It’s hard to believe there are people over the age of 12, let alone professional cooks, who don’t like mushrooms (yes, I’m talking to you, Laura). I’d be tempted to blame the inherent slimy crudiness of the ubiquitous supermarket button mushroom, but I’m afraid that excuse just doesn’t cut it any more. We’ve had the food revolution, Michael Pollan is a household name, and chanterelles have made their way to the Safeway produce department. If you are lucky enough to have a local farmer’s market, you don’t even need to stop at chanterelles. Take a look at this haul:
The one on the top left is a big fat porcini. I’d never seen porcini in any form other than dried before, so I had to buy it and make a risotto, which I served with a nice steak tartare. (that’s right! I said steak tartare! Pretty wild, huh?) Next to the porcini is a lobster mushroom. If you are not familiar with lobster mushrooms, you need to know a) yes, they do taste like lobster – isn’t nature weird? and b) they are not mushrooms, per se, but a parasitic fungi that colonises a regular mushroom and turns it red. Yummy, yummy parasites. Bottom left is a matsutake or pine mushroom. These rare mushrooms are highly prized in Japan, going for around $2000 the kilo. If you live near me, you are extremely fortunate, because the other place they can be found is the Pacific Northwest of America (going rate about $20/ lb). They are subtle and delicious in a hotpot and taste faintly like cinnamon. And then of course, in the bottom right corner, our star, chanterelles!
This is a recipe for cream of mushroom soup, using chanterelles. Variations on this recipe abound across the internet (full credit to Hank Shaw at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook for this one), but they are all derived from the original by Escoffier. That means this recipe is French. Which means that you are not allowed, unfortunately, to play around much with the quantities, steps, and ingredients if you to want experience the true genius of that cuisine. Sure, you could omit the costly saffron, or substitute some other kind of mushroom, or use inferior supermarket eggs, but in the end you will be disappointed. This recipe is an opportunity to let truly good ingredients shine on their own. Be dazzled.
Cream of Chanterelle Soup
You will be preparing the mushrooms and the stock separately. The last step will be to mix in a thickening agent (or liaison) comprised of cream and eggs.
6 cups chicken stock (real if possible)
2 Tb unsalted butter
2 Tb flour
Heat the chicken stock to a simmer. In a small saucepan, melt the butter until it is frothing (but not browning) and stir in the flour. Let this cook for a few minutes, but again, don’t let it brown. This is a white roux, not a blonde one.
Whisk the stock into the roux and let simmer gently while you prepare the mushrooms. You want it to reduce a bit.
1 lb chanterelles
2 shallots, minced
3 Tb unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
3 egg yolks
2 oz (1 shotglass) of brandy
¼ tsp saffron threads
Add the saffron to the shot of brandy so it has time to soak.
Chop the mushrooms finely and put them with the shallots and 1 Tb butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Sprinkle them lightly with salt to give osmosis the right idea, and stir them until the mushrooms sweat out their water. This will take 5-10 minutes.
Add the brandy and saffron to the mushrooms. Turn the heat up to high and, stirring, cook until the brandy has just about evaporated.
Add this point, blend the mushrooms to a pulp in a blender or food processor. If you use a blender, as I do, you will very likely need to add some stock to the mix and keep scraping down the sides. That’s okay, but don’t overdo the stock. Also, take as much time as you need, because the finer you pulp the mushrooms the easier the next step will be.
Push the mushroom pulp through a sieve into a bowl. This will take a while. A wooden spoon helps. Now you see why you had to puree it so much.
Mix the smooth, smooth mushroom goop into the stock and stir it well. Simmer for another ten minutes.
In another bowl, beat together the egg yolks and cream. Please use good free range eggs. Lesser quality eggs may make the soup taste eggy. I can’t stand dishes that taste eggy when they are not supposed to (especially cheesecake).
Add a little – about half a ladle – of the hot stock to the eggs while you whisk. The idea here is that you are blending the eggs with the hot stock so gently that the eggs do not cook and congeal. After you’ve (gradually) added four full ladles of stock to the eggs, you can pour it all back into the soup stock. Do not boil it! You will ruin it if you boil it!
To finish up, run the soup through the sieve again to get rid of any cooked eggy bits, and whisk in the remaining 2 Tb of butter. This is a very French touch.
Garnish with a few fried slices of chanterelle, and now tell me you don’t like mushrooms.