Cream of mushroom soup

bowloshrooms.jpgWhen you read that title, did you think of a cylindrical, gelatinous mass, perhaps quivering atop some tuna fresh out of the can, frozen corn kernels and peas, maybe some shredded cheddar?

Campbell's cream of mushroom soup is the base that launched a thousand casseroles. But guess what's in it? Most likely, bioengineered food. Suspect ingredients listed on the label include vegetable oil (corn, cottonseed, canola and/or soybean) and modified food starch. Also, it's sky-high in sodium at 870mg. Also -- yuck!

I was telling my pal Wild Ginger that I used to put cream of mushroom in everything because I just didn't know how to cook. "Have you ever tried real cream of mushroom soup?" she asked me.

Well, no. What the hell is that? Does it actually have mushrooms in it? And what is meant by this whole "cream" business? Is cream of mushroom soup even edible by itself?

She gave me a recipe she just happened to have lying around (she's magic like that), and told me to prepare myself for a tasty delight. At least, I think she said that. If she didn't, she certainly should have, because the recipe I'm about to post here is going to rock you like a hurricane.

But first, I'd like to give a few tips about shrooms.

sliceshroom.jpgSelection

A sign of freshness (besides not smelling like pee) is closed gills. Look for mushrooms that are smooth and have no visible gills. Unless you're getting portabellos or something like that. I'm talking about the baby bellas and crimini here. Of course, for maximum freshness, you should buy them at your local farmer's market.

Storage

Paper bag. Shrooms no likey plastic. They get all slimy when you put them in plastic. Use them as soon as you can, but they should keep for about five days or so in the fridge before they start getting shriveled up. Don't put them in the crisper drawer! That would be silly. I've never, ever done that.

Really, it wasn't me.

Cleaning

Don't run them under water. It ruins the flavor. At least that's what all the foodies say. I haven't really noticed a difference, but this technique is easier and more effective anyway: get a damp paper towel and gently wipe any dirt off of the caps. I try to go in the direction of the skin so I don't rub it off -- I'm assuming that's where all the "flavor" is from.

The Chopping and the Slicing

knifeshroom.jpgWhen I worked at a coffeeshop in Seattle, we had to do some chopping and slicing for the veggie sandwiches we made there. I didn't know what the hell I was doing, so a coworker took pity on me and taught me how to chop quickly and competently with a really big knife. This was very confusing for people whom I would later meet, who wondered why I was such a dynamo with a knife but had no idea how to cook.

Here is exactly how it's done: Curl the tips of your fingers under the middle segment of your finger, using the middle segment as a guide for the knife. The middle segment is the part between the first joint on your finger underneath your fingernail and the second joint.

cookshrooms.jpgMake sure your thumb is always behind your fingers, or you will cut it, and it will hurt. Keep scooting your hand backwards, using your middle segment as a guide. The main point is to avoid using your fingertips as a guide, making sure instead to hold the flat part of the knife close against that middle segment, rendering it nearly impossible to cut yourself. This will allow you to slice faster and more efficiently.

It took about 45 minutes to cook the soup, including prep time. You could knock the prep time down a notch if you used a food processor to slice and one of those chopping utensils for the chopped mushrooms. The soup smelled so good when I was cooking it that it tore E. Ho away from his book. And it's not easy to get E. Ho away from his book. Some people curl up with a book, but E. Ho exiles himself with a book. He is a sci-fi/ fantasy fan, and will read anything with a map of a made-up country and a glossary of terms such as "Farlon" and "glon."

But I digress.

simmershroom.jpg"Whatcha making?" He peered into the saucepan.

"Cream of mushroom soup," I said, stirring. He came in just at the right time, with sliced mushrooms floating prettily on top of the
creamy soup, steam rising lightly.

"Wow, I never thought I could get excited about cream of mushroom soup."

"I thought we deserved to find out what it really tastes like." And we did, as you all do. It may seem like a lot of work to make something "from scratch." Even the term "from scratch" makes it sound so joyless and troublesome. But it is a part of life that we should not deny ourselves -- to take care in the food we prepare and how we prepare it. It is more than simply not eating food that was prepared for you as cheaply as possible, with no consideration of your health. It's about eating for life, and for love. It's mushroom soup for the soul.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

The recipe is from Eric Lie from Edmonds, Washington, and was pulled from the MasterCook website.

lunchshroom.jpg1 lb mushrooms,rinsed & drained

2 T butter or margarine

1 large onion,chopped

1/2 t dried thyme leaves (I would use fresh)

1/4 c all-purpose flour

6 c chicken broth

1 bay leaf

1 c whipping cream

3 T dry sherry (I used Osborne pale dry sherry)

Chop half the mushrooms; thinly slice the remaining mushrooms and set aside. Melt butter in a 5-6 quart pan over medium-high heat; add chopped mushrooms, onion, and thyme. Stir often until the vegetables are lightly browned, 15-20 minutes. Mix flour with vegetables. Pour into a blender or food processor; whirl, adding as much broth as needed to get the mixture smoothly pureed. Pour mixture back into pan; add remaining broth, sliced mushrooms, bay leaf, and cream. Bring soup to a boil on high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, about 10 minutes. Add sherry, salt, and pepper to taste. Makes about 8 cups.

Picture of youthful and gorgeous hands by E.I.E.I. Ho

8 Responsesto “Cream of mushroom soup”

  1. Dave says:

    the Cafe Flora (a vegetarian restaurant in Seattle) cookbook has a recipe for "Mushroom Essence", which is basically just a strong mushroom broth. the best part about it is that you can use otherwise unused mushroom parts; whenever i cook mushrooms i save the stems in the freezer, and then periodically use the stems to make broth.

    at any rate, i'd bet that using that in place of the chicken broth would make the soup both vegetarian and extra-mushroomy-tasting, if you like that sort of thing.

  2. Omniwhore says:

    Hey, I've been to Cafe Flora! On Madison Street, yes? Butter Bitch did a review, also, for those interested.

    I'll have to try that suggestion, or see if I can find a mushroom broth online. I'm lucky enough to have a few growers in Austin, although I'm sure those in Seattle have plenty of mushroom people to choose from.

    I especially like the idea of saving unused mushroom parts -- I hate throwing away any kind of food, and sometimes chopping and gnoshing don't mix very well!

  3. Berkeley wino says:

    Wow, this looks tasty. And those certainly are some youthful and gorgeous hands.

    However, I'm skeptical of the paper towel washing -- the ones I buy from the market here are quite dirty, and need a good rinsing. I just lay them on a dishtowel, stem side down, to air-dry thoroughly before I use them — they seem plenty flavorful, I think the main thing is to avoid waterlogging a recipe as they have a lot of liquid in them anyway.

  4. Man of La Muncha says:

    We have a mushroom CSA option through locally, with information relayed in our information packets from veggie CSA with Helsing Junction. I was waffling about whether to join, but the "Essence" recipe has sealed the deal.

    Good advice on how to slice!

    Update: Corrections to my original comment are above.  I'll post more information about the mushroom CSA shortly.

  5. Dave says:

    i just flipped through Helsing Junction's website and didn't see any info about a mushroom option -- do you know if there's info on this (or other CSA options, if there are any) online? thanks...

  6. ladygoat says:

    Yum - that looks like a perfect winter dinner.

  7. Aryeh says:

    I recall in Harold McGee's Curious Cook he bursts the 'no wash' mushroom myth with a simple experiment which you can easily recreate: on a kitchen scale he weighed his mushrooms before and after a 5 minute soaking (not even just a rinsing!). The difference was non-existent to negligible. So go ahead and wash them!

  8. Omniwhore says:

    Thanks Aryeh! Does McGee say whether it's better to vacuum first or dust first? I still don't know.

    I guess it's like the answer to any other debate -- go with your gut, folks!