Meditations Upon A Soup
Or, The Recipe Isn't Yours Until You Make It Yours
Or, The Chef's Job Is To Unlock The Flavors In The Ingredients
Or, It's OK To Play With Your Food - In Fact, You Should!
Some time ago, I read that it is the baker's job to unlock the flavors in the bread's ingredients. And I wholeheartedly agree. However, I don't think the statement goes far enough. It applies to chefs to. Maybe most chefs already know that. However, I hope we can enlighten a few chefs and a few cooks - and maybe even a few bakers - and have them get with the program!
In a recent " Afternoon Tea With The Avery's " class we were discussing cucumber sandwiches and commented that if you want something spicier, you could substitute sliced radish for the sliced cucumber. We got four sets of blank stares in response. The idea of changing THE RECIPE seemed to bother the students. A large part of learning to be a cook, of learning how things taste, of even learning what you do and do not like comes from experimentation.
When I was teaching my stepson Tommy to cook, he worried he'd poison us. I told him that the worst that could happen was we wouldn't like what he prepared, but since all his ingredients were wholesome food, the result couldn't poison us. He became more confident as time went on. So, think about your food, tinker with your food and -yes- even PLAY with it! It's OK. Really!
As I mentioned in the Breadblog, the lettuce soup at a recent Wine Squared inspired me. I'd heard of lettuce soup and I had no idea what to expect - it made me scratch my head. I couldn't imagine that there would be very much there there. However, it was a nice rich soup, topped off with an excellent Israeli olive oil and a freshly ground Egyptian pepper. It was an explosion of tastes, and I had to try to make some myself. I hit Google and found an interesting and promising recipe at a San Francisco area foodie blog. This recipe had the advantage that it used stale bread in it. With the baking test runs I do, and with the leftovers from baking classes, I wind up with more bread than Beth and I can eat before it goes stale. Yeah, we freeze some, but there is a limit even there. Do I want the side of beef or the bread to go bad?
As given this is a nice recipe. I made it the way it was written in the food blog and decided it was time to change it. First, the recipe suggested peeling the potatoes we'd use in the soup. I feel that the peel is the deal when it comes to potatoes - that's where the flavor is concentrated. I'd rather clean a potato and eat the skin than peel it. Unless my mother is coming over, I don't even peel potatoes I'm going to mash.
Next, the potato is boiled. Boiling is a great way to extract flavors. And you can reduce a broth to concentrate the flavors, but boiling doesn't build flavors. So, I thought frying the potatoes first might be a good idea. To keep from adding to the oil in the recipe, I'd use some of the olive oil already in the recipe.
Next, the potato looked lonely, so I thought adding some leek would be a great idea. I had some leek left over from a killer roast chicken and leek pie we made for a savory pie class. Frying the leek with the potato seemed like a winner since I like sauteed onions and leeks are related to onions.
The recipe was on a page all about Acme bread, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they suggested using Acme bread. And that's a fine idea if you're in San Francisco and have some left over stale Acme bread. I decided that it was just fine to use any sourdough loaf I had lying around. And so far, that guess has been correct.
The next thing that I noticed was the original recipe called for trimming the crust off the bread. Off of ACME BREAD! With any good bread, more than 3/4 of the taste is in the crust. Why throw it away? Why even feed it to ducks? When the bread soaks in the soup, the crust, even a stale crust will soften.
Gee - that sounds like something from Cooks Illustrated. "We cooked 456 batches of soup so you wouldn't have to!" But all joking aside, the result was better. And - there are many places you can alter the recipe as you make it. We'll mention some of them in the recipe. So, what was the result? The leek added a depth to the potato soup, as did the browning in oil. The potato peels helped. In the end, the soup was much more complex, much richer, and - to my taste - much nicer. Maybe you'd prefer the original. That'd be OK. There's no arguing with taste. My goal is to get more people to taste and to think. Oh, you want to look at the recipe? Well, for your convenience, here's a link to our version of the soup recipe.