Hone Your Skills on This Classic Cream of MushroomWednesday, August 21
This past weekend I was invited back to take part in yet another wonderful event hosted by NAIT. I, along with a select group of talented local chefs, was asked to help judge a group of Edmonton’s most talented young cooks during this year’s regional Skills competition.
The Skills Canada National Competition started in 1994 to recognize talented young people in over 40 different trades. It has become the foremost competition of its kind. It brings together over 550 young apprentices and students to test their skills against the best in their trade in the country, while highlighting the talents required to succeed in a trade.
This year’s event will take place in Vancouver in June, but the journey for those who will make it to the national competition began several months ago. In late November the competitors were made aware of the scope of the competition and began training. This past weekend was their first step towards the national competition. Twenty two young cooks were given three hours and two specific recipes they had to follow and were put to task to create a cream of mushroom soup and chicken entrée that included hand made gnocchi, gravy from scratch and, not one, but three different vegetables. They had to butcher the whole chicken. They were also encouraged to use the carcass to enhance their stock to be used in their soup. They were given a small amount of creative freedom when it came to their presentation and garnish. These young cooks, aged 15-17, were truly put to the test. Not only were they measured on taste and presentation, but also they were tested on their timing, temperature of their dishes, and their kitchen management.
I was amazed by how 22 students were given the same recipes to follow and we were looking at 22 very different dishes. Some cooks followed the basics closely, while others tried to take their dish to another level, with unique takes on classic dishes. Some dishes were phenomenal successes while others missed the mark. As we gathered to discuss the results we all agreed the most successful plates were the ones that clearly showed the competencies required. The cooks that focused too much on deconstruction or redefining a dish missed the mark. They failed to understand the basics before attempting the difficult.
I would say to four lucky cooks who have now made it through to the provincial competition next month to practise these skills. Make the soup every chance you get. Eat chicken every day for the next three weeks just so you can butcher them. Roll gnocchi dough out again and again until they look machine made. It is that pursuit of perfection that will take you to the next level and allow you to compete at the national level. Best of luck to all of you!
As for home cooks, I would say the same. Practise techniques until your level of comfort grows. As you begin to understand how a cream of mushroom soup comes together you will see it isn’t all that much different from any other cream-based soup.
This is a simple, classic cream of mushroom soup. Nothing fancy, but once you see just how easy this is to make, maybe you’ll consider making this, rather than reaching for another can of soup. I enjoy my cream soups pureed, nice and smooth. That doesn’t have to be the case though. If you like your soup with some texture in it, then slice the mushrooms evenly and fine dice your onions, rather than slicing them julienne. Don’t be shy about the variety of mushrooms you use. There is nothing wrong with using some oyster mushrooms or shiitakes or portabellas or any other delectable mushroom you enjoy. It can add a real depth of flavour to this already delicious soup.
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Makes: about 5 bowls or 10 cups
Special Tools: Blender or hand mixer (optional)
1.5 lbs. fresh mushrooms, chopped
1 medium onion, julienned
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
¼ cup butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup white wine
1.25 lt chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Place a medium sauce pot on medium high heat, melt the butter
Add the onions and garlic and sauté until translucent, but do not brown
Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté
Remove the pot from the direct heat and add the flour, stirring to combine
Return to the heat and deglaze with white wine, reduce
Once reduced add the stock and bring to a simmer
Allow to simmer to cook the roux (flour and butter) out, meaning, ensure the flour has thickened the soup and the chalky flavor of raw flour has been cooked away, this won’t take much more than 8-10 minutes, you don’t want to overcook the mushrooms
Add cream and fresh chopped thyme and simmer another 2 minutes
If you have a hand wand remove the soup from the heat and puree the soup until smooth, if you would like it super smooth you can even pass it through a strainer
If you are using a blender I highly recommend cooling the soup down before blending it. I have seen far too many people getting burned or making an awful mess trying to blend it
Don’t listen to what the food snobs say. Serve the soup with a drizzle of truffle oil if that’s what you like. It will make any mushroom soup just that much more delicious. You can also finish it off with some sour cream or crème fraiche.