Consommés are clarified and enriched to enhance their appearance by cooking a stock or broth with the help of a clearmeat raft, a mixture of lean ground proteins (for example beef, chicken, duck, game, or fish), egg whites, and mirepoix. The raft removes unwanted particles by filtering them through a fine mesh of coagulated egg whites, lean meat, and mirepoix, which also infuses the soup with extra flavor. The result is a crystal-clear liquid with a rich flavor and a slight gelatinous body.
Consommé Flavor Profiles and Garnishes
A consommé’s flavor profile is defined by the type of protein, chicken, beef, or pheasant for example, seasonings, and aromatic vegetables. Flavors profiles based on ethnic cuisines provide a variety of tastes, colors, and textures, so for an Asian chicken consommé you might include lemon grass and ginger in the raft and perhaps a dumpling with julienne vegetables for a garnish; a beef or duck consommé could be prepared in the style of a Borscht, with the addition of beets and marjoram to the raft garnished with beets, cabbage, potatoes, and dill; or an Indian curried lamb consommé might be prepared with the addition of garam masala seasonings (traditional Indian spice combinations) to a lamb meat raft and garnished with lamb meatballs, basmati rice, tomato concassé, and cilantro.
Garnishes of vegetables should be cut with precision to petite-sized brunoise or fine julienne, emphasizing the refined nature of the soup, and no larger than spoon size for ease in consuming. Grains including rice or barley, and delicate noodles or tortellini, add texture and hearty flavors. Classic French garnishes, including savory molded custards, add smooth and rich textures, while quenelles (mousseline forcemeat dumplings) add more substantial flavors. Fortified wines are another way to liven up the taste of a consommé. Sherry contributes a nutty flavor, Port wines a fruitier jam-like accent, and Madeira wines contribute sweet and spicy notes. Add these wines as a finishing touch, because they lose their flavor when exposed to prolonged heat. Fresh herbs add a final visual and flavor pop to a consommé. Garnishes should be free of excess fats or oils so use moist-heat methods to avoid surface grease that detracts from the appeal of the soup.
Start with a well-flavored stock. The meat used in the raft depends on the type of consommé desired (beef, chicken, fish, game) and should be very lean. Use 3 lb./1.4 kg protein per 1 gallon/4 liters of consommé and add 1 lb./450 g of a standard mirepoix along with standard seasonings of parsley stems, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns,. An onion brûlé (burnt onion) can be added to enhance the color along with tomatoes which also help to clarify the soup. For a fish or vegetable consommé, substitute lemon juice, vinegar, or wine for the tomato. The vegetables should be ground with the meat to extract the most flavor. Grind the proteins with the mirepoix and seasonings. Whisk egg whites to a froth and mix with the ground ingredients.
Combine with the cold stock and slowly heat to a simmer in a heavy-gauge pot. As it cooks the raft ingredients will sink to the bottom of the pot so be sure to gently stir to prevent sticking. As the consommé is heated the raft rises to the surface and clarifies (see illustration). Simmer for about 1 hour to enrich the flavor being careful not to break the raft once it forms on the surface. Taste the soup as it simmers and season to taste with salt and pepper. Once the flavor has been extracted strain the liquid without disturbing the raft through cheesecloth or a coffee filter, and skim excess surface fat. The soup can be chilled which solidifies the fat for ease in skimming , or for a hot consommé a paper towel can be drawn across the surface to absorb the fat (a less efficient method). Garnishes are added to the soup as it is being plated.
Specialty and Ethnic Soups
Soups with a distinct cultural identity use ingredients and techniques that are native to their place of origin. These soups fall into either category of clear or thick soups, and some soups. Many hearty varieties can also be considered stews like a Louisiana gumbo or a San Francisco cioppino. Cold soups also fall into this category and are classified in similar ways.
Chowder – A hearty soup of French origin with a strong New England identity. Chowder comes from the French term faire chaudiére, literally to “make the cauldron”, referring to the preparation of a fish stew in a pot. They are prepared with clams or other seafood or as vegetarian varieties, using corn and potato. A chowder is traditionally cooked with salt pork, and always include potatoes as a garnish. New England Clam Chowder is a thick cream soup, Rhode Island Clam Chowder is a clear broth, and Manhattan Clam Chowder is tomato-based.
French Onion Soup (Soupe à l’oignon) – The history of onion soups dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times, considered peasant food because onions were cheap and plentiful. The French variety is a descendant of bouillons dating back to 17th century France. The soup was traditionally prepared by sweating onions in butter, adding water to the pot and thickening it with bread. Today meat, poultry or vegetable broths are used. Sherry is often added for flavoring, but cognac, madeira, or port wine may also be substituted. The soup is garnished with a gratinée of bread and grated Gruyere, Comte, Parmesan, or Swiss Alpine cheeses and browned for service.
Miso Soup(Misoshiru) – A traditional clear Japanese soup, miso is a fermented paste made with soybeans, rice, or barley, that is dissolved in dashi, a stock prepared with niboshi (dried baby sardines), kombu (dried kelp), katsuobushi (thin shavings of dried and smoked bonito (also known as skipjack tuna), and hoshi-shiitake (dried shiitake). Although it is often served as a simple first course with diced tofu, miso soup may also include mushrooms, potatoes, seaweed, onion, shrimp, fish, and grated or sliced daikon.
West African Peanut Soup – Known as Maafe or by other African names, this pureed soup is said to originate in Mali and is found with slight regional differences throughout Africa. It is prepared with a flavor base of onions, bell peppers, carrots, chili peppers, garlic, and tomatoes sautéed in oil. Yams, greens, or okra may be added too. Chicken stock is added along with a ground peanut paste or peanut butter. Seasonings include turmeric, coriander, ginger, cumin, and cinnamon.
Cold soups, appealing alternatives during warm summer months, can be served as starters, intermezzos, or dessert courses. Almost any soup can be reimagined as a cold soup including jelled consommés and cream soups. Vegetable-based puree soups including Gazpacho and Vichyssoise, are two well-known examples. Scandinavians have a repertoire of fruit-based soups incorporating berries, cherries, stone fruits (peaches, plums), and pears, usually combined with yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream, with lemon, cinnamon, and sugar. Cold soups are best prepared in advance (12-24 hours) to allow the flavors to develop and mature. Since cold temperatures dull flavors, the seasoning should be adjusted to compensate as needed, before serving the soup.
Gazpacho– This soup of Spanish origin, is served as a starter, main dish, or tapa, and often includes tomatoes with chopped vegetables including bell peppers, cucumbers, and garlic. It is traditionally thickened with soaked bread and finished with vinegar and olive oil. There are many gazpacho variations from different regions of Spain, some containing no tomatoes (an ingredient brought to Spain in the 16th century). White gazpacho recipes include grapes and almonds, green varieties use cilantro, cucumbers, avocado, and green chilies, or fresh fruit varieties prepared with strawberries and melons.
Vichysoisse - A pureed soup of leeks, potatoes, chicken stock, and cream, and served cold There is some debate about the origin of the soup, but French chef Louis Diat at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City is most often credited with it popularity.
Borscht is a popular soup in Eastern and Central Europe, with its origin in Ukraine. There are many varieties, but the most popular are the ones prepared with beets. The two main variants are whether they are served hot or cold. Hot borscht usually contains beef and cabbage, while cold borscht is a vegetarian soup with sour cream or yogurt. Raw chopped vegetables are added, including radishes or cucumbers, and the soup is garnished with dill and chopped, hard-cooked eggs.
I think that's enough about soups, especially cold soups in January! Check in on Friday as we delve into Sauces of all varieties; Mother sauces to be specific.
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Cheers, and have a happy hump day!