Five soups on one plate

Last updated 05:00 21/10/2012

A PLETHORA OF DIFFERENT TECHNIQUES: Colin Hunter's ode to soups.

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I love soup. It is one of the most under-appreciated foods. 

Soup is a very pure expression of ingredients. As a start to the meal, nothing sets the tone better. Soups and stews can be a meal in themselves.

I am currently studying at university and so I don't always get to cook as much as I like, but for my birthday recently I made a meal for my friends. The first course was an ode to soup. Five soups, a journey through some of my favourites.

I would be lying if I said I cooked them all perfectly or that it was the best dish I have ever had, but it was special for me.

Each soup demonstrates a different facet of the plethora of different techniques. For me it was not just the cooking, but also presenting my labour for the people I love. All these soups can easily stand alone, some as meals by themselves, they may even be better that way, what follows is my homage to the soups I love.

I won't include the exact recipes here as most of them are on the complex side of things, but I will say this. The key to most good soups is good stock or broth. This means making it from scratch. I will stand over the pot and skim it for hours on end to get it free of particulate and fat, but I would not recommend this for most people, as it is extremely time-consuming (I get a sick pleasure from it).

My favourite bouillon recipe is a modified version from Escoffier. Basically beef shin, carrot, leek, onion, parsnip, a little celery and a bouquet garni. Stocks are not things you should just put junk in, anything you put in the stock will flavour it, so if you want good stock you need to be putting in good vegetables. For bouillon I normally cook it for eight hours on the simmer. The trick is to get a taste for what you want your stock to taste like, it just takes a bit of practice.

Five soups, in eating order

1. Beef consomme with royales

This is a classic soup. Consomme should look like coloured glass. It is complex owing to the development of flavour in the stock and the addition of more flavour and then reduction in the raft. It should be completely free of fat, so it is very pure tasting and has a velvety mouth feel.

I can't quite explain the appeal of consomme, the long cooked broth is high in umami and when served hot it is savoury, meaty and yet clear of flavour. It is in short delicious. If it wasn't so much work I'd make it more often.

2. Celeriac puree with hare quenelle

Unfortunately celeriac has just gone out of season, but it is a wonderful vegetable if you can get it.

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In this soup I used celeriac with an agria potato for body and one clove garlic.

My goal was to let the celeriac itself be the main flavour, with the underlying complexity of the stock in the background, but not have it overpower the soup.

I put my puree soups through tamis and then a chinoise (a very fine sieve) to make them extra smooth. I served it with a quenelle (a little dumpling basically) made of hare forcemeat. Texture is important for puree soups, so if you can be bothered sieving your puree, you notice the difference.

3. Minestrone

My all-time favourite soup is minestrone. If made with good Italian style broth (which is lighter than French stocks, as it is less reduced) it creates one of the most amazing soups.

Minestrone is light yet buttery, sweet and complex in flavour. I just stick to classic recipes for minestrone, I make separate broth for minestrone as I think bouillon is too intense in flavour. This is the least technical of the soups and easily made at home, also it doesn't require the careful skimming the others do, but be warned once you take into account the time to cook the broth you are looking at about seven hours for the soup (four hours for the broth and three for the soup).

I'd recommend Marcella Hazan's recipe as a good place to start. Avoid Jamie Oliver, whose minestrone sadly lacking. At my party I didn't get this one right. When I made the broth my meat ratio was too low and so the broth suffered. 

4. White truffle creme with prawns and escargot

This is my own creation and not really a soup to be honest. Basically I make a English custard (don't use any flour or cornflour for this, it doesn't need to be overly thick), to which I added white truffle essence (if you can get real truffle go right ahead, but my bank account can not afford that).

I then cook the prawns and escargot with some shallots and white wine. Serving them in the bowl with the custard. This is quite a rich dish and I would not recommend this in large portions. It is delicious though.

5. Cardamom-infused carrot puree with walnut en gelee.

The really indulgent way to make a carrot puree is to cook them in cream. It is not exactly healthy, but it is to die for.

I cooked mine with some cardamom, but they don't need a lot of flavour, just buy good quality carrots and poach in cream till they are soft. They do not need anything else. I could just eat that in puree form.

However, for the soup I add some bouillon and when poaching the carrots I add cardamom. I then melt gelatin in the puree and poured it into a tray to set with a walnut.

I'll admit I didn't quite nail this one either, I used a little too much gelatin because I was compensating for it being silver, instead of gold strength, in hindsight this was a mistake.

However, carrots poached in cream is an unbelievably beautiful combination and I would urge people to try it. Somehow the flavour of the carrot, rather than being masked by the cream, is brought to the forefront.

Again sieving the soup is worthwhile, but tedious, but even if you don't I'd recommend people try cooking carrots in cream. The result is sweet, with vibrant carrot flavour, but yet creamy and rich.


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