For all of summer’s fecundity, the best of the season is in its transitory pleasures: Fresh salads and cold soups – quick and simple to make, and consumed immediately. Summer’s adjective is not comfort, and summery foods are not made for durability. That is autumn’s field. September is the first month of soup season, and I am excited.
Transitional by structure (preceding stew season and succeeding salad season), but not by nature, soup season is my favorite. The temperature is no longer hot enough to kill your appetite, but it is not cold enough to store up fat reserves (and yes, I definitely store them up over winter, via liberal usage of bacon in pot pies). Thus, a soup. Something to bubble away at the stove for hours as the night air turns nippy. Autumn returns summer’s fruits to the earth; rows of persimmon trees outside my office bore fruit and with no one to pick them, they simply over-ripened and fell to the ground. And nothing is earthier or more autumnal than mushrooms.
The abundance and varieties of mushrooms in China may be as awesome as they are daunting. But who says you need to know the name of something in order to cook and eat it? Not only will a trip to your Chinese greengrocer yield a grand selection of fresh mushrooms, but if you look hard enough, you’ll also find dried varieties – porcini, morels – that are incredibly pricey in the West. For soup, I would advise a combination of big meaty mushrooms with smaller, more flavorful ones. However, there are a few to avoid. Chashugu are long, thin, brown mushrooms, usually used in meat stews in Chinese cooking, but are too fibrous for soups. Caogu, those adorable mini egg shaped mushrooms with grey tips and delightful texture, are wasted in a pureed soup.
I’ve also included a stock recipe here, because canned stock, good or bad, is almost always imported and expensive for what it is. There’s no reason to fly in salty, tinny stock from the States when you can make delicious stock yourself for a few mao and the leftovers from last night’s roast chicken. For a vegetarian option, use water or veggie stock.
2-3 chicken carcass or a dozen chicken necks
1 medium carrot
1 small bunch celery
1 medium onion
1 bay leaf
If the carcass is raw, lay it in a roasting pan with carrot, celery and onion, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast in an oven at 210C for 30 minutes, turning once. Place everything, including the bay leaf, in the largest stock pot you have. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and skim off any foam. Turn the heat down slightly and simmer, covered, for two to three hours.
(serves 8, freezes well)
1 sprig each of parsley, thyme, celery
1 bay leaf
3 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ kg of assorted, chopped mushrooms
3 tbsp flour
½ cup of brandy, madeira, sherry, or white wine
4-5 cups chicken stock
⅓ cup of light cream
Tie parsley, thyme, celery, and bay leaf together with kitchen string (bouquet garni). In a large stock pot, melt butter on high heat. Add onions, garlic, salt and pepper, then saute. When the onion and garlic are translucent, add mushrooms. When mushrooms are slightly wilted, evenly sprinkle flour over the mixture and cook until slightly browned. Add the alcohol and simmer on high until liquid is reduced by half. Add stock, strained mushroom liquid and bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low. Simmer for 45 minutes. Fish out the bouquet garni, and ladle the soup into a blender, or use an immersion blender to puree the soup in batches. After blending the mixture, return the soup to the heat. Bring back to a boil and add cream, simmer for ten minutes. Adjust seasoning. Serve with a drizzle of cream and additional minced parsley.