmet Books, New York 1961
Balanced Seasoning. When I was working, I used to mix 10 lbs of salt, 1 lb of MSG and 12 oz of white pepper in a can and split it into two parts. To one can I would add 8 oz of sugar. Then when I was seasoning, I could use a balanced seasoning all at once. The can with the sugar got used mostly on veg, but I frequently didn't bother to add sugar, and I didn't seem to notice. If that seems a bit much to you, just divide by 10.
© 1995, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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