Soups

Soups

By
Justin North
Contains
16 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740665377
Photographer
Steve Brown

According to Beethoven, ‘Only the pure in heart can make good soup.’ I’m not entirely sure what the great composer knew about soup making, but this comment certainly rings true with me.

I think there is a danger of thinking about soups as a bit of an exercise in recycling leftovers. But good soup is not something that you can cheat with! It really is something that comes from the heart and the soul, and requires a certain sort of culinary honesty. By this I mean you need to begin with good ingredients and take the proper time – without shortcuts – to achieve the magic that transforms the mundane into something intensely flavoursome and satisfying.

Apparently simple, in French cooking soups are incredibly varied and can range from humble and hearty to subtle and sophisticated. The substantial soupes and potages of provincial cooking are popular family fare, and will often be the mainstay of an evening meal, followed perhaps by just a small salad or fruit. At the other end of the spectrum, elegant consommés, complex bisques and silky-smooth veloutés take their place proudly at the start of an elaborate dinner party or restaurant meal.

The simplest and most sophisticated soups all require the same approach to achieve the desired purity and depth of flavour. It’s not about chucking a whole lot of ingredients into the pot and hoping for the best. Some of the best soups, such as potato velouté or intensely flavoured tomato essence, are made from only one or two ingredients. It’s far more important to use top-quality fresh ingredients, and to season appropriately.

In my view, the soup course is a good example of the way in which classical French cooking is evolving. Thankfully, cooks are moving away from the heavy, roux-based varieties of soups that tended to mask the flavour of the ingredients and dull the palate with their reliance on cream, butter and flour. These days, home cooks and restaurant chefs have access to excellent produce and we have a better understanding of how to extract the freshness and flavour from these ingredients for a lighter and more intensely flavoured result.

In my restaurant we tend to divide soups into two broad styles: clear – of which the consommé is the ultimate expression – and thick. Thickening is not achieved the old-fashioned way with flour, but by puréeing the ingredients or by adding a little cream to smooth and enrich.

Consommés

The art of making good consommés comes from good technique and following a few simple steps. It is possible to transform any intensely flavoured double stock or rustic broth into a refined, restaurant-quality consommé by clarifying it with a ‘raft’.

This is a thick paste made from minced meat, vegetables and egg whites. As the consommé heats, the egg whites coagulate and the raft rises to the surface, trapping any impurities on the way. Once the raft sets on the surface, make a little hole in it to allow the steam to escape and let the consommé simmer gently for around 20 minutes. It is important not to let it boil or the raft will break up and the consommé will become cloudy.

Remember to make a raft that is appropriate to the consommé – use minced fish or seafood for a seafood consommé, minced game trimmings for a game consommé, and so on.

Nages

These pure, tasty and delicate soups are equally delicious served hot or cold. They are naturally thickened by puréeing, and contain no dairy – so they are also very healthy. They are quick and easy to cook and the technique is the same, regardless of the ingredients. Once you’ve mastered the first recipe, feel free to experiment.

Veloutés

A velouté is all about texture – it should be light and smooth as silk, thanks to the addition of cream and a little butter. Use the potato velouté as a base recipe, then work your way through the other delicious variations!

Bisques

Light and intensely aromatic, bisques are traditionally made from seafood. They are flavoured with wine and Cognac and lightly thickened with cream.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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