Make Room For Mushroom Soup

December 1, 2005 | By | COMMENTS

There are certain recipes that, when you begin them, you instantly know that this is something you will want to do again and again: that these steps, these mini-procedures, have an intrinsic logic to them that will contribute to a glorious whole, even before the glorious whole is achieved. That’s how I felt tonight making the mushroom soup from the Balthazar cookbook. (Note: Someone recently gave me the Balthazar cookbook. That’s why I have the Balthazar cookbook.) The end result, in my mind, is the Platonic ideal of mushroom soup. As you can see, I served it with a salad that had a sliced Bosc pear and goat cheese crumbled up, and some bread.

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The rosemary garnish in the soup is there to indicate–and I learnt this trick from (who else!?) Ina Garten–that there’s rosemary in the soup itself. In fact, rosemary is where this recipe begins. [Well, sort of, after all the prep work.] Click ahead and see why this soup recipe may be one of the most sensible and worthwhile recipes I’ve yet encountered.

It should be said, right away, that making this soup the way Balthazar wants you to make it will be very expensive. Specifically: the dried mushrooms and the shitake mushrooms can be very costly. I got around this by halving the recipe, but even if you make the whole recipe I’m sure you can cut corners and still have a wonderful result. What this recipe offers, basically, is a sequence of techniques that will result in a mushroom soup. How that mushroom soup tastes at the end–all the nuances of flavor–is completely in your hands.

Here’s what you’ll need if you want to make the whole thing the way Balthazar wants you to:

1 oz dry mushrooms (porcini, morels, or shitakes) [I used a combination of porcini and shitakes]

1/2 cup olive oil

2 sprigs of rosemary

4 sprigs of sage

1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1 1/2 tsps salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper [I used black pepper and it was fine]

1 lb white button mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced [I think the thin slicing is what makes this recipe so effective: the more thin slices, the more surface area gets exposed to heat and therefore the more mushroom flavor.]

1 lb shitake mushrooms stemmed, cleaned and thinly sliced

6 cups Chicken Stock or water [So you can make this soup vegetarian!]

1 cup heavy cream [Mmmm, cream.]

2 Tbs unsalted butter [Oooh, butter.]

So here’s basically all the prep work I needed to do before starting:

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The slicing of the onion, the slicing of the garlic and the slicing of the mushrooms.

Before that, though, you should do your soaking:

Soak the dry mushrooms in 1 cup of warm water for 20 to 30 minutes, until plump.

Here are the dried mushrooms in the warm water at the start:

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And here they are 30 minutes later:

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Amazing how they come back to life, isn’t it?

Balthazar says: “Strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter to remove grit and reserve, along with the reconstituted mushrooms, until needed.”

So here’s the coffee filter straining:

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And it worked terrifically well. By the end, there was some dirt in the filter and pure mushroomy liquid in the bowl beneath it. See what I mean about this recipe just making sense?

Now’s the part with the rosemary. It was at this step that I knew this recipe was special. You “heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium flame. Bundle the rosemary and sage together and tie with kitchen twine. [I didn't have sage so I didn't use twine.] “When the oil is hot, add the herb bundle and sizzle for a few minutes on both sides to infuse the oil.”

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I’ve been cooking for more than two years now and this is the first time I’ve ever infused an oil with an herb at the start of the recipe and it’s such a great way to begin: you get the smell of rosemary wafting over you, and you just know that the flavor will carry through the rest of the dish more so than if you added the rosemary later.

“Add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent but not brown.”

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“Turn the flame to high and add the white mushrooms and shitakes.

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“Cook for 10 minutes, during which the mushrooms will give off their liquid (which should evaporate quickly due to the high heat) and deflate significantly. Stir occasionally.”

This was my favorite step because I love cooking on high heat (there’s no ambiguity with it: the recipe says high heat and there’s only one high heat setting, so you know you’re doing it right). Plus, and I think this is the point, as you approach the end of the ten minutes the mushrooms start crisping on the bottom of the pot and creating this fantastic fired mushroom smell—leaving crispy bits at the bottom that you know will get picked up when you add the liquid in a moment. You have to be careful here because you don’t want those crisp bits to burn, which is why I added the liquid right here…

“Add the chicken stock and the dried mushrooms along with the soaking water.

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“Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the herbs, then add the cream and butter. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth.” [Of course, I used my immersion blender!] “Return to the pot and keep at a very low simmer until ready to serve.

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See, every step of this recipe just makes sense. Every step enhances the flavor in some way. I suppose that’s true of most recipes, but with this one it’s right there on the surface. I’m not really sure why using buttermilk in a cake recipe makes the cake better, but I do understand why using the filtered mushroom liquid that you get from soaking dried mushrooms in warm water will enhance the flavor of your soup. And the whole process here is just so logical, I really feel like I could make this again without the recipe. Just grab some mushrooms, some rosemary, an onion, some garlic and cream and you’re set.

That’s my kind of recipe and this is my kind of soup. It’s mmm mmm logical.

Categories: Recipes, Soups

  • http://www.lindystoast.com lindy

    This soup sounds beautiful. You really have become a cook, haven’t you?

  • http://lindadblu.blogspot.com Linda

    Yum. You should start a mail-order business… I’ll take a quart of this, please.

  • Sarah

    That soup looks goooood. I may make it myself. Have you ever had the wild mushroom soup at Jane, the restaurant on Houston St? It’s exceptionally good and is reason alone to eat there. They put brandy it in, which makes it over the top delicioso!

  • Cathy

    You reminded me and I just put an immersion blender on my Christmas list.

    As my soup disasters have been the most drenching of experiences, it’s time to stop spraying hot liquids around the kitchen and keep them in the pot instead.

    This recipe will be the first thing I make – it sounds amazing!

  • Silvia

    I don’t know why, but soups based on cream/butter and with blended ingredients have never had much success here in Italy. (That’s where I live) They remind me a bit of baby food and I like to feel the texture of what I eat.. I think it makes more sense.

    And I don’t really like to cover or camouflage the ingredients’ taste with cream or any other heavy condiment.

    Regardless, this soup looks great!

  • rooney

    how many servings does this make?

  • Grant

    I have the Balthazar cookbook as well but have yet to make anything from it. Perhaps this recipe will be the first. The Whole Foods cookbook also has a fantastic mushroom soup recipe in it, which has wild rice and sherry. I highly recommend it (the soup and the book).

    Also, what dressing did you use on that pretty little salad? I love fruit in salad.

  • Rebecca

    I second the Jane recommendation, I go there with my best friend just for the mushroom soup every few weeks. The only better mushroom soup I have had was at Cafe Boulud which had a layer of truffle oil on top and was incredibly smooth and thin. (I am not a fan of the tiny chewy mushroom bits that sometimes happen when you try to puree the soup.)

  • Rainey

    This looked so good and in the last year I’ve picked up a couple other fine recipes here. So, I headed out to Whole Foods for fresh shitakes and dried porcinis, fungi lover that I am.

    I’m sorry to say, this was a great waste of $24 worth of mushrooms. Even a splash of sherry didn’t raise this above the conventional. It might have been a little better if I had refrained from adding the cream. The butter was a helpful addition but the cream just diluted the flavor and pushed in in the direction of the familiar red and white can.

    Seriously, I’m delighted for Adam that he discovered using mushroom liquor and infusing oil — and I much prefer the entries in which he actually cooks and shares recipes to entries in which he describes food that most people in the blogosphere are geographically or financially removed from — but I hope someone else will be spared the expense of this recipe.

    Continuing to look for new horizons, Adam might enjoy deep frying herbs. …not nearly so precious as it sounds and it significantly boosts the flavor and texture of the herbs.

  • Meg

    I’ve improvised a similar recipe, without cream and using thyme instead of rosemary and sage, and adding some sherry and truffle oil at the end. I find that if you saute the mushrooms well with a touch of garlic and the herbs, the earthy mushroomy flavor will come through whether you use button mushrooms or the pricey wild mushrooms. I tend to use primarily button mushrooms with some shiitakes added for a boost.

    This basic template also works for a nice pan sauce for pan-seared scallops, or lamb chops, or pork chops, or any other dish benefitting from an earthy, complex-flavored sauce.

  • http://andreayaya.typepad.com/rookie_cookery/ Andrea

    I really enjoyed reading this, Adam, and seeing every step you took along the way. The soup sounds delicious. And you are right, there are some little techniques that can add up to big flavor in the end. Great post.

  • Julia

    Doesn’t the before blending pic look so much more appetizing than the after blending pic?

  • http://www.mistercharlie.co.uk charlie

    Buttermilk improves cakes because it is acidic, which means that:

    1 It gives an acidic tang to the sweet cake and

    2 It reacts with the alkaline baking powder to make carbon dioxide, so you’re cake is light and fluffy!

  • micky

    Instead of filtering the mushroom liquid, you can just pour it carefully into the wok, leaving the residue at the bottom of the bowl. It’s a lot simpler and straightforward, and you don’t lose must flavor at all.

    It does sound yummy.

  • pitu

    The Greens cookbook has (another) platonic ideal of mushroom soup. The recipe is posted online on a soup fanatics site – google if you want it.

    It is so good that you leave out the cream and it is still the.best.soup.ever.

    It’s thickened with bread – an old bagel works nicely. I dare say it’s like this gorgeous soup, but BETTER. You might faint. Or you might just like soups with cream.

  • geoff

    Wonderful!

    Just made a batch, with a few substitutions – 1oz dried shitake, and 1 oz dried “jews ear” chinese mushroom. Was short of cream, so used whipping cream plus extra 1 oz butter. For a final touch, added 2 tablespoon Shaohsing Chinese rice wine (like sherry)just before serving.

    Makes enough to serve 6

    Delicious – definitely a recipe to keep!

  • Angela

    The photography is excellent…and I do know what you mean when you describe knowing that a recipe will be amazing before you ever make it. It is what makes reading wonderful cookbooks a real treat for experienced cooks!

  • Ted

    This worked really well for me. There was a big debate in the kitchen about whether to blend or not, but I wanted to blend it and I had cooked, so it was blended. I was happy with the combination of flavours and would make this soup again and again. Thanks.

  • opheliascout

    Hello dear! I made this, just exactly as written, and it was indeed stunning. Not in looks, maybe. But whatever it lacks in aesthetics it more than makes up for in taste. Thank you!

  • Jessica Entner

    I just made this soup, as I have been craving Mushroom soup for a week, and wanted “the good kind”. I don’t normally follow recipes, so of course I had to add some of my own flair.

    I added one shallot clove ( could have added another) in addition to the onions and garlic, and also added a bit of dry sherry.

    I also heard Brandy tastes quite good in this. Have fun, this is actually a very easy recipe and is so tasty!

    (you can also freeze it for when you get a craving again!!)

  • Heather

    yummmmm. this was our thanksgiving dinner, along with no-knead bread and a beautiful salad.

    Wonderful!!!!

  • http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2005/12/make_room_for_m.html Kate

    I’ve made a soup similar to this one offered in the Vegetarian Cookbook (substitute vegetable stock for chicken) put out by borders book store and LOVE it. It looks identical, but I only puree 1/2 to 3/4 of the soup so there are a few meaty chunks of mushroom left for your chewing enjoyment (for those of you who need something to work over with your teeth in a soup). Due to the inconsistency of my supermarket, I have found that you can use just about any variety of dried/fresh mushroom combo and it still tastes amazing.

  • Anonymous

    I made this soup last weekend and it was amazing. I actually followed the tips of Smitten Kitchen — use half the oil, use half the cream, and use thyme instead of rosemary (and don’t forget the sage!). I absolutely agree that there is no reason to puree this soup. Finally, I think that the recipe doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. I found beautiful white mushrooms (not button) at $2.50/lb. The dried mushrooms were $3.99 for 1.5 oz (I used less than the full packet). The shitake mushrooms were $6.50/lb. If you are in Manhattan, I found the mushrooms at the Chelsea Market. While all this adds up (app. $13 for the mushrooms), the recipe makes a TON, about 6-8 servings. Serve the soup with some no knead bread and it is quite a filling and economical meal.

  • anonymous

    I just made this soup and it’s great–woodsy, natural, flavorful. For kicks I used the following herb bundle: 1 thyme, 2 rosemary, 2 sage. I found the large amount of rosemary to be a tad over-powering, considering the incredible light texture of the mushrooms. I also found that chicken stock made the soup a bit too intense. I think with veggie stock and possibly 1 or 1/2 rosemary sprig, this is the ultimate mushroom soup.

    PS: blended is the way to go with this one, because you tie the soup with a crispy, acidic salad as an appetizer, contrasting textures and flavors. Also, you can blend only 3/4 and keep some whole mushroom slices.