By Rosie Hawthorne on February 16, 2023
There’s nothing quite like a bowl of steaming, comforting soup when the weather outside is freezing and non-comforting. Disclaimer: Since this is the Outer Banks, the weather, of course, could be in the 70s and delightful when this column is published. If so, tuck the recipe away for later use. There will be a nor’easter soon enough and this dish will call out to you, so be patient.
Mushroom soup is on the menu for today. And when I make mushroom soup, I use a mélange of mushrooms, not just your basic button mushrooms. Pick out an assortment of the fungi (at least ½ pound) – portabella, shiitake, cremini, oyster, maitake, enoki. The flavors will vary from a delicate and subtle, slightly woodsy taste to a more earthy, meaty, and rich essence. Mushrooms are also replete with that fifth of the five basic tastes we experience. You’re familiar with the first four tastes – sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The fifth taste component is umami – Japanese, translated loosely, for “savoriness.” When umami is introduced into your meal, along with layering ingredients and balancing flavors, your palate is stimulated and food is perceived as having depth and complexity along with offering mouth-watering and mouth-filling satisfaction.
Heat oil in medium (2 quart) stock pot over medium high heat. When almost smoking, add mushrooms, spread out in a single layer, if possible, to sear. Cook 3-4 minutes, undisturbed. The searing process results in a tender, deliciously browned, caramelized mushroom with crisp edges and a rich, meaty flavor, not a soft, slimy, rubbery shroom. Reduce heat to medium and add in butter, onion, a teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, and flour. Cook, stirring, another minute. Add in minced garlic during the last 30 seconds or so of the cooking time. This reduces the risk of burning the garlic, which will ruin a dish, making it bitter and inedible. Slowly, pour in beef broth, stirring constantly, allowing mixture to thicken. Pour in cream and sherry. Heat through. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Drop a few small cubes of Brie into serving bowls and ladle mushroom soup over top. Serve with focaccia wedges on the side or croutons on top. Sprinkle with more thyme leaves and drizzle some truffle oil over top, if desired. Just a few drops. A little truffle oil goes a loooong way. More pepper, if desired.
If you’ve followed my recipes, you know I like to throw in culinary tips every now and then, so here are some advisements for you.
If your soup is still not thick enough for your tastes (and this is all personal), try a beurre manié, or “kneaded butter.”
You’ve already made the roux when you added the flour to the butter in the pan. A roux is basically equal parts flour and fat and it’s cooked just long enough to eliminate the raw taste of the flour. FYI, there are different categories of roux, ranging from light and blonde to dark and brown. A light roux is used to thicken sauces (like a béchamel, cheese sauce, gravy, and soups). A dark roux is cooked longer and is commonly used in Cajun or Creole cooking to flavor the dish, like a gumbo or jambalaya. For this soup, a light to medium roux is fine.
Back to the beurre manié. Say you’ve already made your roux and added your liquid, but you might have added too much liquid and you want your soup thicker. If you just add in flour at this point, it will clump and you’ll get doughy lumps. What you do is make a beurre manié. Take equal parts softened butter and flour and knead them together by hand until evenly incorporated. Add a small chunk (Try a teaspoon or so at a time.) of the beurre manié to your soup and stir it in. The butter coats the flour and as it melts, it distributes the flour evenly, thickening your soup without clumping.
As for seasoning, wait until almost the end to add your salt. Adding salt to mushrooms brings out their natural nutty and sweet flavors and enhances everything in between, but adding salt too early (say, while you’re trying to sear the mushrooms) can result in the fungi releasing liquid and steaming during the cooking process. You won’t get the caramelization and golden brown exterior you want and you’ll end up with a tough, chewy texture.
Using fresh thyme is an optimal choice for this mushroom soup. It’s robust and enhances the savoriness, deepening and intensifying the umami flavor. Rosemary and sage would also be ideal candidates for pairing with mushrooms.
For any culinary questions, feel free to e-mail me at RosieHawthorne@gmail.com. Bon appétit! For more Rosie’s Recipes on the Outer Banks Voice click here