Sexy Soups

DSC_1199Following on with the theme and tone set by the Sexy Salads article, this is about Sexy Soups. Soups which surprise, which take you on a journey of discovery through different colours, textures and tastes, soups for more than just to stain your shirtfront.

They can be vegetarian, but I confess that pork belly with crisp skin, or a juicy chicken breast, a pink seared duck breast, some prawns or at least a poached egg or a poached egg yolk are normally my very personal star of the show.

I usually begin with chicken stock, nice and easy to make and less overpowering when compared to a beef stock. I get a whole chicken, fill it with plenty of grated fresh ginger and garlic, then add enough cold water for the soup I need. This will gently simmer for 90 minutes, after which I remove the pot from the heat but leave everything to cool down as is.

One idea is to remove the breast before the cooking. They don’t really add to the soup but can be seared with rosemary butter, then served with the soup. It all depends on your plans for the soup and tomorrow’s meal.

When the soup has cooled down, remove the meat and discard the bones. The meat should make for a fabulous Chicken Fricassee on the next day, or perhaps a quick Coq au Moutarde or a sexy chicken salad with the remaining fennel, apples, oranges and bitter chicory.

A little extra effort pays dividends: whisk up one or two egg whites until they are just  foamy, then add to the cold soup. Gently bring it back to the boil, occasionally lifting the egg white very gently off the pot’s bottom in the beginning to prevent it from sticking. Once the soup is at the boiling point and all the egg whites are floating on the surface, drain through a mousseline sheet or at least a very, very fine sieve to complete the clarification.

The rest is up to you, your imagination and whatever you’ll find in the back of the fridge or kitchen larder: croutons from garlic bread are always nice with a broth, and so are mustard greens, skinned cherry tomatoes or charred little Gem lettuce. Mushrooms and egg noodles perhaps, or fresh garden peas and a poached duck egg yolk?

It always pays to heat some clarified butter and crisp fresh Sage leaves to top the soup, but young pea shoots, cress, radish or mustard shoots are also nice for visual appeal, a bit of a spicy bite and a fresh taste.

 

Fish Soup

DSC_0804This is a lovely meal, but as most good soups go, it is not quite a one pot wonder. It pleased the good wife last night though, what more can I ask?

Then she took photos almost more delicious than the meal itself, don’t you agree?

I prepared each element separately to do it justice: a slightly creamy soup made from crayfish bisque, Monkfish gently seared in Rosemary butter, king prawn tails seared in chilly oil and garlic, mussels steamed with shallots and white wine.

There are no carbohydrates to spoil it, so you should probably start with a bread dough to have fresh, crispy and piping hot bread to go with it. I usually make a simple plain Fougasse from 120 g flour per diner, which is great for texture and for mopping up the remaining bisque.

While the dough is proving, cut a bulb of fennel, a red onion, 3 cloves of garlic, and set aside. Dice a large handful of tomatoes and set aside.

Now prepare two large handfuls of king prawns, tiger prawns or similar variety. It is tempting to purchase the readily cleaned frozen stuff, but here it is essential to use whole prawns, defrosted if previously frozen.

Trim the head off and set aside. Skin the tail, optionally leaving the last element of skin at the very tail on. This makes eating messy but more engaged and more fun. Keep the skin with the heads, slice the top of the tail lengthwise and remove the intestines.

Heat a large pan, melt a walnut-sized piece of butter and an equal amount of olive oil. Sear the fennel, onions and garlic until they begin to caramelise, then add the prawn offcuts, heads, skin and all. Keep going at a fairly high heat, stirring occasionally, until the prawns also caramelise. Add a dried red chilly and a star anise, a pinch of salt.

(Now is the perfect time for putting the bread in the oven.)

Add the tomatoes, a glass of white wine, a glass of cold water. Turn down the heat, cover and slowly bring to a gentle simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, clean the Monkfish. Your fishmonger probably skinned it for you, but you must go over it again and very thoroughly remove the thin layers of skin. These skins turn hard when cooking and are the first reliable sign of quality cooking, or the absence thereof, when ordering a Monkfish-based dish in a restaurant. Discard the skins and set the fish aside.

Clean the mussels: discard the dead ones (those which are open and aren’t closing when knocked gently). Remove all dirt from the living ones by scraping off smaller barnacles, remove the bast, brush the outside under clean water.

Now drain the soup through a sieve, squeezing it thoroughly to get all the lovely juices out. Use the same pot to melt two tablespoons of butter until is beginning to turn brown, whisk in one tablespoon of white wheat flour, then slowly whisk in the strained soup. Turn the heat down to avoid it boiling again, add a generous splash of double cream and season to taste with salt. Set aside on very low heat.

Rub some stale white bread with garlic and tomato and gently fry into croutons, adding olive oil as late as possible, as little as possible.

Heat a tablespoon of butter, add a splash of olive oil, and gently sear the Monkfish. Add fresh rosemary or thyme if you can. Keep on moderate heat, turn over once in a while and spoon some of the herb-infused butter over it all the time.

Dice a small onion, perhaps a clove of garlic. Melt in some oil quickly, add the mussels and half a glass of white wine. Put the lid on, steam for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile heat a tablespoon of olive oil, add a dried red chilly or a teaspoon of chilly flakes and gently stir-fry the prawn tails while beginning to plate up:

The croutons form the centrepiece because they also make a little podium for the Monkfish, which I will cut into thick slices for serving. Add the soup, add the prawns and mussels.

Dress with spring onions, chopped parsley, cress, pea or mustard shoots.

Add a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar glaze, pumpkin oil or chilly oil for that extra professional look, although I don’t think this adds appeal on this occasion.

Serve with the fresh bread and a dry white wine.

Chicken Soup

DSC_1799-1Here’s to a lovely rich and rewarding Chicken soup.

You need one mid-sized free range chicken, skin, bones and all.

A good thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, 3 star anise, two tablespoons of coriander seeds, one large onion, two cloves of garlic, a bulb of fennel, salt, pepper, 3 dried chillies or a teaspoon of chilli flakes.

Cut all the spices and stuff into thin slices and medium-sized cubes. Heat a good splash of olive oil and sweat everything until the onion begins to darken.

Add two teaspoons each of salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place the chicken on top, add 2 litres of cold water. Add two large tomatoes, diced. The chicken should be covered only just.

Put the lid on, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 90 minutes, then turn the heat off but let it slowly cool down within the same pot, still on the stove. Residual heat from an electric cooker is no problem, it just cools down even slower.

Finally, debone the chicken. The good pieces of meat go into your bowl, the blood vessels, some of the grizzle and skin goes into the cat’s bowl, the rest into the food waste bowl.

Run the liquid through a sieve to remove the parts, then bring the liquid to the boil. 3 minutes before serving, add fresh or deep frozen peas, chopped mushrooms and fresh mustard greens (alternatively use pok choi or small Germaine salads). Add the meat to re-heat it in the last minute.

Serve with bread.

T’is perfect on a cold day. T’is perfect against a common cold, a heartbreak or common heartache. I even love it on a hot day.

Sopa Espirito Santo

wp-15435338542024335987979785167533.jpgSopa Espirito Santo is one of those quick one-pot wonders which warm body and soul and, for us, bring back lovely memories of the Azores from way-back-then.

Sopa Espirito Santo is a thin tomato soup, served with croutons and a poached egg. Google reveals different and richer recipes; this one here is authentic from distant memory, simple and delicious.

Per portion:

Peel one small to medium-sized onion, slice in thin half rings. Peel and crush two cloves of garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil, and sautee onion and garlic. Quickly dice and add two ripe tomatoes. Give it a good stir, then add 400 ml cold water, and bring to a gentle simmer.

Add half a teaspoon of ground cumin and crushed black pepper, a chicken or vegetable stock cube and salt to taste.

Let this simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, slice some bread. Rub it with garlic and olive oil, then griddle it until it is crisp. Almost any real bread will do, stale or fresh, just not the British factory “bread” variety. That one won’t do.

Turn down the heat and wait for the soup to stop cooking, then gently crack an egg per portion into the soup. Turn off the heat and let it poach until it is just right, approximately 4 minutes.

Dish out soup and egg. Add the croutons. Optionally, add a small amount of roughly chopped flat parsley.

Italian-esque Bread Soup

DSCF7282.JPGSoup with attitude, Jamie Oliver called it. I’d say it’s soup with passion, because it’s a bit of a palaver to make, so you’d better really want it. But once you sampled it, you will love it.

This goes back to a dish Jamie Oliver once made on TV, so I shall claim only part ownership to this recipe – part ownership because I never saw or followed Jamie’s, but at any rate, it’s lovely, and the name Bread Soup is one of those lovely kitchen understatements…

Jamie called it Bread Soup With Attitude. It’s also a bit of a palaver to make, thus truly Italian, and lovely. Here goes:

Per person, find 250ml good stock. I cook a chicken with vegetables in just the right amount of liquid, set the chicken meat aside for something else some other day, skim and clarify the soup.

Then, per person, take two thick slices stale white bread. Stale, but not rock-hard. Remove some of the crust, pre-cut the remaining crust to make it easier to eat without a mess in the end. Gently fry the slices with garlic and olive oil, then rub a ripe tomato into each side.

Cut Savoy cabbage leaves and Cavolo Nero leaves into pieces roughly the size of the bread slice, and fry with olive oil for a two minutes or so. Crisp some bacon or panchetta, grind a good amount of Gruyere cheese. Stack bread, cabbage, bacon, cheese, bread, cabbage, bacon, cheese into s soup dish, and grill until the cheese begins to brown.

Shallow-fry whole sage leaves in clarified butter until they are crisp. Drain the fat and try not to break the leaves, which are now very brittle.

Now pour the stock over each portion, return to the grill for another minute or two.

Decorate with crisp sage leaves, maybe a remaining slice of crisp bacon, and a drizzle of the sage-infused clarified butter, and serve immediately.

 

French Onion Soup

french-onion-soup.jpgA delicious and warming French onion soup in 60 minutes.

This takes about 60 minutes. I know, because I timed it, because I disagreed with someone’s time-consuming method of onion soup preparation (http://blog.gauweiler.net/2011/10/14/french-onion-soup/).

Peel one large yellow onion a person, then cut into semi-circle or quarter-circle rings, 3mm thin. For every two portions, add a small red onion, peeled and cut in the same manner. Peel and crush one small clove of garlic each portion. (10 minutes)

Get a deep pan with a good amount of olive oil on high heat. Sweat the onions, then add crushed black pepper (1/2 teaspoon each portion), crushed allspice (1/4 teaspoon a person) and one crushed juniper berry each portion. Add two rashers of streaky bacon or smoked belly of pork (unless restricted by vegetarianism), add one bay leave for every two portions. Turn the heat down to moderate.

Close the lid for 10 minutes. This produces steam to cook the onions, so try to keep the lid closed. Then, open the lid, and caramelize the onions, stirring occasionally.

(You may now add a pinch of sugar if your onions are too sharp or just not the golden, sweet variety.)

Grate some Gruyere cheese, and make some chunky white bread croutons while the onions are working for you. I prefer using croutons over fresh bread. Fresh bread turns into a slimy mess, and I can spice the croutons with garlic and chili.

The onions should caramelize within 20 minutes. Set the croutons aside.

Dust the onions with a spoonful of white wheat flour, stir, then add liquid. Cold water is a good way to start, about 350ml per portion, but you could also use stock. Once you’ve got it back boiling, season to taste with salt, black pepper, allspice, a hint of nutmeg. Stir and let simmer for 15 minutes, tasting and seasoning as you go along.

Turn the grill on, discard the bay leaves, juniper berries, chilies and bacon rashers, if any, and dish the soup out into portion-sized, heat-proof soup bowls.

Sprinkle croutons on top of each bowl and top with cheese. Go easy on the cheese; you’re making soup, not pizza. Moderate application of cheese also enables your diners to eat the soup with a spoon but without making a mess.

Put under the grill for 5min (cheese bubbling and turning golden, occasional brown spots), and serve with a crisp white wine.

Done in 60 minutes, less for a small amount, and thoroughly enjoyable.