Are there any Department Stores out there that still have their own restaurants inside? I haven’t seen one in a long time. Many years ago, when little cafes, delis, and restaurants were still found nestled into the corners of the Dayton’s, Marshall Field’s, and Goldblatt’s stores, I worked at such a place. It had some wonderful little dishes – some quirky, such as a jelly omelet, and some delightful, such as their signature soup, cream of mushroom. That stuff was so thick you could stand a spoon in it, and full of earthy mushroom flavor. And yes, cream. It was garnished with a swirl of unsweetened whipped cream that spread like a velvet carpet across the top of the steaming bowl. I was obsessed. So much so that, after I left there, I took it upon myself to create my own version. It is now a favorite, but one I only dare make once or twice a year – usually for the church soup suppers. We have one just before Advent, after the sanctuary has been cleaned and decorated, and once at Easter, for the Maundy Thursday. It’s simple, really, but delicious and soul-satisfying.
Snad’s Cream of Mushroom Soup
2-4 Tbls unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 pound white mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped (I use the pulse setting on the food processor)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 -1 cup roux*
1 quart heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Melt butter in the bottom of a heavy soup pot. Sauté the onion until tender. Add mushrooms and garlic and continue to sauté until mushrooms are tender and have released their juice. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat and add the roux, stirring constantly, to thicken. I use a China hat or sieve and whisk to incorporate the roux, to avoid creating lumps. At this point, you could season the soup and serve it, if you are really trying to watch your cholesterol. It’s pretty tasty as is. Or you could use milk, or even 2% milk, if you insist.† But, if you want that velvety, luscious mouth-feel and oh-so-decadent taste, you really need to go with cream. If you are going to go all the way, be sure to thicken the soup enough so that another quart of liquid won’t make it too thin. This is supposed to be a substantial soup, after all.
So go ahead. Add the cream. Add the whole quart, gradually, while whisking, to ensure it doesn’t curdle. Gently warm the soup to serving temperature and season with salt to taste. That’s really it. Serve this soup with a small salad of field greens and some crusty, lusty bread ( with butter, of course) and enjoy.
A roux is essential for making many soups and sauces. I keep some on hand. It is shelf stable for a long time. Simply melt some butter in a heavy skillet. I use a cast iron skillet for the evenness of the heat. Once the butter is melted, add an equal weight of all-purpose flour. Stir to completely combine and return the skillet to a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Or, place the skillet in a 250˚F oven for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how much roux you are making. I used 8 ounces of butter and flour each and it took about 40 minutes to get just slightly brown and nutty smelling. Use what you need to use for your recipe, and put the rest in a container with a tight-fitting lid, once it is cooled.
† Using Lower Fat Dairy Instead of Cream
If you insist: it’s probably a good idea to temper the milk to prevent curdling, before you add it to the hot soup. Place your milk in a large bowl and add a few ladles of the hot soup. Whisk to combine, then add this mixture to your large pot of soup, while whisking. Carry on. But it won’t be as much fun. You have been warned.