Singing the Praises of Soups and Stews - Story and photography by Lori Ross
Nothing is more satisfying than a cup of soup or stew aboard a boat. A hot bowl is a blessing when you are on watch and chilled to the bone, while a cool, light soup on a scorching day is an oasis in a desert of heat.
My appreciation for soups and stews aboard began when we sailed to Bermuda in our 35 foot Beneteau. Though warm and pleasant at the start of the race, as we approached the Gulf Stream, the weather turned stormy – producing thunder, lighting, waterspouts, 25 knot winds with higher gusts and heavy curtains of rain that drenched anyone topsides! It was so rough that we stopped cooking meals and simply snacked on granola bars, chocolate, coffee and cup-a-soup. Though I prefer homemade soup, I relished every drop of cup-a-soup during that trip. After several days, the storms had dampened the gear and moods of our crew of 10, and as we faced several more days of similar weather, we decided to bear off to heat up the homemade beef stew we had frozen as backup provisions should the trip take longer than expected. The beef stew we served was dark, savory, smooth and rich with tender chunks of beef, soft onions, potatoes, carrots, garlic and red wine. The sauce was so good that we all wiped the remaining sauce from our bowls with hot bread. That stew was so delicious and satisfying that I can almost taste it today!
Soups and stews were a staple of my parents’ household when I was growing up. Although my parents were American-born, most of my grandparents (who lived nearby) were born in Quebec and immigrated to New Hampshire from small towns or farms at the turn of the century. My grandparents often joined us for meals, so we adopted their farming tradition of serving a big meal at noon and a light supper in the evening. Soups and stews, along with egg dishes, light pastas, sandwiches and salads were the usual supper fare at my house. My favorite soup was my mother’s vegetable soup made with homemade beef or chicken stock, tomatoes, the Holy Trinity of flavoring vegetables: carrots, celery and onion and lots of salt and pepper! Sometimes she added rice or small pasta to enrich it and make it a full meal. When my nieces and nephews came to visit they would clamor for “Grammy’s Soup”,even after they were grown up! Try as we might, no one in my family has managed to make that soup taste exactly the way my mother did.
The best thing about soups and stews is that they are adaptable, forgiving and convenient. Soups can be made successfully with fresh, frozen or canned ingredients and they are a terrific way to use good leftovers or stretch small amounts of food to create a simple meal. Just add bread or rolls, green salad and fresh fruit to a soup or a stew and you have a delightful dinner! . Soups and stews are often better the next day when the flavors have melded, so make soups and stews ahead of time, freeze and reheat them quickly in the microwave, oven or on the stove top for a fast food meal. Serve them in mugs or bowls and wrap your hands around them to warm up! You can also sip a mug of soup or stew in one hand, while your other hand is doing something else (like steering a boat or programming waypoints).
SOUP BEAUTIFUL SOUP
Soup was actually served as one of our civilization’s first fast foods. There is documentation that as early as 600 B.C., the Greeks sold soup as a fast food on the street, using peas, beans and lentils as main ingredients. Before there was soup, there was broth, which people used to pour over a piece of bread in a bowl. That bread was known as sop, and from sop came the word soup.
The difference between stock, broth and consommé is minimal. Basically, they're all made the same way – bones or carcasses and vegetables are slow-cooked in water to extract flavor. Stock is the foundation for broth or consommé and, unstrained, it is the richest and thickest of the three. Broth is a pure essence -- the strained liquid from stock-- that is considered a soup in its own right and consommé is a more refined version of broth that is cooked down, clarified and served as a light first course garnished with bits of fresh herbs.
The basic technique for making stock is to sauté meat or fish bones, chicken carcass or shells (from shrimp, lobster etc.), with one or more flavoring vegetables such as leeks, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, in butter, olive oil or bacon fat. Sauté for 10-15 minutes on medium, add water (plus wine or beer if you like the flavor) and seasonings (salt, pepper, bay leaf) and simmer on low for several hours. For a vegetable stock, add water to the flavoring vegetables and/or other vegetables (e.g. potato peels, dried mushrooms, water from cooked vegetables, corn cobs etc.) to make the stock. Once the stock tastes good, strain solids out and refrigerate until chilled. Before you use the stock, remove the layer of fat that has rises to the when chilled. At this point, the broth may be used for soup, eaten alone or cooked down for several hours and clarified to make consommé.
Broth based soups such as “Grammy’s Soup” involve adding flavorings vegetables and spices (e.g. chopped tomatoes, celery, onion, carrots, bay leaf, pepper and salt) to broth and cooking for 10-15 minutes to release flavors, adding longer cooking ingredients such as root vegetables, rice, grains, pasta, legumes, then adding the tender vegetables that cook quickly (peas, corn, asparagus, summer squash, fresh beans) for 5 minutes and greens and herbs (e.g. lemon, parsley, basil, cabbage, spinach) for 1 minute. If you want to make a quick soup, use beef, chicken or vegetable bouillon (powdered, cubed or paste) or canned broth to your soup base, then proceed as above. For variety, add sliced sausage or tiny meat balls to soup or tortellini and a little pesto to make a meal out of this soup. Adding a spoonful of pesto and some grated parmesan cheese is also delicious.
Wonderful fish and shellfish soups such as bouillabaisse and cioppino often have fish or seafood stock as their foundation.
Cream and Pureed Soups
Butter, cream and leeks, shallots or onion creates the base for cream soup that include: to which you may add almost any vegetable, for example, corn, squash, broccoli, asparagus, peas, greens, to make a rich, delightful soup. For liquid, use stock, white or rose wine and to thicken use potato puree, eggs or a roux of flour and butter. Spice the soup with herbs, spices, flavored liqueurs, sherry. See the master recipe for cream soup at the end of this column.
Pureed soups generally used ground, mashed or finely chopped vegetables as the main ingredient of the soup often enriched with a little stock, cream or milk. Pureed soups include: iced gazpacho, cold cucumber soup, vichyssoise as well as hot soups such as pumpkin or winter squash, tomato, and potato soup.
Richer than broth based soups, but lighter than cream soups are chowders and bisques. Chowders are thick, chunky rich soups that usually include a main ingredient (fish, lobster, and clam, vegetable) with potatoes and onion sautéed in flavorful fats (bacon, ham, butter, salt pork). Sometimes cream, milk or tomatoes (as in Manhattan clam chowder) are added along with flavorings and spices. Bisques are smooth soups that usually consist of seafood and cream. They start out like stock, cooking shells or fish carcasses to release the essence of the key ingredient, then cream or milk is added and sometimes pureed seafood to maintain the smooth texture of the soup. Our favorite is lobster bisque!
Cold Cucumber Soup: replace potato and cream with yogurt and 1 T. minced garlic, serve with
4 cup pumpkin or winter squash that has been cooked until soft
2 tbsp Butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
4 cup chicken or beef stock
¾ tsp fresh grated ginger or ¼ t. dry ginger
½ tsp each of white pepper and salt
¼ cup rum
1/2 tsp turmeric (to make more golden
1/4 cup cream (optional)
Mix squash with all ingredients except cream. Simmer for 30 minutes. If you wish, you may put mixture through food processor or blender until very smooth. If it is too thick, thin with water or cream. Serve with a dollop of crème fraiche, sour cream or chopped chives. Serve hot or cold.
Alternative: Top with cold lump crabmeat or lobster meat cut into small pieces.
Vegetable Cream Soup (basic recipe)
1 stick butter
2 leeks or shallots or onions chopped
1 medium potato, peeled
3 cups vegetable (broccoli, leeks, spinach, carrots, zucchini, corn, artichoke hearts, radishes)
4 oz. white wine
1 tbsp chicken base
Dash white pepper
Dried or fresh herbs or spices of your choice (broccoli or spinach = nutmeg; leeks = dill; carrots = ginger; corn = chives; artichokes = rosemary; tomato = basil)
1 quart of light cream
Melt butter and sauté leeks/onions. Add the rest of ingredients and simmer on low until potato is soft. Run mixture through a blender or food processor and serve hot
Alternative: chill soup, blend again and serve cold topped with fresh herbs
Alternative: Replace vegetables with seafood that is added during last 5 minutes of cooking (e.g., firm fish, shrimp, lobster, scallops or crab)
Stews are ancient. There is ample evidence from primitive tribes who survived into the19th and 20th centuries, that they boiled foods together into stews. Amazonian tribes used the shells of turtles, turtle meat and various other ingredients to make turtle stew. Archaeological evidence going back seven or eight thousand years found that other cultures used the shells of large mollusks and their meat as well as ox and fowl. The development of pottery, perhaps ten thousand years ago, made cooking, and stews or soups in particular, even easier. Such popular dishes as Hungarian Goulash dates back to the 9th century Magyar shepherds of the area, before the existence of Hungary. Paprika was only added in the 18th century. In the oldest cookbook known, 'Apicius de re Coquinaria', there are recipes for lamb stews & fish stews and Taillevent (French chef, 1310 – 1395) who wrote 'Le Viandier', one of the oldest cookbooks in French, also has ragouts or stews of various types in it.
I’ve broadly defined stews as a dish containing meat, vegetables and a thick soup-like broth made from a combination of the stewing liquid and the natural juices of the food being stewed. They can include: meat stews (with and without vegetables) fish and/or seafood stews such as bouillabaisse, zarzuela; vegetable stews. Stews vary in richness and thickness depending on the recipe. I’ve broadly defined stews to include: meat stews, fish and/or seafood stews such as bouillabaisse, gumbos, as well as vegetable stews such as ratatouille.
Clam, Shrimp and Scallop Bouillabaisse
Bouillabaisse comes from the French word “bouilli” or boil. The basic flavorings are quickly boiled together with wine and tomatoes to emulsify, and then fresh seafood is cooked at the last minute. The French do not consider a stew Bouillabaisse unless Mediterranean fish are used, however, this is the best stateside version I’ve tasted.
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 carrots, minced
2 ribs of celery, minced
2 leeks or shallots or small onions minced
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp each of fennel seeds, dried thyme
2 tsp minced parsley
2 bay leaves
Pinch of cayenne
6-8 saffron threads (optional)
1 tbsp grated orange peel
½ tsp salt and pepper
1 ½ cup white wine
28 oz. can tomatoes, drained and chopped
¾ lb each of shrimp and scallops
Heat oil in large saucepan; add carrots, celery and onion to sauté for 4 minutes. Add garlic, fennel, saffron, peel, cayenne, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper and bay leaves. Sauté 2 minutes, then add wine and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add seafood, cover and cook for 2 minutes until the mussels are open and shrimp and scallops are just cooked through. Serve in large shallow bowls with toasted slices of French bread spread with aioli or rouille (see recipes in Appetizer Main Course issue). You may use any kind of fish or shellfish -- lobster is terrific, so are mussels, monkfish, salmon and squid!
Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup boiling water
6 oz. tomato paste
2 bay leaves
12 allspice berries and 6 peppercorns, cracked
Pinch of Cayenne
Dash of Tabasco sauce
2 quarts water
2 stalks celery chopped
3 green peppers
3 tomatoes or 1 lb. canned whole tomatoes
2 med sliced cooked ham
4 onions sliced
2 garlic cloves chopped
½ cup fresh or canned okra (optional)
Salt to taste
1 lb shrimp
1 lb smoked sausage (your choice mild or hot)
1 tbsp file powder
Cook shrimp in court bouillon spiced with half of the bay leaves, cloves, allspice and peppercorns until shrimp is pink. Drain shrimp and set aside. Reserve court bouillon.
In a medium pot, melt butter and stir in flour cooking the roux until it becomes dark brown. Slowly add water, then tomato paste, bay, allspice, peppercorn, cloves, cayenne and Tabasco. Add 2 quarts strained court bouillon, plus the chopped celery, peppers, tomatoes, ham, onion and garlic. Simmer for 30 minutes then add okra and salt to taste and cook for 15 more minutes. Mix 1 T. file powder with a little hot gumbo stock then add to pot with the cooked shrimp, then take off heat to stand for 5 minutes. Serve on rice with green salad and bread and butter.
Alternative: Shrimp may be replaced by sausage or chicken or oysters or a combination of these.
Bermuda Beef Stew
The most well known and much maligned is beef stew. Badly prepared beef stew is agony but good beef stew is rapture! This is the beef stew we served aboard on our way to Bermuda. After several years of trying to “doctor” Dinty Moore Beef Stew, this version was a revelation and it still tastes terrific, even at the dock!
Serves 6 to 8
2 lbs chuck roast, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 ½ tsps each of salt and pepper
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
3 minced cloves garlic
3 tbsp flour
1 cup red wine
2 cups beef broth or stock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
6 potatoes, boiling peeled and halved
4 large carrots sliced 1/4-inch thick
½ cup fresh parsley, minced
· Place beef cubes in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat.
· Heat 2 tbsp of the oil over medium-high heat in large non-reactive soup kettle; add beef to kettle in two separate batches. Brown meat on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch, adding remaining tbsp of oil if needed. Remove meat and set aside.
· Add onions to now empty kettle; sauté until almost softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
· Reduce heat to medium and add garlic; continue to sauté about 30 seconds longer.
· Stir in flour; cook until lightly colored, 1 to 2 minutes.
· Add wine, scraping up any browned bits that may have stuck to kettle.
· Add stock, bay leaves, and thyme; bring to simmer.
· Add meat; return to simmer.
· Cover and simmer about 1 hour.
· Add potatoes and carrots, cover and simmer until meat is just tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours
· Stir in parsley, adjust seasonings, and serve.
Replace potatoes and carrots with:
· Mushrooms and pearl onions , or
· Tomatoes, Orange Zest and Olives, or
· Tomatoes, Cinnamon, and Cloves
This is the most versatile dish I make. It can be used as a stew on its own, as a side to lamb or beef, a pasta sauce, a salad (cold and dressed with a little oil and red wine vinegar), a base for poached eggs or a warm filling for pita sandwiches with a little mozzarella cheese mixed in. It is also very flexible, tasting equally good made in the oven, microwave or stove top. In the oven, the vegetables melt into each other while on the stove top and microwave; the vegetables maintain their shape and distinctive colors.
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small eggplant, unpeeled and cubed
1 medium zucchini, unpeeled and cubed
1 green or red pepper, cubed
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
1 large or two small tomatoes, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh Basil or oregano to taste (optional)
Oven: Mix garlic, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, onion and jalapeno in covered oven proof pot. Add garlic, jalapeno, salt and pepper. Slice tomatoes over the top of casserole, and then pour olive oil over the top. Cover and bake at 300 degrees for 2-3 hours, stirring every hour. Add basil or oregano during the last half hour.
Microwave: Cube eggplant, pepper, zucchini and onion and mixed with olive oil, salt and pepper, minced garlic cloves and minced jalapeno pepper. Place in Microwave proof shallow pan or bowl and slice tomatoes over the top. Cover and microwave for 5 minutes at 50% power, stir. Microwave at 30% power for 20 minutes, then stir and take off cover to microwave for 5 minutes more. Finally, microwave at full power for 1-2 minutes and add fresh herbs. Let the ratatouille rest for 10-15 minutes, and then serve. .
Stove top: Heat covered soup pot and add oil. Sauté garlic, jalapeno and onion for 5 minutes. Add eggplant, zucchini and pepper. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer on low for 1 hour. Uncover and simmer another 30 minutes on low. Let the ratatouille rest for 10 minutes covered and serve.
SAUSAGE AND BEEF CHILI
1/4 cup best-quality olive oil
2-3 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
1 lb sweet Italian sausage meat, removed from casings
4 lbs beef chuck, ground
2 tbsp each of pepper and salt
1 - 12 oz. can tomato paste
2 tbsp minced fresh garlic
1.5 oz. ground cumin
2 ounces chili powder
1/4 cup prepared mustard
2 tbsp each: dried basil, oregano, dill, parsley
1-2 lb can tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup each: red wine and lemon juice
1 16 oz. can black, white or red kidney beans, drained (optional)
Heat olive oil in a very large soup kettle. Add onions and cook over low heat, covered, until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.
Crumble the sausage meat and ground chuck into the kettle and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until meats are well browned. Spoon out as much excess fat as possible.
Over low heat stir in black pepper, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, chili powder, mustard, salt, basil, dill, parsley and oregano.
Add drained tomatoes, wine, lemon juice, and drained kidney beans. Stir well and simmer, uncovered, for another 15 minutes.
Taste and correct seasoning.