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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Two Mushroom Soups

This is a tale of two mushroom soups. My brother René invented one of them, using the fresh, wild, morel mushrooms he picked a few weeks ago in the woods near his mountain home (for more about morels, see my blog of May 9, 2011). The day he concocted this soup was memorable: It was the same day a black bear ambled through his front garden and a moose meandered through the back. Take that, international readers!
In the particular region of the time zone where I live, there are no fresh morels, so I read my brother’s recipe and salivated. At a gazillion dollars an ounce, dried morels are out of my budget, because René’s soup takes quite a few (Oh, gee ... I'm supposed to sound authoritative on such matters. OK, I'll give it a whirl: I recently spotted a 22-gram package of four or five dried morels in the supermarket for $5. If a kilogram is 1000 grams, or 2.2 pounds, and 22 grams cost $5, how much does a pound cost?  Anyone?  Anyone? ANYONE? Oh, never mind! I'll get a calculator ... Wait a sec... 1,000 divided by 22 = 45.45.  45.45 x $5.00 = roughly $227.50 a kilogram, divided by 2.2 = 103.40 kilometers. As I was saying, that's out of my budget!). 

Pumped and primed, I really wanted mushroom soup after reading about René’s, so created my own soup with what was in the cupboard, loosely basing it on his recipe. 
Should you be fortunate enough to have access to fresh morels, try this delicious soup during the brief picking season of a future year. Should you be wise enough to have dried your own morels - or rich enough to afford them any old time you like - take some chicken or turkey broth, green onion (“spring” onion), butter, morels, sour cream, whipping cream, seasonings, and set to work! Don’t be horrified by the fat in these recipes! It’s certainly present and adds flavor, but there isn’t a huge quantity of it. Fat is an essential nutrient. We often have too much of it, so have a splurge now and then while making daily choices that use it in moderation. Both recipes follow:
René’s Morel Mushroom Soup:
2 dozen morel mushrooms, fresh or dried (see Note)
3 tbsp. butter (that’s the quantity René used; I’d be tempted to try 2 tbsp.)
4 c. (32 oz. or 1 L pkg) chicken or turkey broth (commercial or homemade)
2 c. “mushroom water,” if using dried morels
1 medium green onion (“spring” onion), finely minced
⅓ c. dairy sour cream
¼ c. light cream (10-to-12% fat content)
Salt and pepper, to taste
If using fresh morels, rinse and blot them dry to remove any last grains of sand and soil that may cling to them. If using dried morels, rehydrate them by soaking in one or two cups of cold water for 20 minutes. Save this “mushroom water” to add to the soup, straining it through a coffee filter to ensure it’s free of detritus. Give the morels a final rinse under cold running water, blotting them with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture. Dice the mushrooms into 1/4" or smaller pieces. Melt butter on medium-low in medium skillet, frying mushrooms until light golden and tender.  
Pour stock and reserved mushroom water into a medium saucepan, bringing to a simmer. Add the fried morels, stirring occasionally. Toss in the chopped green onion. Reduce heat to low, gradually whisking in sour cream and light cream. Do not allow to boil. Simmer 15-to-20 min., allowing flavors to blend and deepen. Season to taste. Serves 4 to 6.

Note: This is René’s recipe, just as he gave it to me. He reports that the mushroom’s folds sometimes make them hard to clean, so resist the temptation to eat right to the bottom of your soup bowl! Experienced cooks will recognize that René’s method departs from the usual way to make soup, which involves the gradual heating of the sour cream and light cream with the mushrooms, the likely incorporation of a thickening agent such as flour, and the slow addition of stock. René is more of a “wing it” cook - I had to drag the quantities from him - but his soup was nonetheless a huge hit. Different cooks use different methods, so I’ll respect his. My Shitaki Mushroom Soup uses a more conventional method. I like to keep a modest quantity of commercially dried mushrooms on hand for those times when I have no fresh or canned ones.

Part of Rene's morel mushroom harvest

Nicole’s Shitaki Mushroom Soup:

3 c. dried, sliced shitake mushrooms, divided (or any type of fresh or dried mushrooms you prefer)
4 c. (32 oz. or 1 L pkg) chicken broth
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
3/4 c. heavy cream (unsweetened “whipping” cream)
1 medium green onion (“spring” onion), finely minced
2 tbsp. beef bouillon concentrate (see Note) 
½ c. instant mashed potato flakes (see Note)
2 tbsp. red wine or sherry
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parsley, finely chopped, as garnish
Rehydrate dried mushrooms in chicken or turkey broth for 20 min. Drain mushrooms, reserving broth. Finely chop 1 c. of the mushrooms, leaving the rest sliced. Melt butter on medium-low heat in medium saucepan, frying sliced and diced mushrooms until light golden and tender. Reduce heat to simmer, gradually stirring in heavy cream. Add green onion just at the last few seconds. Gradually add stock, beef bouillon concentrate, and instant mashed potato flakes, stirring well until slightly thickened. Do not allow to boil. Simmer 15-to-20 min., allowing flavors to blend and deepen. Add wine or sherry, seasoning to taste. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley. Serves 4.

Note: Professional chefs often use an excellent jelled bouillon concentrate, available in fine supermarkets and high-end gourmet meat shops. That aside, making your own concentrate is very simple. When I slow-cooked lamb shanks the night before I made this soup, Ron was clever enough to save and chill the seasoned stock that resulted. All I had to do was skim off the hardened fat. You can also use powdered or liquid bouillon concentrates in this recipe, but nothing is as good as the jelled concentrate, in my opinion.
Note: Perhaps, like me, instant mashed potato flakes aren’t an ingredient you’d normally have in your cupboard. They do make a great soup thickener, are a great convenience when you’re cooking in a boat or camp-site. They're also an essential ingredient in my Potato-Crusted Chicken (see my blog post of April 27, 2011).
Start with the basics ...

Reap the rewards! 

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