soup


One of the most generally useful Asian cookbooks I own is The Complete Book of Japanese Cooking, by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz and Mitsuko Endo, which I found at a Half-Price Books near my old apartment in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. It’s wide in scope, and covers most of the basic and traditional dishes. When I was a budding anime fan in college, I used to use it as a reference guide to the various things the characters ate.

It’s an older cookbook (it was first published in 1976), and it therefore assumes that you’re going to have to make your own stocks and condiments rather than buying them at the supermarket (imagine, if you can in our own sushi-in-the-deli century, a day when supermarkets carried almost no Asian food!). This isn’t a bad thing, since it’s instructive to see how they’re made…and if you’ve got the time, homemade always tastes better anyway.

Japan’s got a lot to teach single people about cooking. Not only do they have to provide quick, tasty food for a huge population of workers, but they have to do it in some pretty oppressive summer heat. This is a classic example:

Somen no Hiyashisuimono (from The Complete Book of Japanese Cooking)

  • 1 oz (about 2 bundles) somen noodles (you can usually find these in your supermarket’s Asian section. If not, go to your nearest Asian market and buy some after staring slack-jawed at their amazing noodle section for a while)
  • 3 cups dashi (I just use Hon-Dashi, following the package directions)
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 6 large green beans
  • salt

Add noodles to a medium saucepan of boiling water and cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Return to a boil and add 1 cup cold water, return to a boil again, and drain. Rinse noodles with cold water in a colander, drain, and set aside.

Bring dashi stock to boil in a saucepan and add the soy sauce and salt to taste. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Drop beans into boiling, salted water and cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Drain, rinse, and cool. Cut each bean into three diagonal slices.

Divide noodles amongst 4 bowls and add stock and beans.

I had this with some grilled beef in bulgogi marinade (Choripdong’s my brand of preference for this most useful item). Total cooking time…25 minutes. Perfect for a muggy day after work.

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Soup was a relatively new and trendy addition to the menu in the 18th Century. Prior to its invention in France during the latter half of the previous century, people generally ate pottage, a thick, stewlike mixture of meats, vegetables, and grains that came in many different regional forms. Soup very quickly overtook pottage amongst fashionable eating circles in Europe, and by the time our period begins (approximately 1730-1820), pottage was considered to be distinctly “lower-class” and every meal began with a soup course of some kind.

For my own 18th Century mini-meal, I went with a simple cream soup called Soupe a la Reine (as befits a French innovation, most of the popular 18th Century soups had dandified French names). It appears in cookbooks  all through the period, gaining and losing ingredients depending on the author, but it’s essentially a chicken and rice soup with cream. My version comes from Michael Barry’s Old English Recipes, and it’s based on a recipe written down by the Champneys family of Lynse, England:

White Soup or Soupe a la Reine: To some good strong broth add as much Rice as will make it tolerably thick, with the white meat of a chicken pounded so fine that it may be rubbed thro’ a Strainer along with the Rice – then add half a Pint of good Cream, and after the cream is added the whole is to be put into a Vessel of boiling Water & there kept until it is wanted to be sent up. It must not on any account to be boiled over the Fire after the Cream is added to the Soup. The Rice must be well washed and blanched before it is put to the Broth.

Soupe a la Reine and smoked salmon

Along with the soup, we had some good smoked Atlantic salmon. Even in the 18th Century, the Scots (or North Britons, as the patriotic referred to them) were renowned for their prowess in smoking fish, and with new roads connecting England and Scotland and plenty of Scots moving south to seek their fortune, Scottish smoked salmon began to show up on fashionable tables with increasing frequency. Sadly, real Scottish smoked salmon might as well be plated in gold regarding its availablility here, but a little Nova salmon made a decent compromise.

I think this was the most successful part of the meal. The soup has a light creamy texture, and the flavor’s complimented very well by the salmon. I’d be more than willing to make an entire meal of the two.

Soupe a la Reine:

  • 1 chicken carcass, cleaned
  • 1 additional chicken breast, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 leek, cleaned
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig each thyme, celery, and parsley
  • 2 pts water
  • 3 oz (about 3/8 cup) long grain rice (brown is more hardcore)
  • 1/2 pt cream
  • Parsley or celery for garnish
  • Salt and white pepper as needed

Put chicken carcass and vegetables in a pot with 2pts water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about an hour. Strain the resulting broth. Add rice and quartered chicken breast to the broth and return to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until rice is tender and chicken cooked. Put the whole soup into a food processor or similar instrument and blend it till smooth. If you want to be hardcore, you can force it through a sieve (I was not). Return to a pot, season with salt and white pepper to taste, and stir in the cream. Don’t let the soup boil once the cream is in there.