It may surprise you to know that there is an on-going debate on the Internet as to whether one should drink or eat one’s soup. Well, I say, it matters naught whether you use a spoon and a bowl or two hands holding a cup, when you have the urge to ingest this divine, semi-liquid food — just go for it.
I’m thinking about soup because of the weather (Don’t you just crave a bowl of hot tasty food during these bone-chilling, icy-blue and white, February days?) but also because February is the month for Hamilton’s SoupFest! one of our jolliest annual celebrations. This year it’s “Soupfest!-13-“, taking place on Tuesday, February 24th from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Hamilton Convention Centre on Summers Lane.
At Soupfest you will be able to try four bowls of soup for $12 (advance ticket, $15 at door) which may sound inadequate, but I have attended this event a couple of times, and believe me, this will fill you up. The soups are being made by 21 local restaurants — places such as Baci Ristorante, West Plains Bistro, My-Thai Restaurant, Cascata Bistro — for the complete list, check out the poster on the Living Rock website
— and there will be entertainment throughout the day.
One of the high points of the event is the contest. Participants can vote on their favorite soups and the results are tallied under a great cloak of secrecy and announced the next day. Last year’s winners were:
Best Display – Collins’ Brewhouse
Best Locally Grown — Detour Cafe
Most Creative – Baci Ristorante
Best Soup – 4th Course Bistro at Copetown Woods
Chef’s Choice — The Harbour Diner
Soupfest is sponsored by First Ontario Credit Union as a benefit for Living Rock Ministries. Living Rock supports youth ages 13 – 25 who are at risk of falling through the cracks in our community from factors such as poverty, mental illness, addiction or disenfranchisement. The organization provides everything from meal programs to a food bank, from safe and relevant social and recreational programming, to pre-employment and employment programs. So you can feel good enjoying your soup and, at the same time, feel good about yourself for helping out your community.
I believe that every ethnic group has some favored type of soup and I am avid to try all of them from creamy to chunky, from chowder to bouillon. And I love the process of making soup; you get to be as creative as you like using up leftovers in the refrigerator with abandon, or you can follow the recipe and just leave the results simmering on the stove for a few hours. Making soup provides the perfect cooking situation for writers — drop a few things into the broth, go back to the computer for a few minutes, chop a few things, add them to the soup, taste for salt, and back to the keyboard. All done to the accompaniment of that spicy humid vapour that is curling a finger to beckon you back into the kitchen.
Anyway, I like to challenge myself occasionally and this year decided that I was going to learn how to make proper consommé with crystal clear, transparent, sparkling stock. I checked out Julia’s recipe (Julia Child) and decided that I needed a bit more simplicity so turned to the Internet where I found Daniel Boulud‘s method. (Boulud is that world famous chef from Lyon with award winning restaurants all over the world.) Here is a video from Saveur of how Boulud makes chicken consommé and clarifies the stock:
You may want to eat the delicious stock simply poured over a few julienned vegetables or cooked rice or fine noodles. Or, if you are feeling more ambitious, here is a recipe that uses the stock for a soup that is light, yet has a real intensity of flavour.
Thai Fish Soup
from “The Soup Bible”, editor Deborah Mayhew
12 oz large zipperback shrimp
1 tbsp peanut oil
5 cups chicken (or fish) stock
1 lemon grass stalk, bruised and cut into 1 inch lengths
2 kaffir lime leaves torn into pieces
juice and finely grated rind of 1 lime
1/2 fresh green chili, seeded and finely sliced
24 mussels scrubbed
4 oz. firm white fish (monkfish?) cut into chunks
2 tsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
Garnish: 1 kaffir lime leaf, shredded, 1/2 red chili, finely sliced
1) Peel the shrimps reserving the shells.
2) Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the shells until pink. Add the stock, lemon grass, lime leaves, lime rind and chili. Bring to the boil, simmer for 20 minutes, then strain through a sieve, reserving the liquid.
3) Prepare the scallops by cutting them in half, leaving the corals attached to one half.
4) Return the stock to a clean pan, add the shrimp, mussels, monkfish and scallops and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice and nam pla.
5) Serve garnished with the shredded lime leaf and finely chopped red chili.
You should be able to find the nam pla (Thai fish sauce) and the kaffir lime leaves in the Thai section of your grocery store. If you can’t find the kaffir leaves, use coriander (cilantro). The fish sauce doesn’t taste terribly “fishy”, but it’s quite salty, so no extra salt is required. The soup ends up looking like all of the bounty of the sea suspended in the very clear stock.