02 January 2012
Post 464: The Kitchen as Laboratory
Although this was a bit more science-y than I was expecting, it was easy to at least get the idea behind the article, even if my eyes glazed over the jargon and scientific concepts I haven't encountered since my Chem 1 class in 2003. In any case, I've always loved cooking and baking and the balance of science and art needed to make something that would satisfy a basic need if done adequately and lead to exaltation if done exceedingly well.
One of the things I learned to make this year was a fairly excellent cream of mushroom soup.* I have played quite a bit with this recipe, trying to determine when the best time is to add the flour and the mushrooms and which alcohols to use, etc. While sherry is a common flavoring, added at the end of cooking the mushroom soup, I have found that adding a bit of gin in the broth does quite a bit for enriching the umami of the broth and earthier mushrooms like portabellos.
In my experimenting, I have also found that using a mix of mushrooms creates a better flavor, and also lets me buy cheaper mushrooms, while allowing the more expensive ones to create a better flavor. In other words, I tend to use two parts button mushrooms and one part portabello or oyster mushrooms.
In my experimenting, I have also found that using a mix of mushrooms creates a better flavor, and lets me buy some cheaper mushrooms while allowing the more expensive ones to create a better flavor. In other words, I use two parts button mushrooms and one part portabello or oyster mushrooms (I have also used shiitake, but find haven't quite figured out the best flavor pairings for it). This gives me a bit more flexibility as the button mushrooms are a more common flavor for our palate, which is easily identified and therefore makes my mushroom soup that much more "mushroomy" despite the fact that they usually have a more delicate flavor than portabellos.
Since I usually rely on bouillon instead of homemade stock, I have found that cooking with two pots in the initial stages is useful. One pot contains the broth, herbs, and gin. In the other pot I start with butter, garlic, and onions to make a roux. Having the broth as a standby allows me to add extra moisture if too much of the butter has cooked off and/or if I have added too much onion. At this step I also add finely diced mushroom stems. This way there is no waste of the mushroom, and it acts as an additional thickener. While adding the flour at a later stage does not take way from the taste of the soup, for whatever reason it does not thicken and become creamy. Instead it tends to form tiny flour dumplings which are a pain in the butt to try to break apart. Luckily, if this happens the soup is still entirely edible.
This is a little bit of my own kitchen chemistry. Are there special recipes you enjoy experimenting with? If you could work with any food, recipe, or cooking technique, what would you most like to work with?
My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: eGalley provided by Netgalley.
*Want my recipe? Leave a comment with contact info. I'm currently house sitting, so I'll get it to you when I get back on the 3rd or 4th.