Make Room For Mushroom Soup

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.

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