Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wild Mushroom Soup

Something I love to do after eating a fantastic meal at a restaurant is going home and doing my best to recreate it. I've done that a few times here already; coconut pie (Coco Bistro in Providenciales), grilled nutella (Crock 'n' Roll in Lyon), and banh mi (Les Givral's in Houston) are a few examples. Recreating dishes at home is great because for one, if the restaurant is hundreds of miles away (or say, on a different continent) then you can still enjoy the dish. Secondly, it's probably more economic to make at home. And lastly, if you're a homebody like me, it's fantastic to enjoy food from the comfort of your own dining room, or, say, the couch in front of the television.

Just after Christmas, my sister and I ventured into the city to enjoy a lovely lunch and do a bit of light shopping. We made reservations at Butter, where Alex Guarnaschelli is head chef, and it was divine. The highlight of the meal was the butter burger 2.0, for sure, but the special soup of the day, which was a wild mushroom soup, was also a major success. It was incredibly savory, woodsy, creamy, and full of flavor. If you're not keen on mushrooms, I'd steer clear, but for fungi lovers, this is the ultimate soup. And for anyone who took Professor Hudler's 'Magical Mushrooms & Mischievous Molds' class at Cornell, well, this is definitely the ultimate soup for you!

I did step away from Alex's version a bit by adding some wine to the mix. I thought it would lighten and brighten the soup a little so that it could be enjoyed as the star of a lunch, all on its own, without feeling really heavy and food coma-inducing. Plus, the lightness would allow you to guiltlessly enjoy it alongside a half-sandwich or small salad (or full-sandwich or whole salad; or both). That being said, I think if the wine were omitted, it would taste incredibly similar to the soup we enjoyed at Butter so keep that in mind if you're looking for something more "authentic."
Ingredients [serves 6]:
8 oz. baby portobella mushrooms (also known as cremini)
8 oz. oyster mushrooms
½ oz. dried morel mushrooms (or 2 oz. fresh)
½ oz. dried chanterelles (or 2 oz. fresh)
½ oz. dried porcini mushrooms (or 2 oz. fresh)
1 cup white wine (dry or sweet, whatever your preference; or omit the wine and use stock)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig thyme, stripped
1 sprig rosemary, stripped
2 tablespoons flour
6 cups mushroom stock (or vegetable stock)
1 cup milk (I used cow milk but almond or soy can be used for a vegan soup)
salt & pepper to taste
+ scallions, toast, and parmesan cheese for garnish
So, the exact mix of mushrooms I used isn't 100% necessary. If there are certain mushrooms that you really prefer, then by all means, go for it. For example, you can use shiitake (which I happen to despise), white button mushrooms (too boring for me), large portobella; it's really up to you. In the end, you're looking for (at least) three cups worth of mushrooms to go into this soup.

My local market isn't cool enough to carry all sorts of fresh exotic mushrooms. So, I had to resort to a bunch of dried mushrooms. No bother though, because dried mushrooms are still delicious and really quite perfect for a soup application (and more affordable). To inject some moisture back into the mushrooms, pop them into a saucepan with some white wine. If one cup of wine doesn't submerge the mushrooms, top the pot off with just enough water to cover. And, as I mentioned above, if you're not into wine, just substitute stock.
Pop the pan onto the hob over low heat and leave the mushrooms alone for about 20 minutes, during which time, they will plump up and absorb some of the surrounding liquid. Oh, and not only will they absorb some of the liquid, they will also impart their own flavor into the wine. What a beautiful, glorious, symbiotic relationship. Cooking is love.
While the dried mushrooms are plumping, dice up the onions and mince up the garlic and slice up the cremini mushrooms.
 My number one tip when shopping for mushrooms: do not buy the pre-sliced mushrooms because they spoil much more quickly. My number two tip when shopping for mushrooms: look at where the stems were cut (to be harvested) and buy the package with mushrooms with the whitest cut surface. Mushrooms - like apples and pears and avocados - oxidize as their flesh is exposed to air. The browner the cut surface is, the longer that mushroom's been sitting around. The oxidation is the same reason I do not recommend purchasing pre-sliced mushrooms. It's really not that much of a time saver. If anything, it'll help you work on your knife skills. Soft, pillowy mushrooms are probably one of the easiest produce items to chop.
Grab your favorite soup pot and add in a little butter and oil and turn up the heat to medium. I like the combination because I enjoy the flavor of both butter and really good olive oil. Once the butter has melted into the oil, chuck in the onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent.
Throw in the sliced cremini mushrooms and cook until they're lightly browned. Then, toss in the herbs, stripped off the stems. The smell as the herbs hit the heat is intoxicating. Rosemary is definitely one of the most pleasant wintery smells, in my opinion. It's woodsy and piney and such an appropriate herb for winter. It's like Christmas tree but better because you can eat it.
Sprinkle in some flour and then mix to coat. The flour will help thicken up the soup and give it a lot of body and richness and a velvety texture. Cook for a little bit to allow the raw taste to cook out of the flour.
Grab the plumped up mushrooms and chuck the whole thing - wine and all - right into the soup pot.
Stir and you'll notice immediately how thick the soup becomes. It's because of the roux!
Pour in the mushroom stock (or whatever variety of stock you prefer) and reduce the heat so the soup is at a simmer. Let it cook over a gentle heat for 30 minutes. At this point, everything is cooked but you want to allow the soup to gently simmer so that the flavors meld and develop and get really delicious and awesome.
After the soup has been simmering for a while, add in salt and pepper, to taste.
Then, blend up the soup until smooth. I used an old-fashioned blender. If you have an immersion blender, use that, by all means!
Pour the soup back into the pot and then stir in the milk.
Let it heat through again and that's it. Soup's done!
To garnish the soup, I like to serve a sprinkling of toasted oyster mushrooms on top. Oh, and a few slices of crusty bread.
Just melt a little butter. Tear the oyster mushrooms apart into small pieces and throw them into the hot butter and cook until golden brown and crispy.
Ladle up the soup into your cutest soup bowls. I used an adorable ceramic cocotte.
Pop a lid on while you wait for the oyster mushrooms to crisp up and for the bread to toast. Keep that soup nice and hot.
To serve, garnish with a few toasted oyster mushrooms for texture, a sprinkle of scallions for some freshness, and a grate or two of parmesan cheese for sharpness.
Seriously, how lovely is that presentation? The soup looks so cozy and welcoming, right? It tastes that way too. It's like a warm hug in the cold of winter. The soup is earthy and velvety and incredibly flavorful. And, to be perfectly frank, since the soup is mostly mushroom, I'd say it's pretty healthy. It's not the same as eating a stalk of celery but it also tastes infinitely better, so there you go.
If you want to blow your guests away with your amazing culinary prowess, then this is the soup to do it. Seriously though, it's a super easy dish to make but it looks endlessly impressive. It's a win-win!
Here's the recipe page:

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