Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Creamy Mushroom Soup

For more than five years now I've had a bit of an obsession with the Cream of Mushroom Soup served at a local, long-standing, family-run restaurant. This particular soup offers just the absolute best combination of delicate and delectable sautéed mushrooms, and rich and creamy mushroom broth. While it's definitely a hearty and flavorful bowl of soup, it still somehow manages to retain a distinctly light and ethereal quality. Hard to imagine, I know...when it clearly has a touch of cream and butter making up all that smooth goodness....but it's true!

Though I suppose that over the years I've had my fair share of this soup, it is important to mention that it's only served on Fridays. As such, I consider my obsession to be a slow, deliberate, and healthy one...if there is such a thing.

Not really one to go about testing and retesting recipes to come up with something I've tried and loved, I instead think (and rethink) them through until I come up with a plan. After culling through five or six recipes that looked to deliver a similar result, I meshed bits and pieces of three key recipes and came up with what I believe is equally delicious to my Every-Now-And-Again Friday Soup.

First of all, this is not a blended soup. I have no idea if my "inspiration" soup involves blending (or any of the other steps I use), I just know I am very pleased with the outcome of my version. The beauty of having a bounty of delicious sautéed mushrooms to spoon up with every bite is not to be underrated (or obliterated by whirring it all through in a blender or processor).

And second, I did use chicken stock (so it's not vegetarian), but water or a vegetable stock could easily be substituted. You could even start with an organic, vegetarian mushroom broth, I suppose. (Some of the recipes I reviewed didn't use any "stock" additive at all...instead relying on heavy whipping cream, half and half, water, wine, etc.)

In short, I used three different mushrooms (Portobello, Shitake, and Cremini) and three simple processes...to create the stock base, to create the "meat" of the soup, and to cream it all up.

I used the stems of the mushrooms, along with onions, garlic, carrots, and thyme to get the soup base started. Then added chicken stock, heated it all up to a boil, and then reduced it to simmer on low for 30 minutes. After straining out all the veggies, you end up with a great, flavorful stock base...with little effort.

The "meat" of the soup is made by combining the caps of the mushrooms, along with some chopped shallots and garlic. Once this mixture is well sautéed, you add in a little flour, some white wine, a balsamic vinegar reduction (instead of Madeira Wine or Sherry), and some salt and pepper. Then you add in the strained stock you made from the mushroom stems, bring it all to a boil, and then simmer it on low for about 15 minutes.

The third and final step is simply the addition of some heavy whipping cream, which gives it a luscious, smooth and silky consistency. It's a great soup to serve as an elegant starter to dinner, or with a mixed green salad...and, perhaps, some crusty French bread...as a beautiful light lunch. Either way...it's not just for the occasional Friday anymore!

Creamy Mushroom Soup
A Savory Nest
serves 4 to 6

For stock base:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
stems of Portobello, Shitake, and Cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup carrot, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
sprig of thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 cups no/low salt chicken stock (I used one 32-ounce carton of Pacific Brand Organic Free Range Low Sodium Chicken Broth, plus 2 cups water and one 2-cup square of bouillon to make 6 cups without popping open another carton)

For "meat" of soup:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (one full stick less the butter used for the stock, as outlined above)
3 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound Portobello, Shitake, and Cremini mushrooms (CAPS only), sliced
1/4 cup flour
balsamic vinegar reduction (see below*)
1/2 cup dry white wine
stock made from mushroom stems (as outlined above)
salt and pepper, to taste

To cream soup:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

*To make balsamic vinegar reduction: Heat three tablespoons balsamic vinegar in a skillet over medium heat for approximately 1 to 2 minutes, until it gets just a bit syrupy.

1. Clean mushrooms by wiping them gently with a clean, dry cloth. (Do not immerge them in water!!) Carefully pop out stems and set them aside from caps. If needed, cut just a bit from stem ends if they are particularly rough and/or difficult to clean.

2. In a heavy stock pot over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat through until butter starts to melt. Add mushroom STEMS, onions, carrots, garlic, and thyme. Sauté mixture for about 10 to 15 minutes, until onions soften. Add salt and pepper, mix through. Add chicken stock, bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. While stock simmers, prepare balsamic vinegar reduction* and set aside.

4. Once stock is done, pour it through a strainer into a heat-resistant bowl. Set aside.

5. In a heavy stock pot (used previously for making stock base), heat 7 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Once well softened, add shallots, garlic, and mushroom STEMS. Sauté mixture for about 10 minutes, until mushrooms are richly golden and soft. Add salt, pepper, and flour, and mix through well (mushrooms will appear a bit "glob-y). Stir in balsamic reduction, white wine, and stock that you set aside (from Step #4). Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer on low for 15 minutes.

6. With heat still on low, stir whipping cream into soup and heat through (without boiling!). Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Post-post note: While the stock base is strained (step #4) for this recipe, I might suggest that these veggies instead get blended with a cup of stock and returned to the base to thicken and further intensify the flavor. (Can't believe I blindly tossed all that!!). Just remember to remove the thyme leaves and discard the stem before processing.

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