For superb French delicacies, straight from France! Click the UK flag at the upper right of the website to browse in the comfort of English.
Soup in France
(from Colette's Best Recipes: A Book of French Cookery,
Boston: Little, Brown Co., 1923)
A Marie Jacques published this book after her experiences one summer with pragmatic and gifted family cook Colette. It has nothing to do with haute cuisine--everything to do with French cuisine de famille. It is a marvel of French customs, thrift, and wisdom from a bygone era that cooked over a fire and had no refrigeration. It's a long entry (some 10 pages to print out), but one well worth taking the time to read. You can also reference individual regional soups, including Garbure.
Colette Makes Soup
So, you see, Colette's career began with the soup. Many things do, in France,--the two chief meals of every day, for instance, in every family; and some things end with it also, as, in many working-class homes, there is nothing else for dinner and supper except just the soup, and a big hunk of bread to dip in it. And, on that, the boys and girls manage to grow up as strong and active and wiry as you please. For there is not more valuable article of food than well-made soup.
Mind, it must be well made. A soup square, melted down in a little hot water or a highly seasoned mess out of a tin have no food value at all, or next to none. Besides, they are very costly, and quite needlessly so: real, homemade soup should cost next to nothing, as all the odds and ends in the house can be used up for it.
Roughly speaking, soups can be divided into three classes: PURÉES, or soups that have been rubbed through a sieve or a colander; BREAD SOUPS (especially French in nature); CLEAR SOUPS.
Let me try to give you a notion of each in turn. You should always remember that, in the first two categories the word "stock" means either meat boilings or vegetable water. Special stock made from bones is quite unnecessary. Remember also, please, that the time given for cooking is the shortest possible one. Soups can nearly always be cooked, with advantage, for an almost unlimited length of time. All those that do not contain either eggs or whole pieces of bread or toast can be warmed up, and will improve, rather than otherwise, in the process.
PANADE is the first soup that a French baby gets. In schools over here, they give it to the children for breakfast, in place of any other cereal. It can also be served at dinner, though only "in the family."
Allow a good half slice of bread for each person. The more crusts you can use, the nicer will be the panade. Put it into a big pot with plenty of water, and boil steadily, but not too fast, for one hour. Don't stir! If you do, the bread will sink to the bottom and burn.
Drain out the bread. Put it through a sieve or colander. If you want plain Panade à l'Eau, such as school children get, thin it out with its water to the consistency of soup, season it with salt and a very little sugar, and reheat it, stirring all the while. Just before it is done, add a lump of butter, more or less generous, according to your resources.
PANADE AU LAIT. After the bread has gone through the sieve, thin it out with boiling milk. Add sugar, and just a wee pinch of salt, with butter to taste. This is the staple food of French babies.
PANADE À LA REINE. Make it just like Panade au Lait. But, after it has boiled up the second time, draw the pan off the fire and beat in the yolks of one or two eggs. Return the pan and stir constantly while the eggs thicken, but do not let the soup boil again. This is very often served to invalids, or to children when they need a treat.
PANADE À L'OIGNON (ONION POTAGE). Allow one small onion for each person. Boil them with the bread, and put them through the sieve with it. Thin out the soup either with its own water, or with meat boilings. This is excellent for colds, and for all skin troubles. Season well with salt and pepper, but keep just a wee grain of sugar too; it helps the taste of the onion.
PANADE AUX LÈGUMES (VEGETABLE POTAGE). When you have cold vegetables left, mix them into the hot bread as you drain it out of the pan, and put all through the sieve together. Thin out the mixture with vegetable water. This is a good family soup.
SOUPE À L'OSEILLE BLANCHIE (WHITE SORREL SOUP). Take a big double handful of tender young sorrel, which has been washed and picked over. Put it in the soup pan with a lump of butter the size of an egg, and stir over the fire till the leaves soften. Add one and a half quarts of water or stock. Let the whole thing boil five minutes. Now cut about six largish and very thick slices of bread. Throw them into the pan, draw it aside, cover it, and let it simmer gently for quarter of an hour. Now beat up the yolks of two eggs with salt, pepper, and a little of the warm soup. Stir them in just at the moment of service. Have ready the whites, beaten to a stiff froth with a little salt. If you use a soup tureen, dab the whole big lump of white into it. If you serve in plates, put a white tuft on each plate.
This soup is "very foreign looking" and never fails to attract comment from those who have not lived in France.
SOUPE À LA BRETONNE (BRITTANY SOUP)
Peel the vegetables and cut them into very small dice. The green stuff should be washed and cut into fine strips. Put them into the soup pan with the butter, and let them get well warmed through. Then add the liquid and boil steadily for two hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Now take a stale loaf--or, better still, a big crusty roll--and cut off from it the thinnest possible shavings. They should not be slices, but real shavings, curled and ragged.Put at least six, and more if you like, of these shavings into each plate. Pour in boiling soup, taking care that you give a fair share of vegetables with each serving. Cover the plates, and stand them beside the fire, or in a cool oven, for five minutes, so that the bread may soak: then add as much more soup as each plate will hold, and serve.
JULIENNE AU PAIN (JULIENNE, WITH BREAD) is very much the same kind of thing, except that you must take all the root vegetables you can lay hands on in equal amounts, and no green stuff at all, unless you happen to have some green peas. Cut all the vegetables small. Be generous with the butter in which you warm them. Cook just as above, but when it comes to a question of the bread, cut neat thin slices, just large enough to fit tidily into your soup plates, and toast them very brown indeed.
SOUPE MOUSSELINE. Melt three ounces of butter in the soup pan. Add a handful of spinach or sorrel, carefully washed, picked, and cut into fine strips. When the green begins to change color, add one quart of water and half a pound of the white of bread. Salt and pepper the soup to taste, and let it simmer one hour.
Now beat up the yolks of two eggs with one pint of very hot milk. Stir in the whites, beaten to the firmest possible froth. Pour all this into the soup tureen--which should be well heated first--and then add the soup, little by little, beating all the while. Serve at once.
This is rather an old-fashioned soup, which still remains in favor, and might well appear on a dinner menu.
CROÛTE AU POT (CRUST IN THE POT) is another well-known national soup. It can only be made with meat boilings,--not with vegetable water.
Toast two thin slices of bread and put them in the soup pan with the fatty part from the top of the boiling meat pot. At first there should be enough liquid to cover them. But, as they boil, the liquor will evaporate, leaving them to stick to the bottom of the pot. When they are well stuck, take them off carefully with a knife, put them in the soup tureen, and pour over them the meat boilings, nicely seasoned.
If you can use crusts of bread, rather than slices with white in them, so much the better.
NOW LET US HAVE A FEW PURÉES
Their name is legion, for every kind of vegetable is capable of being boiled and then put through a sieve: and the more different kinds you mix together, the more various and interesting will your pureés be. Here are a few examples.
SOUPE DE DIVERS LÉGUMES (MIXED VEGETABLE SOUP). Add together all the vegetable waters and meat boilings that you have, up to two quarts. Put all on to boil. When it boils, add whatever vegetables may be in season,--carrots, turnips, onions, parsnips, peas, celery, and either old potatoes or haricot beans, to thicken the entire affair. You must never have less than three vegetables, of which one must be onions and one the thickening. When all are soft, put all through a colander with big holes. Reheat it, stirring all the while. Add salt, pepper, and the largest lump of butter or good dripping that you can spare.
SOUPE D'HARICOT (HARICOT BEAN SOUP). Wash and soak one pound of haricot beans. Put them on to boil with four large peeled potatoes, four large peeled onions, and two quarters of water or stock. Boil till the beans are perfectly tender. Then put the whole thing through a sieve. It will be quite thick, and you should not thin it out. Reheat it, stirring carefully. Just before serving, add salt and pepper to taste, and the biggest lump of butter you can spare.
This is a very nourishing soup,--just what you want for the family dinner on cold-meat days.
SOUPE DE LENTILLES OU DE POIS (PEA OR LENTIL SOUP). This is very similar. Use dried peas, either green or yellow, or dried lentils. Measure them, soak them overnight, and add four times as much of water as you have of vegetables. Add also one onion and one large carrot to each pint of liquid. Cook just as above, adding a tiny wee pinch of sugar, as well as the salt the pepper, just before serving, if the soup has been made with water or vegetable stock. If it has been made with meat boilings, you will find just a very small dash of made mustard nicer than the sugar.
SOUPE AUX POMMES DE TERRE (POTATO SOUP). There are almost an unlimited number of flavorings for potato soup,--onion, celery, salsify, mixed herbs being the favorites. Whichever you choose, it should be cooked in with the soup.
Allow five large potatoes to one quart stock or water. Peel them, boil them in the stock till they are soft, and put them through a fine sieve. Reheat the whole affair, adding a generous lump of butter. At the moment of service, stir in one fourth the amount of milk--or, better still, of cream--heated, but not boiling, that you used of stock. Unless you are very sure of the freshness of your cream mix it first with a little boiling soup in a basin: it would be such a shame if you were to put it straight into the whole quantity, and then have to stand and watch it turn!
SOUPE AUX CHOUX (CABBAGE SOUP) is a very great specialty of Colette's, and I think I will put it in here, though it is not exactly a purée. There are several different kinds.
1. Put on a big pot holding at least two quarts of water, and throw into it
Cover the pot and boil hard for three hours. Then add a piece of butter or good dripping, the size of two eggs. Boil for half and hour more. Fish out the potatoes, if they are not already in pulp, and smash them roughly. Finish off the soup by throwing in little dice of crust, which should just have time to soak before it is served.
This is a real good farmhouse soup,--the sort that you almost live on when you spend a holiday in the country. If you can make it of the water in which a ham, or a large piece of bacon, has been boiled, it is delicious.
2. SOUPE AUX CHOUX ET AU FROMAGE (CABBAGE AND CHEESE SOUP). This cannot be made except in a soup tureen. Put at the bottom of the tureen a layer of small, thin pieces of bread. On them sprinkle a layer of grated Parmesan cheese. then more bread. Then more cheese. Then a final layer of bread. Having made a Soupe aux Choux, as above, ladle a little of the liquid into the tureen, and stand it a the side of the fire for three quarters of an hour, so that the bread may soak. Then pour in the rest of the soup and serve.
This, according to Colette, is "a much more presentable soup", and worth careful making. cut the vegetables into wee dice, or even stamp them out with a tiny cutter: but leave the pieces of cabbage rather big, or you will take away all the character of the dish.
3. SOUPE AUX CHOUX À LA VIANDE (CABBAGE AND MEAT SOUP). When you have had a roast, either of beef or mutton, which was rather underdone, leave a little of the meat clinging to the bone, saw the bone at three or four places, and boil it in the Soup aux Choux. You need not, in this case, use any butter at all. colette often adds a good handful of rice when she uses a bone: in this case, no bread is needed.
Last of all come the clear soups, which are, as a rule, considered finer and better than the thick ones. There is a sort of "halfway house" of a soup, which gets served continually in every French family, and is a triumph of economy, both in money and effort. It is called POT-AU-FEU (POT ON THE FIRE), and it is made by the very simple expedient of taking a nice piece of boiling beef and cooking it in a big pot, with all the vegetables you have handy. At the end of five to seven hours of cooking, fish out the beef--which will be perfectly tender--slice it, and serve it hot, covered with any of the meat sauces which you will find in Chapter XI. Or an even simpler--and more really French--way of doing things is just to slice the beef, arrange the slices at the middle of a dish, fish out of the pot enough vegetables to make a pretty border, and pour a little of the pot liquor over all. Serve the soup first, with bread broken into it, and you have the staple dinner of the French middle-class household, comparable to a meal of roast mutton and bread pudding in England.
Colette wants you to know that there is a rule of procedure in the making of Pot-au-feu, and it is this:
- Put the beef into cold water and bring it to a boil.
- Skim it carefully.
- Add the vegetables, peeled and cut into moderate pieces, but not too small. Carrots, for instance, may be split into four lengthwise bits, and an ordinary cabbage cut into six pieces. But as the pot must boil for so long, there is no need to hurry the cooking of the vegetables by cutting them smaller.
- Let it boil up and skim it once more.
- Add salt.
- Cover the pot. Keep it boiling at any rate you like. If you don't want to use the meat that day, let it soak in the soup all night, and just warm them up together next morning. A piece of beef weighing five pounds is enough to make a gallon of good Pot-au-feu.
BOUILLON, which is the foundation of most clear soups, can be made with meat or bones of any kind. Colette seldom buys soup meat; indeed, she would think it almost a crime to do so. But, as we live in a country where butchers bone their meat as a matter of course--except the large joints of beef and mutton--each piece that comes into the house brings its little pile of detached bones for the soup pot.
The best of all, without doubt, are veal bones, which made a delicious, jelly-like soup. Beef and mutton bones are a little tasteless, but can be improved by being chopped here and there, so that the marrow may come out. Game and chicken bones and leavings are excellent, and Colette always says that the fore quarters of a rabbit do better work in the soup pot than on the dish. (There is little to eat on them, you know, but they give an excellent flavor.) You can mix several different kinds of meat with advantage, and I hardly need remind you, I think, that the water in which a tongue, ham, or a bit of bacon has been boiled is a perfect treasure for the soup pot. When people are coming to dinner, Colette nearly always puts a pair of pig's feet into the bouillon, for there is nothing that gives a more delicious flavor. And I like them very much to eat, cold, next day, with a little mayonnaise dressing.
First and last, you should have one pound of bones or bits of meat to each two pints of water, if you want to get a real, good, strong bouillon. If you want it to keep well, use no vegetables, as they tend to make it turn,--nothing but the meat, the water, and a little salt.
Boil, with the lid on the pan, for at least five hours, and as many more as you can manage. Let the bouillon get cold. Skim it most carefully and save the skimmings for frying. There's nothing more tasty than sauté potatoes made with the skimmings of a well-seasoned bouillon.
Strain out as much as you want to use at a time, keeping the big pot of soup in a cool place, and boiling it up every two days in warm weather, and every three days in cold, if it lasts that long. It may be used in any of the following ways:
VERMICELLE AU GRAS. Salt and pepper the bouillon to taste, color it with a little browning, make it boil up fast, and break in vermicelli. Stir till it boils again. Cook fifteen minutes, and serve.
POTAGE OF ITALIAN PASTE. Make it exactly like the Vermicelle soup. When it is served, have a plate of grated Parmesan added, so that each person may help himself.
POTAGE AU MACARONI, TAPIOCA, etc., are all made just the same. Large macaroni takes thirty-five minutes to cook in the soup, and tapioca more or less time, according to size: but, when it is quite clear, you may know that it is done.
POTAGE AUX CROÛTONS FRITES. Serve a perfectly plain bouillon, and hand wee stars of fried bread with it; or, better still, use
CHOUX PUFFS. Put into a pan one fourth pint of water, two and one half ounces of flour, and one ounce of butter. Let them boil. Then draw the pan aside and stir in two and one half ounces of flour. Beat smooth with a wooden spoon. Return the pan to the fire and stir again till the paste just begins to bubble. Then draw the pan away once more and beat in an egg. When the egg is most thoroughly mixed, let the paste stand to get cold. Then heat your pan of deep fat to smoking point, take up the weest possible little bits of paste, and drop them in. They puff up enormously, and turn a bright biscuit brown at once. Drain in the oven before serving, to make them crisp. Hand them with clear soup. They look ever so nice and taste delicious. The quantities that I have given you make a big tin full,--enough to last quite a while.
When you are making pastry, save up all the odds and ends, roll them into long thin strips, and, holding a strip over a pan of frying fat, heated to smoking point, snip off the end in wee bits, which fall down into the pan. They puff and swim up to the top almost at once, and are deliciously crisp and nice with the bouillon.
JULIENNE. You must use for this a good mixture of root vegetables--at least four different kinds--and, if possible, green peas with them. The whole art of preparing the Julienne lies in the cutting up of the various roots in very wee bits, none of them larger than a pea. When all are done, put them into the soup pan with one ounce butter for each pint of vegetables, and cook gently till the vegetables begin to soften. Then add a quart of good bouillon--or more, if you like--for each pint of vegetables: boil three quarters of an hour: serve with little snips of fried bread.
The bouillon may be colored or left plain, according to taste. It should be well seasoned with pepper and salt.
POTAGE PRINTANIÈRE (SPRING SOUP). This is pretty much the same kind of thing, except that asparagus points, green peas, and wee spring onions are essential to it. (You probably won't get anything much else to put with them at that season of the year.) Add a little white sugar to the soup, tasting carefully after each pinch that you stir in.
POTAGE AU MELON (MELON SOUP). This is perfectly delicious. Peel and seed a small melon, and cut the fruit into neat, small cubes, not more than one and one half inches in size. Boil them till tender in plain water. Drain them.
Slice one large onion into the soup pan and fry it in a heaped tablespoonful of butter. Pour on to it one quart of boiling bouillon, add the melon, season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer for five minutes before serving.
BOUILLON À LA MINUTE (HASTY SOUP). Take one fourth pint of gravy from the roast,--beef, mutton, or veal. Skim it most carefully, taking away every possible drop of dripping. Add it to one pint of boiling vegetable water or plain water. Serve with choux puffs or fried bread. Very good indeed.
CONSOMMÉ is not much used except in illness or for very grand occasions. But you may like to know how to make it, all the same.
Boil this for eight hours. Let it cool and skim carefully. This makes a really splendid consommé. The meat can be used a second time in the family soup pot, though I do not suppose there will be so very much richness left in it.
"For all the other clear soups," says Colette, "let folks just take notice, when they go out to dinner, of what they are eating, and they will get no end of ideas. Clear soup is always clear soup: and, when you find that it has been improved by the addition of this little thing, or that little thing,--well, all you have to do is to notice just what it may be, and put it in your own pot next time. What could be easier?"
If you want to make good soup always:
- Add the seasoning at the very end, unless the recipe tells you something different. There are certain seasonings--cloves, for instance--which must be cooked in the soup. But salt and pepper, which are the most ordinary seasoning, should generally be added at the last moment, with a careful stir-up and an attentive tasting between each pinch.
- If your soup is too salty, or rather dull in taste, add a very little rough brown sugar. It is often a great help in bringing out other flavors.
- Remember that bread thickenings and pressed purées must hardly ever be stirred at the first boiling while the ingredients are whole: but when they are reheated, after being put through the sieve, they must be stirred continually and kept on a very moderate heat, for they will burn if you give them the smallest chance.
- If soup burns, never stir or jolt it, but take the pan off the fire at once, holding it very steady, and gently pour the contents into a clean vessel. As soon as you see that burnt bits are beginning to pour out, stop. Throw the rest away. Never, on any account, scrape the pan or help the soup out with a spoon. Carry the clean vessel out into the fresh air and there taste the soup. (You cannot do a fair tasting in the kitchen, where your nose and mouth will be full of tainted air.) If the scorched taste is very slight, reheat the soup, adding to it a good bunch of fresh mint, and it will be eatable, though I do not promise that it will be good. But if the scorched taste is strong, don't waste time and trouble on it. Throw it right away, for if you serve scorched soup even once, it is so nasty that you run the risk of disgusting your folks forever with this useful dish.
- If you are making soup with cold vegetables, which is sometimes a very handy thing to do, don't try to boil them up in the soup pot, or they will surely sink to the bottom and scorch. Boil the water or bouillon or whatever it is, and pour it on them, just let them warm and soften a little, and then put them through a sieve and reheat them like a fresh purée.