Friday, August 20, 2010

once-a-year cream of mushroom soup called because, for the sake of my arteries, I don't think I should eat this soup any more frequently than that. Luckily - or unluckily, depending on how you see it - this recipe produces a pretty modest amount of soup, though it actually begins with a healthy amount of liquid.

But first, let me explain why I got a bee in my bonnet about making up a mushroom soup recipe. A few weeks ago, I went to Florida for my annual beach trip with my girlfriends from the University of Georgia. The five of us are now scattered all over the country, but we reconvene every summer in Melbourne Beach to drink margaritas, sit in the sunshine, read glossy magazines we would never otherwise buy, and earnestly discuss the Harry Potter books while swimming in the ocean. This year, we actually had the chance to visit the newly opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios theme park in Orlando. Excited as kids, we showed up early in the morning just before the park opened, lined up to get in, and spent four hours touring Hogwarts Castle, drinking butterbeer, and riding dragons and hippogriffs. At lunchtime, predictably, we were all exhausted, overheated, and ravenous. Just outside the Harry Potter section of the park, we found a restaurant called Mythos, which is supposedly the Best Theme Park Restaurant in the World, and we put in our names for a lunch table. Forty-five minutes later, we were sitting in a cushy booth, drinking large glasses of water and eating freshly baked rosemary bread with butter. When I saw the cream of mushroom soup on the menu, I knew I had to try it because it's so rare to find a restaurant that carries it. Also, you know, what do you crave most when you're hot, tired, and hungry, if not something warm and dairy-based? ;)

So it was sublime. And it wasn't just the hunger or the exhaustion, either.

I've been thinking about making a version of that soup for weeks, trying to figure out how to do it. I looked at a bunch of recipes from cooks I love but finally decided against all of them. Instead, I started by riffing off of a mushroom-and-thyme sauté that I made earlier in the summer. It looked like this...

mushrooms with butter, thyme, and white wine - mmm!
...and here's the recipe I ended up with. My strategy was to make sure each layer - the broth, the mushrooms, the shallot-and-garlic mixture - had plenty of complex flavors so that the soup wouldn't be bland. 

This is so incredibly not bland.  Trust.

cream of mushroom soup

16 oz. sliced button mushrooms
2 c. chicken broth
3 or 4 small shallots, finely diced
1 huge (or 2 small) cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
10 to 12 stems of fresh thyme
1 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2  c. white wine
1/2 c. dry sherry
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 c. whipping cream, warmed
3/4 c. half-and-half, warmed
coarse kosher sea salt
coarsely ground fresh black pepper

In a small saucepan, combine chicken broth, 1/2 cup of the wine, bay leaf, peppercorns, 3 or 4 stems of thyme, a few mushroom slices, and about a teaspoon each of the shallots and garlic. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes until the flavors have infused the broth. Strain, keeping mushroom pieces. Set aside or keep on low heat.

In a large soup pot over medium-high, heat a couple of teaspoons of the olive oil and a few tablespoons of the butter. Add mushrooms, stir them to coat with the oil and butter, and crack some pepper over them. Don't salt them yet. Let them sit, without stirring them, until they’re slightly browned on one side. Stir and repeat a couple of times until all the mushrooms are a bit browned. Add another 1/2 cup of the white wine and 1/4 cup of the sherry. Deglaze the pan, stirring to lift the browned bits off the bottom. Add some salt to taste and another teaspoon or so of butter and stir to cover mushrooms. When mushrooms have absorbed some of the liquid, remove to a plate or bowl.

In the same unwashed pot, melt the rest of the olive oil and butter. Add shallots and a little cracked pepper and sauté for a couple of minutes over medium-low heat. Add garlic and keep cooking for another minute or two. Be careful not to brown it! When shallots and garlic are softened, add the paprika, some salt to taste, and the remaining thyme, white wine, and sherry. Stir and raise heat. Boil for a minute or so, just until the alcohol has burned off.

Add the broth and all of the mushrooms back into the pot and stir. (If you like some bigger mushroom pieces in your soup, pull a few of them out and chop them roughly before you puree it.) Remove from heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender. When it reaches the consistency you like, scoop out a cup of it and stir some it into the warmed cream and half-and-half, a little at a time, until you’ve combined them and they’re both relatively hot. Add the whole thing back to the soup pot. Bring it up to almost boiling, turn off the heat, and it's ready. Serve it in a shallow bowl with plenty more cracked black pepper and a few thyme leaves sprinkled over the top.

1 comment:

Valerie said...

yay, we're famous!!!! Mythos truly was the best themepark restaurant ever, and now i'm inspired to try and make this soup...

also, i only ever want to feed the black fish. he's the one i care about.