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Splurge soup - Input Junkie
November 20th, 2013
12:42 pm

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Splurge soup
Seafood Cream Soup with Saffron and Asparagus

I was surprised at how self-conscious I felt about posting about this really rather moderate sort of a luxury, so there's going to be somewhat about money as well as cooking.

1 half pound each of shrimp, salmon (cut into fork-sized pieces), minced clams, and bay scallops
most of a pint of heavy cream
most of a quart of (store-bought) chicken stock
about a pound of asparagus
about half a cup of sliced almonds
about half a pound of oyster mushrooms
some salt
some white pepper
2 good-sized shallots, maybe a half cup when chopped up
about a teaspoon of saffron which was probably older than it should have been
some Pouldre Forte: Black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, galangal, cardamom, nutmeg, long pepper
some butter

First step, research! I looked at cream seafood soups and cream of asparagus.

I got one very valuable piece of information-- shell your shrimp, then simmer the shells for 15 minutes. The result had an amazing amount of flavor.

While the shrimp shells are simmering, I used enough butter to gently fry the almonds, asparagus, shallots, and mushrooms in a good sized aluminum pot.

When the shallots were done, I dumped in the cream, chicken stock, salt, pepper, pouldre forte and saffron, and simmered for about half an hour. Then I put in the salmon and shrimp (the largest pieces of meat-- bay scallops are tiny and minced clams are, well, minced) for a couple of minutes. When they were barely done, I put in the clams and scallops for something like a minute and turned off the heat.

It was a little bland, but when I added some hot sauce it was really excellent. On a second meal (a bowl of this soup is quite filling), I added an anchovy and that also worked well. This suggests that it mostly needed salt, but I'm going to try adding hot mustard in a future meal. More and/or stronger saffron would be a good idea.

It probably would have been better with the toasted almonds added as a garnish, but I just didn't want to bother.

OK, money. This cost about $50 or so, and I'm going to get at least five meals out of it. In other words, pricewise, it's just a little more expensive than fast food and highly competitive with low end restaurant food. Still, part of the theme was expensive ingredients.

So I'm going to look at modifying it to be cheaper and to be more expensive. And to look at what it would need to be kosher.

The most expensive part is the seafood (and I could have cut the price some by buying at the Italian Market instead of Whole Foods). The cheapest seafood was the clams. And I think spinach is cheaper than asparagus. I used oyster mushrooms because it was a seafood soup, so I went with the name. In retrospect, I think portobella mushrooms would have been better, and I'm looking forward to clam/spinach/portobella cream soup at some point. I'm not sure what spices or herbs it should have.

When I thought about increasing the luxury level, my first thought was pheasant stock-- pheasant seems to be about $25/$30 per pound in the US. dcseain pointed out that it's much cheaper in the UK, and a little research suggests that it's more like $10/pound there. Pheasant is very tasty, and I have no idea why no one has farmed it on a reasonably large scale in the US.

Other than that, there's upgrading the mushrooms. I think black trumpet and morel would be very nice, and both of them are visually interesting. Truffles are very expensive, but I've been disappointed by truffle products. I had a slice of truffle at a gourmet restaurant and it was wonderful, but I'm not sure whether it would go with the soup.

Macadamia nuts might work well.

I'm also unsure about good choices for more expensive seafood. Sea scallops at least have the virtue of being larger and more noticeable. I've had wonderful conch once (chewy and tasty). It might be a good idea. I can't see any point in getting larger shrimp.

As for kosher, all that's needed is for all the seafood to be fish rather than shellfish. I'm interested in suggestions for other sorts of fish. Bass? Trout?

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1026417.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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[User Picture]
From:elenbarathi
Date:November 20th, 2013 07:27 pm (UTC)
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It sounds yummy, and salmon, oysters, clams and chanterelles are all to be obtained around here, free for the getting.

It's a pity the chanterelle season is so brief. They're the best mushroom, mm-hmmm! but they can't be cultivated; the people who pick them for the restaurants scour the forest for them, and sell them for a high price, so one has to get out there early in the season to obtain any. They're so worth it, though, and they make the most delectable cream-of-mushroom soup in the world.

Seems like a waste of swordfish to put it in chowder, but I'm sure it would be very tasty there.

For my money, pheasant is no better than chicken. It just has that whole 'luxury' connotation because it's raised as game, released into the ersatz 'Wild' for idiots to go shoot it for fun. That's why it's not farmed on a large scale: there's no point, because what gives it the characteristic 'gamy' flavor is the wild diet, just like with venison. That's also why free-range chicken has so much more flavor than the factory-farmed kind that only ever eat commercial feed.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 20th, 2013 07:35 pm (UTC)
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Is free range pheasant that much harder to do than free range chicken?
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From:redbird
Date:November 20th, 2013 08:08 pm (UTC)
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Just at a guess, the problem is that pheasants fly much better than chickens do, so your free-range pheasant might wind up in a complete stranger's pot. (There was a small population feral pheasants in Inwood Hill Park back in the 1980s-90s, but either a hard winter or a persistent pheasant-eater wiped them out. They're rather startling when rising unexpectedly in the woods, because their hearing is better than mine.)
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:November 20th, 2013 08:19 pm (UTC)
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I believe you can limit birds' ability to fly by removing a primary feather or two.
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From:elenbarathi
Date:November 20th, 2013 09:14 pm (UTC)
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You can, but it's not as easy as it sounds. I used to have to do that to this one highly aggressive rooster, Snowball the Psychotic Attack Chicken, who would fly right over the fence and attack the children otherwise. I pity the predator that tried to take him on, but pheasants are small and shy; I don't think they'd last long free-ranging if they couldn't fly.

There are different regulations about how game-birds have to be raised - one can't just treat them like small, fancy chickens. Probably it's just more trouble than it's worth.
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From:jim_p
Date:November 20th, 2013 08:25 pm (UTC)
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I can think of three reasons why pheasant is not farmed in this country:

(1) The flying-away problem as mentioned elsewhere (which can be managed)

(2) Lack of demand: Americans typically only switch from chicken to turkey twice a year; there's very little demand for other forms of poultry except in ethnic niches

(3) There's at least one disease which is carried asymptomatically by chickens and is fatal to pheasants. I learned about this one the hard way (I let a guy keep his chickens on my land in exchange for his feeding my pea-fowl... the latter didn't last very long)
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From:elenbarathi
Date:November 20th, 2013 10:51 pm (UTC)
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Aha, #3 I did not know about - I'd guess that that means that one can't even keep pheasants in coops or pens that chickens have used, because the virus hangs around.

Even without that, pheasants sound fiddly to raise. There's enough that can go wrong just with plain old chickens.

Very sorry to hear about your pea-fowl; that's sad.
From:Eleanor Oster
Date:November 20th, 2013 11:07 pm (UTC)

Seafood yumminess

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I don't think I'd add a delicate fish like trout, but probably cod would go well.
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From:gildedacorn
Date:November 21st, 2013 02:02 am (UTC)
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1. I have copied this to my recipe file and will try it, but I will skip the boiling shrimp shells, because I have tracked my bad reactions to shrimp dishes to those which were made with boiled shrimp shells (I'm fine with the shrimp itself).

2. During my engagement I was taken to an extravagant French restaurant where my husband sensibly ordered the duck but I let the waiter talk me into the pheasant. It was dry and bland and we both agreed that pheasant goes largely on its reputation. (Quail, on the other hand, is really good when done right, but can be dried out easily because they're so small.)
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 21st, 2013 02:32 am (UTC)
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I cooked pheasant once years ago and it was very tasty. However, I suppose I should add the risk of getting mediocre pheasant to the price.
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From:acelightning
Date:November 21st, 2013 03:49 am (UTC)
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The first things I thought of for making it more expensive were fresh lobster (probably in place of the cheap minced clams), and dry white wine to replace some or all of the stock, which should be either fish stock (see below) and/or bottled clam juice. Also more saffron, which is the most expensive spice in the world. Garnish each serving with a spoonful of fresh beluga caviar. And be sure to make it when asparagus is out of season in your area, so it has to be flown in from Chile or someplace ;-)

To make it cheaper, use store-brand everything, canned wherever possible (and bought during a "canned everything" sale) - canned mushrooms ("stems and pieces", canned seafood of all kinds, canned peas instead of asparagus. Use a few dashes of paprika and/or turmeric instead of saffron. Half broth and half water. Leave out the almonds, and sprinkle crispy (packaged) chow mein noodles on top of each serving. Milk plus some extra powdered milk instead of cream. Maybe a cubed potato or two, so you need less of all the other ingredients.

To make it kosher (dairy, because of the cream), try different kinds of steakfish in place of/in addition to the salmon. Also sea bass, monkfish, whatever looks good and fresh in the market. If you can get fish trimmings from the fishmonger, make your broth from that (make lots, and freeze it in convenient amounts for later). I think wine would be good in the kosher version as well.

A little sriracha would probably improve all three versions :-)


Edited at 2013-11-21 04:21 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:November 21st, 2013 03:11 pm (UTC)
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Fresh peas might be a good choice for the moderate-priced version.

Butter might work to crank up the fat content for the cheap version.
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From:acelightning
Date:November 22nd, 2013 10:43 am (UTC)
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Although butter hasn't been prohibitively expensive for decades, many people still think of it as a minor luxury. The cheap version of the soup should be made with margarine (*yuck!*) or even generic vegetable oil. Also, ordinary onions and/or a dash of garlic powder are cheaper than shallots.
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From:inquisitiveravn
Date:November 21st, 2013 08:48 am (UTC)
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On the kosher front, I've had very convincing vegan fake shrimp made from taro root. You might be able to find something suitable at the local Asian market. FTM, Whole Food might have something along those lines; they have vegan versions of a lot of meat products although mostly made of soy or seitan from what I've seen.
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