'The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.'

Monday, 14 January 2013

Cream of mushroom soup

When I was growing up in Hong Kong, my exposure to western food was limited. Sure, compared to China and other less developed countries in the world, our food scene was already much more cosmopolitan in its outlook. That said, as a little kid, my conception of western food consisted of KFC, McDonald's and Pizza Hut. I knew that there were steak houses but obviously I couldn't afford it! It was when I moved to England at 16 that I gradually got to know the diverse traditions and culture behinds the cuisines of Western Europe.

I also remember going to Pizza Hut was something of a family treat at weekends. Unfortunately, I didn't really like pizzas nor the salad bar there, so I would smuggle spicy chicken wings from KFC (which was in the same shopping centre CityPlaza) and indulge in them while the grown-ups were eating pizzas and salad. I could eat 18 wings at a time, btw! One item that I did enjoy at Pizza Hut, however, was their cream of mushroom soup. It was unlike any Chinese soup mum would make at home, and its creaminess and bold flavour were addictive for a kid. It also had bits of chicken in it I believe?

I stopped going to Pizza Hut a long time ago when I discovered how pizzas should be like, so the taste of their cream of mushroom soup is buried in a distant corner of my memory. I actually think that I probably wouldn't like it any more, but I do have my own version that I can resort to in moments of desperation. It's based on Simon Hopkinson's recipe, but I've streamlined the preparation somewhat. The large amount of mushrooms thickens the soup naturally after blending, so there is no need to make a roux or add any potato to the soup.

Cream of mushroom soup

240g (8 oz.) white button mushrooms, wiped and sliced - or any fresh mushrooms, really!
125ml (1/2 cup) whole milk
125ml (1/2 cup) whipping cream
1 onion, chopped
325ml (1 1/2 cup) chicken or vegetable stock
30g (2 tbsp) butter
Salt and black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan, to serve (optional)

In a large saucepan, saute the onions in the butter until slightly pale golden. Add the mushrooms to the pan and continue to cook until their edges begin to brown as well. Pour in the stock and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the milk and cream in your blender - it's fine for them to be cold. Add the mushroom-onion-stock to the blender, add a few grinds of the pepper mill, and whizz everything together until absolutely smooth and creamy.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and reheat gently without boiling. Season the soup with salt. Simon Hopkinson recommends scattering Parmesan cheese onto the soup for serving. I think it's better without - I would go for croutons or even saving some of the mushrooms slices to add some texture to the final soup instead of blending all of them. The choice is yours.

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