Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cream of Celery Soup

I’ve gone too long without writing about soup. Two of my favorite soup recipes—one for Asparagus and the other for Cream of Celery—come from Simon Hopkinson, a British chef and author of Roast Chicken and Other Stories [1994] and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken [2001]. Hopkinson gained international attention when a British food magazine, Waitrose Food Illustrated, voted Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories “The Most Useful Cookbook of All Time.”

Hyperbole aside, both Roast Chicken and Other Stories and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken warrant praise; they are outstanding cookbooks. Hopkinson organizes the books alphabetically by ingredients. Roast Chicken starts out with recipes for Anchovy, Asparagus, Aubergine and Brains; it ends with Sweetbreads, Tomatoes, Tripe and Veal. Each section and its recipes get brief introductions, which are typically more personal than technical. Hopkinson shares his own recipes and those culled from various sources such as favorite cookbooks and magazine clippings. Both Roast Chicken and Second Helpings are a magpie’s collection of treasures: in Second Helpings under Butter and Drippings he shares a recipe Roast Potatoes in Beef Dripping followed by a wonderful recipe for Arnhem Biscuits (or Arnhemse Meisjes) from Roald Dahl’s Cookbook. Hopkinson’s recipe selection exemplifies his outstanding taste.

But back to the soup. Because my local asparagus season remains months away, let’s instead focus on Hopkinson’s Cream of Celery Soup. How good is Hopkinson’s version? I bought Second Helpings of Roast Chicken just for this recipe. Hopkinson begins his section on Celery: “I am of the humble opinion that celery makes one of the finest cream soups of all.” He aimed to make “the smoothest, creamiest and most savoury bowlful in [England].” He says that he did; after tasting Hopkinson’s version I think there is a very good chance you will agree. His recipe serves 5 to 6.
  • 50 g butter
  • 350 g celery, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 small onions, peeled and chopped
  • ½ tsp celery salt
  • 1 large potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 litre good chicken stock
  • 150 ml whipping cream
  • Freshly ground white pepper

Melt the butter in a roomy pan and gently cook the celery and onions in it for 20 minutes or so until soft but not coloured. Add the celery salt. Put in the potato and add the stock. Bring to the boil, check the seasoning to see if any further salt (plain) is needed, skim off any scum and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Now liquidize the mixture well, for at least a minute or so for each couple of ladles, as this will accentuate the eventual creamed quality of the soup. Finally, push through a fine sieve into a clean pan, stir in the cream and pepper and gently reheat without boiling. Serve with tiny, buttery croutons.

As previously advised in my Soupe à la Citrouille post, please exercise due care when blending hot liquids. Heston Blumenthal presents sound counsel in his new Heston Blumenthal at home [2011]. He describes how to liquefy soup as follows: “The contents of the pan need to be transferred to the jug of the blender while still warm, as they’ll liquidize more efficiently like that. That said, no matter how eager you are to get the soup done, resist the urge to pour it into a blender while it’s still piping hot. If you put a hot liquid in the jug and close the lid, the heat can cause the air pressure to build to such an extent that, when you hit the switch, the soup forces its way out. So let it cool for a few minutes, then fill the jug no more than two-thirds full. Put on the lid but remove the small inner section, hold a folded tea-towel over the top, then press the button. Leave it for long enough that the contents are fully and evenly liquidized.”

(I’ll admit here that I’ve never much liked blending hot soup in a canister blender; when I use them I rarely fill the jar more than a third full.  When I can get by I do most of my liquefying with a hand-held emersion blender.)

If you are looking for a comforting, rich and satisfying addition to your holiday table, Hopkinson’s Cream of Celery Soup fills the bill. I hope you enjoy this soup in good health. I wish you every happiness at Christmas and good fortune in the New Year.