Soups

Pea and ham soup

This is Grandma’s recipe.

Ham bones, or a combination of ham and bacon bones
2 onions, quartered
A few sticks of celery
3 or 4 large fresh carrots, grated
Several packets of split peas, green or yellow, or a combination of both (the colour of the peas doesn’t affect the flavour of the soup, only its colour)
1 teaspoon prepared hot English mustard
Additional ham, finely chopped

Remove any good ham that may be left on the bones, and set aside. Place bones in a large saucepan or stockpot with the onions and the celery. Cover with water, and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum that may form on the surface. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 4 – 5 hours, skimming when necessary. When you are happy with the colour and depth of the stock, strain it into a clean container and refrigerate so that fat can be easily removed.

Soak peas in cold water overnight, removing any black ones that will float to the surface when the peas are stirred.

Return the stock (with fat removed) to a heavy based casserole which has been greased on the bottom to stop the peas sticking during cooking. Add the strained peas, grated carrots and hot English mustard. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer slowly until the peas have lost their definition and soup has become thick. Take care that it does not burn on the bottom as the burnt bits will affect both the taste and the appearance of the soup. Lastly, add the chopped ham and stir in well. The soup should be thick, so don’t stint on the peas.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pumkin soup

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Queensland Blue* pumpkin, peeled and diced (quantities are difficult here)
3 – 4 large onions, chopped
Oil for cooking
Good quality chicken stock or vegetable stock
Nutmeg, grated
Cream, sour cream, or mascarpone
* If you want to be healthy and avoid cream, use home made almond milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy based frying pan, add onion and sauté until tender.

Add pumpkin in batches, and cook a little, making sure not to burn the onion.

Transfer onion and pumpkin to a heavy casserole, add chicken stock, and simmer gently until the pumpkin is tender.

Puree the pumpkin and onion mixture in a food processor, or pass through the fine sieve of a mouli.

Just before serving, stir in cream, sour cream, mascarpone (or almond milk), being careful not to add too much. Add a little grated nutmeg, and season to taste.

*Queensland Blue pumpkins are hard to find these days as they have very tough skins. To substitute, use another blue skin variety.

Fish stock (fish fumet)

Fish and other seafood must be treated differently from meat or chicken when making stock. It cannot be simmered for hours as meat can, or the resulting stock will be bitter, and quite toxic. Fish fumet always contains white wine, but you can make it without and add the wine later, when you are using the stock in a soup or sauce.

For years we have used a scaled and cleaned whole bream or whiting frames as the starting point for fish fumet, but fish frames, particularly reef fish frames are usually available very cheaply from any good fishmonger. I have used red emperor, nanagai, coral trout and even Tasmanian salmon, although the salmon frames give a distinctly salmon taste.

50g butter or a little grapeseed oil
3 sticks celery
1 medium onion, chopped
Sprigs of parsley and thyme
½ bay leaf
½ bottle of dry white wine
Whiting frames and/or scaled and cleaned whole bream, or
1 or 2 white fleshed reef fish frames
Water to cover

In a large stockpot, melt the butter or heat the oil and add the herbs, onions, carrots and celery. Cook over a gentle heat without browning. Add the fish frames and /or the whole bream and allow the frames to saute briefly, turning them to ensure even cooking.

Add the white wine. Cover the pot and increase heat to high. When the wine has reduced to half its previous volume, put in enough cold water to cover the fish. Bring back to the boil, reduce heat, skim and simmer the stock for no more than 30 minutes.

Strain the stock through a coarse sieve, pressing the fish and vegetables with the back of a spoon to release as much flavour as possible. Return fish and vegetables to the pot, add a little boiling water and stir well, but do not cook any further. Strain this into the stock. Discard the frames and the vegetables and re-strain the stock through a fine sieve.

Refrigerate stock so that the fats rise to the surface, then skim. (Fish frames do contain fat.)

Fish stock will keep well in the freezer.

Roasted (brown) chicken stock

I have never had a problem with chicken carcasses being placed straight in the stock pot without prior roasting. However Philip Johnson included a recipe for roasted chicken stock in his e’cco 1 cookbook, giving it as an alternative to traditional chicken stock. Gordon Ramsey, the bad boy of English cooking is unequivocal. White chicken stock, he says, is anaemic and to give it more depth of flavour, the first thing to do is to brown the carcasses. (He actually calls it Brown Chicken Stock.) I am sticking with Philip’s  name, (because a sauce made from browned chicken carcasses will not, technically, be a brown sauce). This recipe is a combination of both of theirs, plus mine. They both include raw garlic in the stock and I believe that raw garlic gives a harsh, unpleasant flavour. If I were using garlic, I would use garlic confit.

2 kg chicken bones and carcasses
1 carrot, diced
1 – 2 onions, roughly chopped
a few cloves of garlic confit (optional)
1 leek, well washed and sliced
2 tablespoons tomato puree
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoons white peppercorns
a few parsley stems
1 cup of white wine

Preheat the oven to 200C. Place chicken carcasses in a roasting pan and roast until golden. Take care not to colour the chicken too much as this will make the stock bitter.

Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the bones to a large stock pot and add remaining ingredients, except the wine. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil, skimming off any impurities that rise to the surface.

Pour off and discard any fat from roasting pan, then place pan over moderate heat and deglaze by adding the wine and stirring well to loosen the sediment. Pour mixture into stock pot and continue to simmer gently for 1 ½ hours, skimming occasionally.

Strain stock, cool and refrigerate overnight. Next morning, carefully remove any fat from the surface.

Freeze until ready to use.

Chicken stock

Making Chicken Stock

Chicken frames, as many as you can comfortably fit in the stock pot
1 – 2 onions, roughly chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4 – 6 sticks celery roughly chopped
A handful of parsley
Water to cover
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the frames in a large stock pot, add the onion, carrot, celery and parsley and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat, then cover and allow to simmer over very low heat for 5 – 6 hours if possible.

Strain, pressing the bones with the back of a spoon, to release all the juices. Transfer to a clean container and allow to cool. Refrigerate as soon as possible, then leave overnight until stock is completely cold and all fat has risen to the surface. De-grease the stock carefully. This is particularly important if you are making a consomme. The stock should be a thick jelly. Reheat just enough to liquefy the stock and pour into airtight containers, some of which should be no bigger than 250ml capacity.

Freeze when cool.

 You will notice that I never add salt to chicken stock. I prefer to season the dish to which the stock is added.

Stock or Bouillon

It should come as no surprise to you that I consider good stock to be the single most important ingredient to have on hand in the kitchen; regardless of what the recipe says, a stock cube crumbled in water is no substitute and often adds unwanted saltiness. We are lucky to be able to buy commercially prepared stock these days and this is quite good. Always have chicken, beef and vegetable stock on hand, whether it be commercially or home made, and when a recipe tells you to add water, think about whether substituting stock would be an improvement. When Nanya boiled peas, beans or carrots, (never vegetables of the cabbage family, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts or cauliflower,) the water was always kept to be added to gravies or soups.

 Campbell’s make a chicken consommé and a beef consommé, sold as canned soups, and these are excellent, as in both the stock has been reduced to a jelly and then clarified. They also make chicken, beef, fish and vegetable stocks, which are very acceptable.

 Stocks add depth to dishes. They transform soups, sauces, gravies, casseroles and a host of other dishes from ‘thin’ and uninteresting, to tasty and satisfying. The three basic stocks are chicken and beef, often called ‘bouillon’, and fish, which is often referred  to as ‘fumet’. You will notice that a fish fumet is made using white wine, although if the fumet is destined to be fish soup, the wine can be added later when the soup is being made.

 The technique for making beef stock is different from that of ‘white’ chicken stock.  It is the same, however, for roasted chicken stock. With beef stock, the beef, bones, chicken carcasses and some of the vegetables are usually roasted with a little oil or fat in a baking dish for an hour or so before being added to the stock pot. This procedure helps to colour the stock, and if it is not done at this early stage, no amount of simmering later will achieve the same result. Veal bones are often used, either with beef bones or on their own. Mushroom skins or stems and brown onion skins add colour. If making an ox-tail consommé, the beef bones should obviously be ox-tail. You will notice that demi-glace is really nothing more than a very sumptuous beef bouillon simmered very slowly for a very long time until it has reduced to sauce consistency.

 Chicken stock is very easy to make, especially now that boned chicken breasts and thighs are more popular than whole chickens and most specialty chicken shops are trying desperately to get rid of the carcasses. Unfortunately some of them are mincing all their carcasses for pet mince; while this is great for the pets, it could become a disaster for cooks. Whole chickens can be used, but this is obviously expensive and quite unnecessary. If using a whole chicken, always supplement it with extra carcasses.

Almond milk and asparagus soup with truffle oil

This is not one of mum’s recipes but my own after my visit to The Sand End pub in Kate’s street in London. Saturday night was my first attempt and other than not being able to get the flower petals to garnish, it looked and tasted fantastic!

I made the almond milk from scratch as opinion seems to be that packaged almond milk has too much water added. I used raw almonds and it was very time consuming as you need to blanch the almonds and remove the skin. When I do it again, I’ll just buy blanched almonds although they do come at a premium price.

500g of blanched almonds
Hot water
3 bunches of asparagus
Lemon juice of one small lemon
Lemon zest
Chicken (or vegetable stock)
Truffle oil
Edible flowers (if available)

Pour boiling water over almonds and allow them to soften for 2 hours. Strain and add half the almonds to blender (500 grams is too much for most blenders). While blending the almonds slowly pour hot water into the blender – but do not add too much too quickly; you want a soup-like consistency. Repeat for the second half of the almonds.

Using a muslin cloth, strain the blended almonds and water mixture into a bowl. I hung mine up and let it drip, but still ended up squeezing the milk out by hand. The resulting liquid should be the consistency of milk but “grainier”.

Steam the asparagus to a firm but edible consistency – do not overcook. Drain and then place approximately two bunches of asparagus into the blender until it becomes a paste. The remaining asparagus is for garnish. Add the almond milk back into the blender and continue to blend. The resulting liquid should be still quite runny.

Pour the soup into a saucepan and add approximately 1 cup of stock, one piece of lemon peel and the juice of one lemon over a watched gentle flame. Heat the soup, continually stirring so that it does not stick to the base. As you do this the soup will thicken. You want the soup to become very thick so that you can thin it by adding more stock (but without adding so much that the subtle almond and asparagus tastes are over-powered).

Before serving, cut the remaining asparagus spears in half and add 2 spears to a shallow soup bowl. Remove the lemon skin and ladle the soup over the asparagus.

To serve, garnish with a drizzle of truffle oil and a pinch of lemon zest. If you happen to be able to find edible flower petals then this looks great.

Serves 4.