PHOTOGRAPHY BY: CATHY NELSON ARKLE
Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School
It was “all hands on deck” this week as we made six soups in less than four hours. The secret to soup is fresh ingredients and a good stock. Oh yes, and a couple of spare hours, to say the least.
Soups are classified in two main groups with no fancy-schmancy French name (hence we will bypass our French lesson this week). You can practice the French you learned last week. And I don’t mean the “pardon my French” you already know.
- Broth – a flavorful liquid obtained from the long simmering of meats and/or vegetables
- Consommé – French for “soup,” also used to describe a clear soup made from well-seasoned stock
- Cream – based on béchamel (classic white sauce) and then finished with heavy cream
- Chowder – classically made of seafood, including pork, potatoes and onions Today, it is a generic name for a wide variety of seafood and/or vegetable-thickened soups, often with milk and/or cream.
- Puree – thicker than cream soups, often based on dried legumes or starchy vegetables
- Bisque – a thick, creamy, highly seasoned soup, classically of pureed crustaceans
My partner for the evening was Mario; our assignment, consommé. How exotic… how French… how complicated, or so I thought. I looked at the list of ingredients and wondered how ground meat, vegetables, stock, tomato paste, and egg whites were going to produce a clear soup.
First up – grind the chicken and beef. Oh dear… my childhood farm pets’ faces flashed before me, and I’ve hated ground meat ever since. Pink Floyd’s movie, The Wall, didn’t help either! But now I’m paying for chef school, so it’s time to “get over it”.
The nice part about grinding your own meat is ensuring no “extras” end up in it. (can anybody say “chicken lips”)
I humbly grounded the beef and chicken. The only byproduct in this meat was my emotional state.
Next step – we chopped our mirepoix (carrots, onion & celery). We then added it to our meat and egg whites and placed the mixture in a large pot with cold stock.
We were then instructed to walk away and let the miracle of science take over. I think one reason we like to cook is because it puts us in control of cause and effect. Consommé (like most people in our lives) refuses comply. We are sure they need our help to become great.
I pondered these thoughts as I busied myself elsewhere. Upon returning to the pot an hour later, I was shocked to discover somebody threw up in our soup! I knew it, we should not have taken our hands off the wheel!
Guess what? I was wrong again.
The ingredients we originally termed “fresh” are now “impurities” that rose to the top and formed a floating ugly mass referred to as a “raft”. Had we stirred it, the congealing process could not occur, and there would be no clear soup.
The raft was lifted out, and the remaining consommé strained.
Carrots, celery and leeks were julienned and par-boiled to garnish the consommé.
We served to consommé to the class with rave reviews. The real reward was tasting the essence of every ingredient that went into this soup.
In some culinary schools, a simple test is administered to student chefs making consommé: the teacher drops a dime into your amber broth; if you can read the date on the dime resting at the bottom of the bowl, you pass. If you can’t, you fail. I am not sure we would have passed that test, but according to the students, it made the grade.
To see a video on how to make consommé click here.
My homework this week was to make a soup that I didn’t make in class. I chose the rustic Sweet Potato Butternut Squash Soup with Pumpkin Seed Pesto. It seemed perfect for Halloween.
Rona made the Dungeness Crab Bisque, and you can get the recipe on her blog.
Sweet Potato Butternut Squash Soup w/Pumpkin Seed Pesto
From New School of Cooking
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 celery rib, diced
- 3 T olive oil
- 2 jalapeno peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
- 2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled and diced
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
- 6-8 cups water, plus more as needed
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper to taste
- Sauté the onion in the olive oil until soft. Add the carrot and celery, cook an additional two minutes. Add jalapeno, sweet potato, squash, water and bay leaf. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove bay leaf.
- Puree. Add more water if mixture seems too thick. Season with salt and pepper.
Pumpkin Seed Pesto
- 1 c unsalted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- 3 T olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 c water
- 1/2 c coarse, chopped cilantro leaves
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 2 T lime juice, or to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a heavy skillet, roast the pumpkin seeds until they begin to pop. Some will brown, but do not allow all to turn brown. Remove the seeds to a plate and allow to cool completely. Heat the olive oil in the same skillet and cook the garlic until it begins to give off it’s characteristic aroma.
- Pulse the seeds, garlic, olive oil, water, cilantro, scallions and salt and pepper to taste in a blender until the mixture forms a coarse paste, not smooth.
- Transfer to a bowl and stir in the lime juice. Taste and adjust lime and salt quantities if necessary.
- When the soup is ready, add in a dollop of the pesto. Garnish with cilantro if you like.
Beautiful things do happen when left on their own.
Know when to be involved and when to keep your mitts out!
…and then, she paused for thought
Hope you have enjoyed our adventure in the culinary classroom. Join Rona and me each week as we continue learning new culinary skills.
You can also read about Rona’s experience on her blog or What’s Cookin online magazine.