Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Soup, Beautiful Soup(s)

Our first storm of the season has arrived--only a couple of inches of slushy snow, but enough to turn lawns white and roads slick. An ideal day to hunker down and fill the house with warming aromas.

Now that the weather has turned, the grocery has started carrying soup bones and shin bones. I made a beef stock on Sunday afternoon -- a much lengthier process than my usual chicken stock. I followed a Julia Child recipe (um, more or less) and roasted several pounds of bones for about 45 minutes in a 450° oven. The bones then go into the soup pot, with a couple of roughly chopped carrots, onions, celery stalks, a bay leaf, some garlic cloves, a bit of thyme and some fresh parsley. The water used to deglaze the roasting pan goes in, along with enough water to cover the bones. Some salt and pepper, but nowhere near the sodium of canned broth. Bring to a simmer, and then simmer, with the lid slightly ajar, for five or six hours. A Sunday afternoon, for sure. I'm so used to quick saut├ęs, high-heat roasting and other speedy techniques, it's actually fun to have to slow down and make something that isn't supposed to be improvised on the fly.

The stock doesn't take much attention, just an occasional check to be sure it's not boiling away. The house smelled divine. The stock is so rich, it can be stretched a bit with water. I had planned to use it for minestrone, but when I started cooking the shin bones for the beef in the veggie soup, realized they would flavor the broth just fine, so I used only a bit of the stock, what was left from doling it into quart-size freezer containers.

When the meat was falling-off-the-bone tender, I fished out the pieces, let them cool, then shredded the beef and discarded the gristle. I had two full cups of bits from three slices of shin. I split the soup, freezing one quart container ready to turn into veggie soup, or noodle soup, or mushroom-barley soup. To the other portion (about 6 cups), I added a can of diced tomato, a big handful of Italian green beans and about a cup of cooked kidney beans to warm up. At the end, I made a chiffonade of Chinese cabbage -- I confess I am not a huge cabbage fan, but I found some baby bok choy, which is about as much cabbage as I care for. I know cabbage is very nutritious, but I can't stand the lingering smell. Anyway, a small handful of bok choy simmered for a few minutes, leaving the stem end with a slight crunch. A variation of minestrone, without the pasta. Yummy.

The Jan/Feb 08 issue of Cooks Illustrated has an intriguing recipe for onion soup, which calls for lengthy oven-roasting in a dutch oven to carmelize the sliced onions--followed by a triple deglazing of the pan on the stovetop to create and dissolve loads of luscious fond. The roasting takes almost three hours, so this is definitely another recipe to make ahead.

As usual, a pot full of sliced onions reduces to practically nothing, but without requiring frequent stirring on the stovetop. The recipe calls for sherry and more chicken broth than beef broth. If I don't have sherry, I'll probably use dry vermouth or white wine. Chris Kimball, CI publisher, spoke to a huge crowd of fans at Joseph-Beth Booksellers last night, and talked about how none of us actually follow the recipes they work so hard to perfect. We're always switching ingredients or amounts. Yep, guilty. Although maybe not as guilty as the reader who informed the staff he hated a recipe for chicken and would never make it again. Although he didn't have chicken, so he used shrimp, instead. [I did have some Amantillado sherry... do kids still read the Poe story? Can anyone drink this without visions of being entombed alive?]

The onions caramelized a bit faster than the recipe suggested, so I'd keep an eye on the pot for the last half hour of cooking -- my nose alerted me. Deglazing turned the entire mass of onions a deep, rich, almost molasses-brown. Of course, then I ignored the rest of the recipe, except to add their proportion of broths and water for a final simmer. Again, I split the soup into two quart containers, for dinner tomorrow and some future cold night. The soup is finished off with toasted croutons topped with melted Gruyere -- probably finished under the broiler separately, since I've never invested in broiler-proof soup crocks. I did sample -- delicious!

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