Years ago Tom Collichio (most recently of Top Chef fame) wrote a book, Think Like a Chef. He wrote the book, in part, to encourage aspiring cooks to think about food in creative ways that did not depend on slavishly following recipes.Part of that creativity rests on learning fundamental techniques so well that you don't have to think about them. They are there in your skill set waiting for you to draw upon them as you think about preparing each meal. Pam Anderson tried to do the same thing in book, How To Cook Without a Book.(Click here for remarks on this wonderful work.) My latest effort at mastering fundamental techniques took place in the just-completed Professional Cook's Certification Course from Rouxbe. One of the things I was really happy to learn was how to make a roux-based soup which is simply a soup that is thickened with a roux. These are often called cream soups because they are the consistency of heavy cream, but do not have to made with cream or milk.
A roux-based soup is composed of 5 essential ingredients: flour, fat,main vegetable,liquid (milk or stock) and the mirepoix or aromatics
The first component is fat. Butter is very commonly used and will add richness to the dish. Olive oil will add earthy or fruity notes and bacon fat can add a smoky taste to the finished product. The second essential element is a starch, most commonly flour. The two cooked together create the roux which will thicken your soup. The formula to remember here is that 1 TBS of fat + 1 TBS of flour will thicken 1 cup of liquid.
The third essential element is the liquid which can be milk, broth ,stock or any combination of flavorful liquids.Since you are building flavor with every step of the process it is important to use a flavorful liquid. Sometimes,however, it is a good idea to dilute the stock with a some water so that the the flavor of the vegetable won't be overwhelmed. This is where knowledge about your ingredients and practice come into play.
The fourth component is usually a non or low-starch vegetable. The vegetable should be washed, trimmed and cut into even-sized pieces. Smaller pieces allow the vegetables to cook much faster and the shorter cooking time will help to preserve color and maintain flavor during cooking. A general guideline to keep in mind is that 1 cup of chopped vegetables will flavor 1 cup of liquid.
The final element is the mirepoix that will used to build the flavor profile of the soup. These ingredients should complement the primary ingredient in flavor and not overpower it. You will need approximately 2-4 TBS for every cup of soup. The aromatics should be cut small so that they cook evenly and blend into the soup. The final formula for this type of soup is:
1 TBS fat+ !1TBS flour + 1 cup liquid +1 cup vegetables + 2-4 TBS mirepoix= 1 1/2 to 2 cups of soup.
The texture of the finished soup can be left chunky for a rustic character or it can be blended for a smooth, elegantly creamy soup. The final soup should have a consistency like heavy cream, a nice sheen,and coat the back of a spoon.
The following recipe for Cream of Broccoli Soup puts these soup-making principles into practice. Once you have made this a few times you won't need a recipe to make whatever creamy soup you desire. You will be able to Think Like a Chef.
Cream of Broccoli Soup garnished with Cheddar Cheese
CREAM OF BROCCOLI SOUP
- 3/4 cup onions, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 4 cups broccoli, chopped
- 4 TBS butter
- 4 TBS all-purpose flour
- 4 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
- Salt and Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup cream (optional)
- Garnish (optional)
Peel the broccoli stems and cut them into small,even pieces.Set aside.Chop the florets into small, even pieces and place them in a separate bowl. Measure out the butter, flour and liquid. Set aside.
melt the butter in a medium-sized pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic, along with a pinch of salt. Gently sweat until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add the broccoli stems and stir to coat with the fat. Continue to sweat for a few minutes until somewhat softened.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to combine. Temper in the liquid, a bit at a time. turn the heat up to medium and bring the soup to a simmer. Stir often to make sure the bottom does not scorch.
Once the stems are nearly tender, add the florets along with a good pinch of salt. Let the soup gently simmer until the florets are tender and cooked all the way through. Once the florets are tender, add salt and pepper to taste.
You can serve the soup as is and finish it by adding the cream in increments. The cream is optional.
You can also blend the soup in a blender until smooth. You will need to do this batches. Return the soup to a clean pot and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper and temper in the cream if you are using it. Serve in warmed bowls.