Cream of Mushroom Soup

This topic of casseroles gave me a small bout of writer's block, which I recognize seems ridiculous because it's a casserole... for the love. I was out to write this long, profoundly articulate diatribe about the history of casseroles, how Campbell's waylayed American cuisine, how housewives in the 1950's were the target of a convenience food conspiracy, and how Mennonites were not immune. They too bathed in the savory condensed waters of that scheme. 

But then I remembered that this is a blog. Not a book. I'll save the conspiracy theory diatribes for the book. 

What did come quickly was the thought of Ryan Gosling. 
When I find myself contemplating the origin of casserole I'm often reminded of that scene from Lars and the Real Girl. Who isn't.  The one where Gosling, all dapper with his mustache and cardigan, is in great despair and needs some comfort. Thus a stunning scene quietly unfurls as he is fed heaps of what else... casserole... by the church women in his community. He clearly feels the love.

That really says it all: Casserole is the warm and comforting tie that binds. It is what we bring to those in despair - the sick, the grieving, the new parents. Something in that warm, muck of goodness utters to us: 
"Be healed. 
Be comforted. 
Know that you are loved."

And if casseroles are the tie that binds us together, cream of mushroom soup is the tie that binds the casserole. Seriously. The soup's function is a pure one - you need something to get all that meat and and rice to stick together. Which is why I'm focusing solely on the soup today. 
The casserole is tomorrow. Writer's block notwithstanding.  

There are many options out there for alternatives... The More-with-Less cookbook provides a solid substitute for the canned stuff. They call it a "Basic White Sauce", which it is. It is also what the French call a Béchamel, one of their Mother Sauces

If you go a step beyond the basic though you have a much more interesting and flavorful sauce/soup. And subsequently, casserole. Need I say more? 

Bonus of going beyond the basics: 
- People will really feel loved. 
- You'll have the construct for a a soup that is outstanding all on its own. 
- You can replace "mushrooms" with any veggie and have a Cream of _____ Soup! 
- You'll know how to make a Béchamel, which is fantastic skill to have if you spend anytime in the kitchen. 

So here's the construct...

Chicken Stock + Mushrooms + Béchamel  
Why I chose to put it in a green butter dish... I don't know. 

And here's the recipe...  

Chicken Stock
Or any kind of stock for that matter. Water works too. 
1 to 1 ½ cups chicken stock 

1. Heat up the stock. (Yep, that's really it.)  

The amount of mushrooms you use depends on how strong you want that flavor in your soup. I like it in the forefront. 
This method is a dry sauté. Its purpose is to concentrate the mushroom flavor and because we're going to puree them, the texture doesn't really matter. 

2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced

1. Heat a large sauté pan and add the sliced mushrooms. Add generous pinch of salt. 
2. Cook on med-low heat, uncovered, till the mushrooms give up their water. Continue to cook, turning down the heat if they start to brown, till the water has evaporated and the flavor of the mushroom is pronounced. 
3. Remove from heat and set aside. 

Adapted from Madeleine Kamman's The Making of a Cook. I took out the carrot and celery she called for because, well, I didn't want carrot and celery that evening.  

Yield: About 2 cups

¼ cup unsalted butter
½ small yellow onion, diced
5 Tablepsoons + 1 teaspoon unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ¼ cups milk, heated
4 sprigs of thyme
Pinch of grated nutmeg

1. Heat butter in large sauté pan until the foam subsides. 
2. Add the onion and cook on low until the onion is translucent. About 5 to 10 minutes. 
3. Stir in the flour. Let this cook for another 5 minutes to allow the raw taste of the flour to subside. Be careful not to brown it though because, yes, flour will burn. 
4. Off the heat, whisk in the milk gradually to prevent lumping. Return to heat, and add the nutmeg, thyme, and salt. Let cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until it is thickened and flavorful. Add salt if need be. Remove from heat and take out the sprigs of thyme.  

To finish the soup: 
1. Place the mushrooms and béchamel in a blender. 
2. Turn the blender on, slowly at first to prevent a splatter. (I've learned this the hard way). Gradually add a bit of chicken stock. Test the consistency and keep adding until it is the consistency you want. If you're adding it to a casserole, stop at about ½ to ¾ cup of stock. Keep going with more stock if it's for a soup to eat on its own. 
4. Test the flavor and season with salt to taste, remembering that it should taste fully seasoned, even if you're putting in the casserole.   

Voila! You now have made yourself a lovely, delicious, completely lacking of any MSG soup. 
You can pop this in the frig, in your casserole, or in a soup bowl!

No comments:

Post a Comment