16 May 2010

La Première Année de Cuisine, Part 13

Beautiful, beautiful soup!


Soups and potages

84. The soups and potages most often prepared at home are:
Soupe aux herbes.
Soupe à l’oseille. [Sorrel soup]
Leek and potato soup.
Soupe de ménage
Bean soup.
Lentil or split-pea soup.
Onion soup.
Cabbage soup.
And potage with noodles, vermicelli, tapioca, etc.

A soupe de ménage, American-style

85. A panade is made up of thin slices of bread soaked in a sufficient quantity of water and seasoned with salt and a pat of butter. Let it cook over a very low flame, while stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon. At the time of serving, use an egg yolk to bind the soup and add another small piece of fresh butter.

86. To make soupe aux herbes, take sorrel, spinach, lettuce, chervil, parsley, and purslane.* Wash them, remove the stems with care; chop these herbs and “brown” them in a saucepan with a good-size piece of butter.
Then add water, salt, pepper, and a good handful of rice that has been carefully soaked in advance in lukewarm water.
Mix this up well and let it cook at a very low simmer, for about half an hour.

Who’s sorrel now?

87. Soupe à l’oseille is made with washed and de-stemmed sorrel, which one has “browned” in butter and to which one has added a spoonful of flour, then as much water as is needed, salt, and pepper. One “binds” this with an egg yolk before serving.

88. Leek and potato soup is nourishing and economical. Peel the leeks, cut them in small pieces, cook them in butter over a low flame. Then add potatoes cut into pieces and some water, which is poured in bit by bit as the mixture thickens. Then serve this over slices of bread in the soup plate.

89. A soupe de ménage is made with all sorts of vegetables that have been cut into pieces and boiled in water with salt and pepper. When ready to serve, add a piece of butter in the soup plate, on slices of bread, and pour the soup over it.

90. To make bean, lentil or pea soup use beans, lentils or peas that have been cooked in water, with salt, pepper, and onion. The beans should then be removed from the water and crushed with the help of a presse-purée. Then put them back in the cooking water, and pour the mixture into the soup plate, over some bread to which has been added a bit of butter.

91. Onion soup is made with onion cut in thin slices and that have been browned in butter. Then add a spoonful of flour, making a yellow roux, and pour in the necessary amount of water. Let boil for ten minutes and pour over slices of bread placed in the soup plate with fresh butter.

Most often, onion soup is served gratinée — that is, with a croûton (slice of toasted bread) covered in grated gruyère cheese.
Nowadays, it is eaten primarily by tourists.

92. To make cabbage soup, choose a cabbage as tender and pale as possible. Remove the outer leaves and cut out the core, which is often quite hard. If the cabbage is large, cut in two or in four, rinse several times, then throw into boiling water to blanch it. Remove it to drain. Meanwhile, brown some large chunks or dice of bacon over a high flame. When they are thoroughly browned, add them to the cabbage, fill the saucepan with water, add salt, pepper. Add one onion stuck with a clove, one or two carrots, and a few potatoes. Let boil for three quarter-hours.

93. Potages differ from soups in that one does not use bread.
Potages are most often made with the help of noodles: vermicelli, noodles from Italy, or with tapioca or semolina.
The method of preparation is always the same.
Once the broth is boiling, sprinkle in the broken-up vermicelli or the semolina, or the tapioca, etc., taking care to use one tablespoonful per person. At the end of one quarter-hour of cooking time, the potage is done.



The excellence of soup. — Panade. — The use of wooden spoons. — Panade for small children. — It is necessary to want to learn more. — Mutton stew. — Salad.

“What kind of soup shall we make today?” That is the phrase that recurs each morning in our housekeeping conversations, between Maman and me, at the hour when we go to buy the food for the day. This is because, in our home, soup is the basis of ordinary alimentation. In general, we eat some two times per day, and it does us good. Papa says that it is a very healthy dish, Maman (like the good housekeeper she is) adds that it is very economical. Thus there is no reason to hesitate to serve it as often as possible and that is what we do.

However, despite the great variety of soups, we are sometimes thwarted. For example, this morning, we left for the market with the firm resolution to buy a cabbage and to prepare a good cabbage soup, which, augmented with a piece of pickled pork and a few potatoes, would have provided us with a complete meal.

But now there were no cabbages at the market, or rather, none but little cabbages too green, or tough and wilting cabbages.

“What if we bought some sorrel?” I said to Maman.

“The trouble is,” she answered me, “sorrel does not fully accomplish our goal. Sorrel soup is healthy and refreshing but not at all nourishing, like cabbage soup.”

“Then let’s buy all sorts of vegetables and we’ll make a good soupe de ménage.”

“No,” said my mother, after having reflected for an instant. “I seem to recall that we have some leftover stale bread that we could use. Now that’s an opportunity, we’ll make a panade.”

“That’s true,” I said. “How is it that we didn’t think of it sooner? But can’t one use fresh bread in making a panade?”

“Yes,” said my mother, “and it will be only finer and more delicate, but in little households like ours, especially in homes with many mouths to feed, there is always, after a meal, a bit of leftover bread that one removes from the table, which are still very good and very clean and of which one should manage to make good use. The best method is to put them into a panade.** As soon as we get home, you will make one for our midday meal.”

We finished our marketing, which, that day, was not extensive: some mutton to put into a stew and a watercress salad.

Back at the house, I busied myself with the panade. I cut into the finest possible slices the leftover bread that we had, and I even added a bit of fresh bread, since I feared that the soup would not be abundant enough.

I put this bread into a pot with enough water to cover, some salt and a good piece of butter. I let it cook over a very low flame and I stirred it often with a spoon.

Maman came near to me while I was turning and turning my spoon in the panade.

It seems I’m not the only one who thinks panade is too bland.
This one has been jazzed up with shrimp, onion, herbs, etc.

“Now there,” she said, “is a good precaution. Without taking this care, your soup would be all lumpy, which is quite disagreeable.

“Moderate your fire a little bit more, since the bread is sticking, and if it does so even a little bit, at the bottom of the pot, and becomes toasted, the soup will be worthless.”

Then, seeing the spoon that I was using to stir the soup: “Scatterbrains!” she said, “have I not repeated to you a hundred times that you must use a wooden spoon? The iron spoon that you are using will remove the coating from the pot by friction, and what’s more, it will give a bad taste to the food. You must not use a silver spoon, either, when cooking, nor tin. The former are quickly altered by acidic substances or blackened by eggs, the latter are softened and soon deteriorate.”

I don’t need to tell you that even before my mother had finished speaking, I had exchanged my iron spoon for a wooden one. I did not feel it was not hard to obey my mother, since I recognized the rightness of her observations, and I reminded myself that she had repeated that one several times.

While my panade was gently cooking, I added a bit of hot water from time to time, which progressively increased the amount of broth and made the soup just as thick as it should be.

“Do you know,” my mother said to me, “what you would do if you were making a panade for a small child?”

“Dear Maman,” I said, “I did not even know that one made panade for small children.”

“You do not remember having seen your cousin Lucie prepare panade for her little Georges during the week she stayed with us a few months ago?”

“My faith, Maman, I did see that Lucie was giving the little one something to eat, but I had no thought of looking or asking what it was. It did not interest me.”

“You were wrong,” said my mother, “and I very much hope that, now that you are so serious, you will show a bit more of that good and healthy curiosity that makes one seek to be taught every time the occasion presents itself. What you did not see, I shall tell you:

“The panade for children is made the same way as this one here, only one uses more of the bread’s crust than of its crumb, because the crust is lighter and more digestible, all the while being just as nourishing as the crumb. A little sugar is added, too, and in this case, hardly any salt. We also make, for very small children, panade with milk, for which we use very little butter.”

A classic mutton stew.
(From ELLE Magazine)

While talking, my mother busied herself with the mutton stew. Docilely following the advice she had just given me, I watched her work.

She “browned” in a stewpot, with butter, the bits of mutton that were to make up the stew. When they had taken on a beautiful golden color, she removed them one by one with a fork and placed them on a plate. Then she threw in the butter and a good spoonful of flour, from which she made a “yellow roux,” which she moistened with water, all the while regretting, she said, that she had no leftover broth from the pot-au-feu to add to it. This being done, she returned the pieces of mutton to the stewpot, added almost as many pieces of potato cut into large chunks. One clove of garlic, two onions, salt and pepper, that was the seasoning.

A rather exotic mutton stew, made with turnips.
(From ELLE Magazine)

”Two hours cooking time over a low flame,” she said, “and our stew will be cooked.”

“But Maman,” I said timidly, “I believe that you have forgotten something.”

“What then?”

“A small branch of thyme and a bit of parsley.”

“You are truly correct,” said my mother with a laugh, “and I see that you seek your revenge for a few minutes ago. I shall add, then, some thyme and some parsley, I could also add a bay leaf, but your father does not like the somewhat bitter flavor that bay gives to sauces. But now that I think of it, who taught you that mutton stew should be seasoned this way?”

“You yourself, Maman. This is the second time that you have prepared it in front of me, and bit by bit as I watched, I remembered what I had already seen you do.”

“Now that is nice,” said Maman, “and I see that my reproach a minute ago was absolutely unfounded. I want to wipe it away with a caress….”

Maman had not finished her sentence when I leapt into her arms. Mon Dieu, how good it is to hug one’s maman!

However, there was something yet to be prepared: it was the watercress salad.

The watercress had to be washed, sorted, prepared. I set to work, arming myself with patience, since the job is long and meticulous, especially when the watercress is short. So I used my fingertips to break the leaves where the stems were yellowed, I removed the white filaments that are the roots. All this was placed in a heap, on a piece of paper, while the good leaves and good stems were thrown together into a terrine, where I rinsed them several times.

I then did for the watercress as for other salads, I placed it in a salad basket where I let it drain. Before placing it in the salad bowl, I briskly shook the basket for a few minutes. Papa, who is clever, took charge of the seasoning. It seems that it’s a whole art to know how to prepare and stir the salad, and I am not yet knowledgeable enough to succeed at it. That’s what Papa said with a laugh, I suppose in order to tease me; I calmly await the day when it will please him to name me the head salad-cook. However, I certainly noticed that Papa always puts one spoonful of vinegar for every two spoonfuls of oil, salt, pepper, and that he whisks all of this together in the base of the salad bowl before putting in the salad. So there’s nothing left but to prepare it myself, and I think that I will succeed at it, the day that Papa lets me take charge.


[To copy and to keep]

1. I shall apply myself to the best of my ability to vary the soups that are the basis of family meals.

2. I will not be dissuaded from my choice until I have seen the resources that are available at the market.

3. I shall use, when making panade, leftover bread that is stale.

4. When anyone prepares in front of me a dish that is unknown to me, I shall watch how they make it, in order to be instructed.

5. I shall use wooden spoons above all when cooking food.

6. I shall take special care when making lamb stew, which is a beneficial and economical dish, but which is detestable if it is not cooked and seasoned as it should be.

7. I shall not serve a salad that has not been sorted, cleaned, washed and drained with the greatest care in advance; since salad often contains caterpillars, small slugs, some sand, etc.

8. I shall remember that, in order to prepare salad well, it is necessary to count two spoonfuls of oil for every one of vinegar.***

Next time: Madeleine learns to shop methodically
and to plan her cooking so that dishes are ready on time
and in the correct order,
so she doesn’t have to leave the table 87 times per meal.
And if that weren’t enough ... the value of sincerity!

*TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: I have never seen purslane (French: pourpier) in cookbooks, nor heard it mentioned in conversation. From the context, I deduced that it’s some kind of plant, and from research, I learned that it grows in the southern part of France. After that, you’re on your own.

**Maman is wrong. The best use for stale bread is galettes: tear the bread into small chunks, mix with milk and egg (amounts vary, depending on how much bread you’ve got), then drop spoonfuls into a skillet of hot oil. I got this idea from Jacques Pépin, then experimented with elaborations on the theme. Plain, they taste very much like a cross between pancakes and French toast (quelle surprise), but the beauty is that you can add other leftover bits. I’ve had success with sweet (using fruit, such as sautée of apple or pear, ripe banana, or tinned pineapple; surely jam would work, too) and savory (a tomato, onion, and cheese variation in particular).

***Around my household, the ratio for vinaigrette is three spoonfuls of oil to two spoonfuls of vinegar. Madeleine’s deference to Papa’s salad skills does ring a clear bell with me, since for years preparing the vinaigrette was Bernard’s duty, while I prepared the rest of the meal.

And in parting, we offer this word of wisdom:


Michael Leddy said...

Wonderful to read. Cabbage soup and leek and potato are all-time greatest hits in my house.

I was all set to leave a Crawford-themed comment until I scrolled to the end.

Jonathan said...

I never thought about not using metal spoons, but it makes sense.
Wonderful piece!

Now I'm going to feel like Christina every time I make soup. Thanks. . .

Jill said...

Purslane sometimes grows as a weed here in Southern California.

Anonymous said...

Here in New England, purslane can be found as a common weed. If one can identify it (and you have provided a very nice photo from which to do so), it can be prepared in the manner in which Madeleine describes, or even raw in a salad.

William V. Madison said...

Merci beaucoup -- I wonder how often I've trampled purslane without knowing it.

Meanwhile, looking at the picture of sorrel, I've begun to suspect that it's growing wild in my garden. I've seen it fresh at the market too rarely, though I pounced on it the last time, in order to make a sauce for a fish I was cooking.

Chanterelle said...

Purslane is used in middle eastern cuisine. It's apparently high in vitamin C, which you might guess from its tangy flavor. It makes a nice raita-like sauce chopped and stirred into yoghurt. It probably grows in your garden, too.


William V. Madison said...

Hélas, I looked all over the garden yesterday and found nothing like purslane/pourpier. It sounds like quite a useful ingredient.

Chanterelle said...

It's probably a little early for purslane, especially with the cool weather lately.

Personally I'd be more excited about finding sorrel in my garden.