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Published: Tuesday, 4/2/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Real cream of mushroom tastes nothing like its canned cousin

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Homemade cream of mushroom soup. Homemade cream of mushroom soup.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Peanut butter and jelly. Franks and beans. Bacon and eggs.

Some foods just naturally go together. And one of the most heavenly combinations, one of the purest expressions of goodness and hope for nature and mankind, is the magic that happens when mushrooms come together with cream.

The unique way the richness of the cream coats the umami earthiness of the mushrooms gives this pairing of flavors a subtle power, an irresistible force that demands to be served in crepes, alongside chicken or meat, or especially as a soup.

It's uncanny. That's "uncanny," as in "it should not come out of a can."

Canned cream of mushroom soup is fine if you're having a quick lunch by yourself or making the classic recipe of green bean casserole (True fact: green bean casserole was invented by the Campbell Soup Co. as a way to give consumers something to do with their cans of cream of mushroom soup. Home economist Dorcas Reilly created the recipe for the company in 1955, and her original recipe card has a place in the National Inventors' Hall of Fame).

Real, homemade cream of mushroom soup exists on an entirely different level. While the stuff out of the can is functional, the soup that has been cooked with love and care in a home kitchen is almost transcendent.

It took a recent trip to a restaurant to remind me of that fact. At the excellent Jean-Robert's Table in Cincinnati, my wife had a bowl of cream of mushroom soup that potentially had the power to end sorrow and bring peace and harmony to the land. It was that good.

And I thought to myself, "If the five-star chef Jean-Robert de Cavel can make soup of this quality, then surely I can, too."

As it turns out — rather shockingly, actually — it's not that hard to get pretty close to the soup made by chef Jean-Robert. All it takes is mushrooms. Lots and lots of mushrooms.

Because cream of mushroom soup has such a pure flavor, I decided it would be best to keep things simple when making it. But only up to a point. The basics were easy enough — mushrooms, shallots, butter, stock, cream — but I wanted it to have a heightened mushroom taste, so I used a multiplicity of mushrooms.

I went to my local store expecting to find an impressive variety of fresh mushrooms, but the only kinds they had were regular button mushrooms, shiitakes, and cremini, which are also called baby portobellos. So I had to improvise, which means I headed for the dried mushrooms and picked up plastic containers of black trumpets, oysters, and morels.

Morels are awfully expensive (my packet was $14.99 for one-half ounce), so feel free to leave them out. And pick whatever other dried mushrooms you choose; you are limited only by what the store sells.

The waiter at Jean-Robert's Table explained that the restaurant makes its soup from a puree of mushrooms, so I decided to do that. But then I wondered what it would be like if I first simmered the mushrooms in stock and then pureed that, too. This method would also allow me to make the stock double-rich by simmering carrots and celery in it along with the mushrooms. But I thought better of adding the other ingredients, reasoning that I did not want the additional flavors to detract from the pure mushroom goodness.

At any rate, I made the soup both ways, adding more liquid by necessity to the one that first simmered the mushrooms before pureeing them. As a result, this second batch was a tad thinner, but every bit as good.

For a heartier texture, you could thicken either one with a teaspoon or more of cornstarch dissolved in cold water, but I would recommend against it. These soups derive much of their elegance from their light texture, and thickening that would make it more rustic and less refined.

By the same token, I recommend using less cream than you might think you need; the superb, sophisticated taste comes when the mushroom soup is only enhanced by the cream, not overwhelmed by it.

This is not a casserole-ready cream of mushroom soup we are talking about. This is a soup with a flavor so big it cannot be contained in a can.

Contact Daniel Neman at: dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.


Cream of Mushroom Soup

(Puree Version)

½ ounce dried mushrooms, your choice

¼ ounce dried morel mushrooms, optional

¼ pound shiitake mushrooms

4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter

2 shallots, sliced

1 pound button mushrooms, sliced

8 ounces cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos), sliced

4 cups chicken stock

½ cup cream, half-and-half or whole milk

2 tablespoons sherry, optional

Cook's note: Unless you have objections to alcohol, I very much recommend using the sherry.

Reconstitute the dried mushrooms, including the optional morels, by soaking them in at least 2 cups of warm water for 30 minutes. Strain through a coffee filter or fine-mesh sieve, but reserve the soaking liquid. Dry the mushrooms on towels and then chop them.

Remove and discard stems from the shiitakes, and slice the caps.

Melt butter in large pot over medium-high heat, and add shallots. Sauté until translucent, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add sliced button mushrooms, cremini, and the chopped, reconstituted dried mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their liquid, 10-15 minutes.

Transfer to blender, and puree. If needed, add 1 cup of the reserved mushroom liquid. Return to the pot, stir in the stock and one cup of reserved mushroom liquid, and cook until hot. Stir in the cream and optional sherry, and serve hot.

Yield: About 2 quarts


Cream of Mushroom Soup

(Simmered Version)

½ ounce dried mushrooms, your choice

¼ ounce dried morel mushrooms, optional

¼ pound shiitake mushrooms

4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter

2 shallots, sliced

1 pound button mushrooms, sliced

8 ounces cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos), sliced

8 cups vegetable stock

1 cup cream, half-and-half or whole milk

3 tablespoons sherry, optional

Cook's note: Unless you have objections to alcohol, I very much recommend using the sherry.

Reconstitute the dried mushrooms, including the optional morels, by soaking them in at least 2 cups of warm water for 30 minutes. Strain through a coffee filter or fine-mesh sieve, but reserve the soaking liquid. Dry the mushrooms on towels and then chop them.

Remove and discard stems from the shiitakes, and slice the caps.

Melt butter in large pot over medium-high heat, and add shallots. Sauté until translucent, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add sliced button mushrooms, cremini, the chopped reconstituted dried mushrooms and the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until the mushrooms are soft, 20-30 minutes. Puree with a stick blender or in batches in a food processor or blender, and return to pot.

Stir in cream and optional sherry, and serve hot.

Yield: 3 quarts



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