Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Soup's On!

Soup day in the kitchen today and I have a newfound respect for lentil soup. Unfortunately, I've also confirmed my dislike of French onion soup.

Chef demo-ed lentil soup for us in the morning which gave us enough time to each have some shortly after lunch. It was really hearty and nutty without being thick or heavy. I've never enjoyed lentil soup, I think in the past I've generally had it overcooked so that the lentils were breaking apart. It was so enlightening to have a well-made soup that hadn't been suspended in a bain-marie for hours.

Today's kitchen practical was a little more chaotic since we had to make beef consommé, butternut squash soup and French onion soup . On top of the confusion cause by the kitchen rotation, there was some confusion about how many of the three soups we were to finish with at the end of the class. In the end, it all worked out well but the first five or ten minutes felt like a mad scramble by half the class and a dazed confusion by the other half.

We started with the beef consomme, which was something I was very interested in seeing. I understood that the mixture we were putting in would clarify the soup but I couldn't (and still can't, really) really wrap my head around the chemistry/physics of it all. I could hardly believe my eyes when the soup came out crystal clear and almost silky. Also, it tasted amazing; meaty and full but light and crisp.

Even though our butternut squash soup was far thicker than everyone else's, it was far and away the best tasting because of a little mistake made my Chef and unnoticed by us. After cooking the squash tender and using the immersion blender, we thought our soup was looking too thick. Chef told us to add in some chicken stock to thin the soup. What none of us remembered at that time was that the soup was supposed to be vegetarian and we should have added water instead. Eventually, our soup ended up with a consistency similar to baby food but it tasted excellent. The other (vegetarian) soups were bright and flavourful but tasting the difference between those soups and ours, it was clear how the addition of even a little stock could completely change the taste palette of a dish.

Lastly, the French onion soup. I found this soup to be more challenging than the others because of the patience it required, particularly when waiting for the onions to brown. It was hard to just let the onions go in the pan, I constantly felt like I should be stirring and checking on it because I knew if the onions burnt it was ruin the soup. While I was waiting for the onions to brown I noticed that my onions were very uniform and finely sliced--I couldn't believe it! Chef had shown us the proper way of slicing an onion the day before, but I hadn't thought I'd be able to execute it properly for a long time. I was actually very proud of myself for that. I had always thought my knife skills were subpar, so this was a nice little ego boost (particularly helpful in a self-esteem challenging week).

The soup turned out well and looked only slightly sunken (the crouton and cheese, that is) after coming out of the salamander. Even though I was able to season this soup to my liking, I can't help but feel that onion soup is generally too salty. I don't think I'll ever be a big fan of the soup... but I definitely love the bread and cheese.

I can't wait to try making the lentil soup for some of my friends!