Fast Food My Way: Mushroom Velouté with Almonds
Or, as we call it around here, cream of mushroom soup. This one's much better than Campbell's, though. Pépin uses dried wood ear mushrooms to give the soup extra flavor. They add a nice woodsy aroma and the almonds give a bit of crunch. It's a lovely recipe for autumn.
There are a couple of changes you could make to this recipe, depending on what result you want. I like my puréed soups to have a rather thick texture, so I poured off a bit of the broth before mixing the soup in the blender, for a thicker result. I also reduced the amount of half-half called for in the original recipe by 1/2 cup, since the soup was plenty creamy already. If you like your soup to be, well, soupier, then simply purée all of the liquid, and add all of the half-and-half.
The recipe calls for 1 or 2 pieces of wood ear mushrooms, or about 1/4 cup after cooking. I think the soup could use more of them, but this is a matter of preference. If you don't like the somewhat-chewy texture of reconstituted dried mushrooms, use them simply as a garnish, as called for in the original recipe. Or leave them off your soup entirely. But don't omit them from the cooking process, as they add a necessary depth to the broth. In my grocery store, they are sold in 1/2 oz. packages in the produce section. Use the entire package if you want a lot of texture in your soup.
Pépin recommends using older button mushrooms whose gills have begun to open, since these have a stronger flavor than young, closed mushrooms. I normally avoid the presliced mushrooms that are sold in the grocery store, because they usually look kind of old. But for this recipe, that's what you want. Not only are packaged, presliced mushrooms older and stronger-flavored, but the fact that they are already sliced eliminates a big part of the prep work. Bonus!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Yield: about 4 servings
1 cup sliced shallots
1 Tbsp sliced garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
4 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 pound button mushrooms (presliced ones work well here; if not using, then roughly chop the mushrooms)
Dried wood ear mushrooms (also called tree ear or cloud ear), up to 1/2 oz., as desired
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/2 to 1 cup half-and-half
Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the shallots and garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until softened, then add the flour and stir well. Stir in the stock, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Add the button mushrooms. Add the wood ear mushrooms; if you want a lot of them, add up to 1/2 oz. If you only want to use them for garnish or flavoring, use 1 or 2 pieces. Bring the liquid back to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the wood ear mushrooms after 15 minutes. When the wood ears are cool enough to handle, remove and discard any tough roots, then chop roughly and set aside until serving time.
Sauté the almonds in a small nonstick pan over medium heat until lightly golden, about 4 minutes.
To finish the soup: For a thinner texture, simply emulsify the soup with a hand blender, regular blender, or food processor. For a thicker texture, drain off up to 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid, then emulsify the soup. Add up to 1 cup of half-and-half, depending on your preference. Stir well to combine, and bring the soup back up to a simmer on the stovetop. If using lots of wood ear mushrooms, add them back to the soup now and stir to combine. If you're using them simply for garnish, ladle the soup into bowls and top with a sprinkling of wood ears.
Top the soup with the sliced almonds and serve with crusty bread, crackers, or breadsticks.