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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Soup, Beautiful Soup! On the Stock Exchange

It isn’t the prettiest dish.  But on a cold night in January, it calls me home.  A hankering for pea soup.  That thick velvety texture that reminds you of. . . OMG!  Baby’s first. . . solid food?  Oh, snap, please!  What comes out of a Gerber jar (or a Campbell’s can, for that matter) is but a pale memory.  
What goes into the pot of a full-bodied pea soup made with honest-to-God-ham does not generally come out of a Jewish kitchen.  Even so, this being an Open Salon Kitchen Challenge I am challenged to begin with a confession: a.) that I cook with pork on occasion, and b.) the soup shown below,  a first attempt photographed earlier in the week, was prepared for quick gratification: from canned chicken broth and thick slices of spiral cut ham and brought to the table in about an hour and a half.

No bones about it.  My soup was prepared in a slapdash fashion. No slow cookin' for tender lovin’ flavors blended. No “sweating” aromatic vegetables. No pureeing in a food processor or with the fancy emulsion blender I have yet to purchase from Williams-Sonoma.  No finish with flourish of butter, fresh tarragon and a splash of Madeira, okay?
Expedient home cook that I am, I added lentils to the soup, to fill in for the deficit of split peas on hand in the cupboard.  The lentils called for  some compensation, a pinch of cumin, adding its own distinction and decisive Middle Eastern flair.  (Some may call this cooking with finesse, restraint with salt being the ultimate measure.) The result? Not bad, but not a classic pea soup, the texture being more of a hearty porridge.  

Satisfying as the soup may have been as Dinner for Two on a Tuesday Night, the leftover is still curing like concrete in the fridge. 

Anyone who knows their soup knows better not to begin with ingredients out of a can.  Too salty for starters.  
On the advice - gleaned from a favorite cookbook on my shelf Staff Meals from Chanterelle, by New York chef David Waltuck . . . 
“There are no shortcuts to making pea soup with ham, but the effort is well worth the tasty end result. It’s best to plan on preparing this over a two day period -- fixing the ham stock the first day, and finishing the soup the next.”

Oy!  That, my dear, hungry reader,  is precisely what I’ve done for you this weekend.  
Pea Soup: the Remake,  produced and directed as pea soup deserves to be made, starting with a ham hock and a chicken.  (Wow, if that doesn’t sound like the start of a Jewish joke: a Ham Hock and a Chicken walk into a bar)  
Anyway, let me tell you, the aroma now wafting from the kitchen is now decidedly different. Heavenly.  Thanks to yesterday’s work (quite a bit of fussing with bones, fat, vegetables, herbs and strainers, I am well stocked for future soups and sauces. 
The Stock and Trade of Success in the Kitchen. 
As any chef will tell you, stock is essential to every cook, (uh, worthy of his or her salt?) On my bookshelf, (and yet to be fully read or appreciated) is an unassuming potful of professional advice, entitled The Elements of Cooking, by Michael Ruhlman - a fine writer turned fine chef.  In his brilliance, Ruhlman has written the equivalent of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style for the kitchen - sharing everything essential that he has  learned in culinary school and in his  travels as a professional chef.  First chapter, opening line of the book: 
“In the creation of good food, no preparation comes close to matching the power of fresh stock.  It’s called le fond, “the foundation,” in the French kitchen for a reason: stock lays the groundwork and will be the support structure for much of what’s to come. Stock is the first lesson taught in the kitchens of the best cooking schools for a reason.”
Okey-dokey. After all the brewing and stewing over the stock, I  believe I've demonstrated that practice makes perfect (in both cooking and photography).  Here’s the recipe I’m using today. (From Staff Meals, by David Waltuck). A marked improvement over Tuesday's soup, I would say.  Wouldn't you?  








For the ham stock:
3 or 4 ham hocks ( 2 to 3 pounds)
3 large carrots, unpeeled, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 large onions, unpeeled cut into large chunks
About 5 quarts Chicken Stock (enough to cover the ham, and vegetables)
For the soup:
5 quarts ham stock
1/4 vegetable oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds green split peas
3 medium carrots, peeled,and sliced
3 bay leaves
Coarse (kosher) salt and ground pepper to taste
Optional: 2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Diced ham for garnish
Directions (Do you really want the directions?  Okay.)
  1. For the ham stock: combine ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to a boil, skimming the surface foam as needed.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered for 2 1/2 hours. Cool, strain, and refrigerate overnight.
  2. To prepare the soup, removed the layer of fat on the surface of the stock. Heat the oil in a large stockpot, sweat the onions and garlic (careful not to brown).
  3. Add peas, carrots, by leaves and 5 quarts of stock. Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce to low and maintain a steady simmer ( a steam) about 2 hours.  When the soup is done it should be thick, but not porridge-like.
  4. Remove soup from the heat, discard bay leaves, season with salt and pepper. Stir in a little butter to finish. Ladle, garnish with ham, photograph in a ray of sunlight, and enjoy. 
“Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup?
Beau - ootiful Soo --oop!
Beau- ootiful Soo --oop!
Soo-oop of the e-e-evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!
         (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
& thanks for sloggin’ and slurpin’  by.  

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