When Soup is Pefect

Soups and sauces have the ability to make simple ingredients profound. There’s almost a sacredness to making a good soup. Its part alchemist, part passion, part chef, that allows you to craft a liquid so sublime and complex that it can replace drugs with a high that many will devote their life to the next perfect mouthful of soup.

As you tend to not drink the best bottle of wine every night, most soups get filed under the good or what the hell was I thinking category. I even find myself steering away from making soups unless the setting is just right, but when the ingredients are screaming “soup me” and I’m ready to not take my eye off the ball, then the probability of success are in your favor.

You can be meticulous in every step and with every ingredient, but its gone the moment you take your eye off the ball. A few minutes too long, too much heat, too much salt, acid, thickener, whatever. All it takes is just one thing and you will spend the rest of your time fixing the dish. Its no longer creating, its all about salvage. Your whole mindset changes, your passion shifts and your skills are used to resurrect instead of create.

Tonight was one of those experiences when a few ingredients equaled one of my top three soups of the past year. I have been wanting to work with dashi again and after picking up a few points from fellow bloggers, (Thank you Japanese Food Report, Just Hungry, Chef Yamada’s Dashi) I crafted an amazing egg and shrimp soup with scallions.

I started with half duck stock (left over from the bones after making duck prosciutto for Charcoutapaloza) and half dashi I brought to a slow, barely breaking the surface simmer, and added about 2 tablespoons of sodium reduced soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar. I also added one tablespoon of organic sugar cane sugar and seasoned with some flaked salt. The broth did throw off some more scum and I was skimming during the whole process. When the balance of flavor, weight, acid, salt, and length was there, I knew I had my base.

My dashi was one medium size piece of kombu soaked in 4 cups of cold water for 40 minutes, brought to the point of bubbles on the kombu but not a boil. It threw off a fair bit of white scum which was skimmed off. About 1 1/3 cups of bonito flakes where added to the almost simmering water and let to sit for another hour. I made a second stock, or niban dashi as its called, expecting it to not come out with the same level of clarity, but by adding 8 cups of water to the used kombu and bonito flakes and then adding another 1/2 cup of fresh bonito flakes, I let the cool water sit overnight and strained it off the next day. It turned out beautiful and was crystal clear as well.

I used 31/40 sized shrimp and sliced them on the bias into about three pieces so they would cook through easier when the hot liquid was spooned on top of them. I sliced scallions and added them to the bowls with the shrimp in them. I garnished the raw shrimp and scallions with scallion oil, and brought the broth up to a simmer. Once at a simmer, I slowly added the two beaten organic eggs in a steady stream down the chopsticks and immediately ladled the broth with egg over the raw shrimp and scallions.

Scallion Oil – I use equal parts (250 ml each) canola and peanut oil and bring that to a smoking point, around 350 degrees. Take it off the heat and add about 1/2 cup of sliced scallions to the hot oil. Be careful as it will freak out like a two year old kid and spit shit everywhere. The scallions will turn to brown rather quickly, strain out once they have a nutty smell and transfer to a bowl that can withstand hot oil. I add another half cup of larger cut scallions that have been tossed in chili paste and some fish sauce. By this time the onions will sizzle but not take on any colour, I let them steep for a few hours until the oil cools down and I strain it into a storage bottle.

Are you ready to taste?

The soft backdrop of duck flavor layered with the salty, smoky, fishy edge was perfect with the rich nutty flavors from the scallion oil. Each taste brought a different shade of flavor dependent on how much shrimp, egg, or broth you had in your spoonful. It was a perfect soup, the cold evening, the right ingredients, it fell together beautifully.

The wine I had by chance was a 2009 Arrowleaf – Snow Tropic Vidal – beautiful aromatics that ran the spectrum from floral to rose water and citrus to tropical fruits. The wine tells you its not the pedigree of a Riesling, but it does have enough class to impress. The palate has a soft easy entrance as the flavors pick up speed by the mid palate. Consistent and almost too easy to drink, the bottle does not last long. Chilling the wine right down helps tighten up the soft acidity and give it a little zestiness. V-3, N-12, P-19, O-5 = 89pts (for a points breakdown and summary, go to BC Wine Reviews page)

The wine and soup did not play well together, but in a good way. Like rival gangs each wanting to strut their stuff, they respected each other enough to leave well enough alone. That created a cleansing affect, neither dominated, neither competed, they were both happy standing on their own and I was the gang leader.

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