Soup for the soul, whether chicken, or not.
Let’s time travel a bit, and go to Mr. Ho’s Chinese Restaurant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, during the 1980’s. My girlfriend Melanie Jane (now wife) and I had only one extravagance–eating at Mr. Ho’s every week. We went so often that the waiters began to recognize us. Here’s one exchange.
Waiter: You two brother sister?
For the record, I had black hair and green eyes, and Melanie Jane is a classic German-American, with blonde hair and blue eyes. Not much resemblance.
Me: I hope not.
Side note: I once wrote for a magazine who had an editor who was something of an expletive. He had a little 3×5 card with one sentence on it, that he would carry around, and he would ask people what was wrong with it. The sentence, that is.
Me: Why do you carry a file card around with you, that has one sentence on it?
Editor: To see if people can tell that it’s missing an antecedent.
Me: In Alabama, we’ve been known to marry our antecedents.
Any who, back to Mr. Ho’s. After my “I hope not” answer, the waiter said the following:
Waiter: Hahahahahahaha. All you people look alike to me, anyway.
That joker did not get a tip that day.
Mr. Ho’s is long gone, but I can still make some Chinese-German-Southern light soup for a hot Summer’s night.
Poultry Stock (Chicken, Turkey, or Duck)
Oyster Mushrooms, Rehydrated and Chopped
Oyster Mushroom Water
Fine German Egg Pasta (the brand we use is Riesa)
1/2 Vidalia Onion, chopped and sauteed
One Egg, beaten
Soy Sauce (a few drops)
Salt and Pepper
The stock is the main ingredient. I actually strained the mushroom water through a paper towel this time, a la Marcella Hazan, and all of Italy. The Oyster mushrooms were a freebie from our dried mushroom vendor, after MJ ordered a cartload of Morels for me last Christmas. They are excellent in the soup.
Let the mushrooms simmer while the onion is cooked in olive oil. After those two join each other in holy matrimony, drizzle in the egg while whipping the soup with a fork: hence the name, Egg Drop. Serve with egg rolls if you got them, toast or crackers if you don’t. And try to not marry one of your antecedents.
A certain Monsieur Parmentier helped popularize the potato in France, and there was no trick that he wouldn’t use to do so. He had potato themed dinners with famous guests, like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. His best trick was to convince people that his potatoes were so valuable that they needed to be guarded by French troops. Then all the troops would leave at night, and he let peasants steal the potatoes. This famous soup is named in honor of the particularly clever Frenchman, and this is my version.
2 medium Leeks, trimmed
1 Shallot or Onion
1 clove Garlic
2 medium Potatoes, diced
2 cups Chicken Stock
Salt and Pepper
Split, carefully wash, and chop the leeks, including the green parts. Saute the chopped leek, onion, and garlic in butter until soft. Add the potatoes and chicken stock and simmer for forty five minutes to an hour, tasting occasionally for seasoning. Add water if needed. Cream is traditional but optional.
Now for some nomenclature. Potage is just the French word for soup: this soup served unprocessed and usually without cream is called Potage Parisien. Run through a food mill, blended, or just hit with a potato masher, it becomes Potage Parmentier (I personally am a potato masher guy). Processed with cream, and served chilled, it gets the fancy sounding name of Vichyssoise. French names allow restaurants to charge ten bucks for what is essentially a bowl of Potato Soup.
Cold weather in the South is particularly nasty, because it isn’t that common. Today will be around freezing, which is just the excuse needed to make our favorite winter meal–Creole Onion Soup. Every cook has their own version, but my wife Melanie Jane has condescended to share her’s, which is pictured above. She also provided the photos.
Creole Onion Soup
Three or Four Onions, sliced thinly
Three Tablespoons Butter
Three Tablespoons Flour
Four Cups Poultry Stock (Chicken, Duck, or Turkey)
Thyme, Oregano, and Basil
Tabasco Sauce to Taste
Creole French Bread
Grated Cheese–Swiss, Cheddar, or Parmesan, or some combination thereof
Porcelain lined cast iron makes the best soup pot, and the best are still made in France. This one is six quarts. At any rate, slowly cook the sliced onions in the butter. This should be the result:
Remove the cooked onions and add the flour. It’s roux time! This time stir until there is a “blonde” roux. It should look like this:
More butter can be added to achieve the desired consistency. Now it’s time to make soup. Add the stock, cooked onions, soy and worcestershire sauces, and herbs. Simmer for thirty minutes and add the Tabasco, which makes this really Creole, along with the next addition.
Now it’s time to serve. Use a good heat-resistant soup bowl (that’s a handmade Jerry Brown bowl in the picture at the beginning). Top with slices of Creole French Bread, for which I will have to supply a recipe in the future, but it’s really just French Bread with olive oil (or some other fat) added to the dough. Top that with the grated cheese of your choice, and throw under a broiler. When the cheese begins to toast, it’s time to burn your tongue on some smoking hot soup.
Melanie Jane’s hair is about the color of that roux, and she responded to a blonde joke from some fool once by saying, “I guess you graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the best History department in the country, like I did.” Her best put down was of an obnoxious college Dean at a party, who asked her how he looked in his Trucker’s cap. Her response was, “You look like a pig farmer.” Good times and hot soup!