A perfect starter for festive winter meals
December means parties, entertaining, and festive events all around. So we need to whip up some guest-pleasing delights—especially if we’re hosting big dinners.
Main courses always seem to sort themselves out, but what about starters? We want something hearty (to take the edge off those winter appetites). Something out of the ordinary, too—but not difficult to make.
So how about cooking up some homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup? It’s rich and delicious, but not time-consuming.
Once you try it, you’ll never go back to the canned stuff. Ever.
Recipe: Cream of Mushroom Soup
Classic Cream of Mushroom Soup probably originated in France, where it’s called Potage Velouté aux Champignons. As the name suggests, it’s made with velouté sauce—essentially a white sauce made with a butter and flour roux as the base. It’s almost the same sauce as a Béchamel sauce, but instead of using milk as a liquid, velouté uses a lightly-flavored stock.
In a cream soup like this, you’ll get better flavor if you replace some of the stock with milk, so that’s what we do here. Making velouté sauce takes a few minutes of attention at the stove, but it’s easy—and it gives the soup terrific texture and taste.
There are various methods of making this soup, including complicated ones that finish it by using egg yolks to make an emulsion (more on this in the Notes). We prefer an easier, more straightforward method. Our recipe is adapted from Julia Child’s The Way to Cook.
Prep time for this recipe is 10 to 15 minutes. Cooking time adds another 40 minutes or so, much of it unattended.
This recipe serves 4 as a first course, or two as a main course. If you’re serving a crowd, it’s easy to double this recipe. Leftovers keep OK if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 1 cup chicken stock, heated
- 3 cups whole milk, preferably heated (see Notes; may substitute skim milk, but the dish won’t be nearly as rich)
- ½ cup diced onions (a bit more or less is fine; about 1 small onion)
- ~½ pound mushrooms (white mushrooms work, but consider portabellas or another variety—see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Kosher salt to taste (a few pinches; see Notes)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (a few grinds; may substitute white pepper if you prefer)
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ~¼ teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme; may substitute fresh tarragon)
- ½ cup heavy cream (use a bit more for a richer soup; may substitute sour cream)
- additional Kosher salt to taste
- additional freshly ground black pepper to taste
- garnish of sliced mushrooms and/or parsley, fresh thyme, or tarragon
- Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a small saucepan (hold over low heat). In a separate saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer (hold over low heat). You’ll be using both these ingredients in Step 6.
- Peel the onion and cut it into dice of ¼ inch (or even finer).
- Prep the mushrooms: Wipe any dirt off them (wash and dry them if they’re really dirty). Cut the mushrooms into dice of ¼ inch or so (if you don’t want to do this by hand, whirl them briefly in a food processor, but don’t overprocess—you want the mushrooms to retain some texture).
- In a 3-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When melted, add the diced onion. Season with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (a few pinches/grinds of each), then sauté until the onion is limp and translucent, but not browned (7 minutes, maybe 8; if you’re impatient, you can even get away with 4 or 5 minutes).
- When the onion is translucent, add the flour and stir to incorporate. Cook the mixture for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring continuously to make a roux.
- Remove pot with the roux from the heat. After a few seconds (when the roux stops bubbling), add the hot chicken stock while stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon to blend. Keep stirring until you have a smooth mixture. Now whisk in the milk and return the saucepan to the heat. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes or more over low heat, until the mixture lightly coats a spoon. If it’s too thick, add some additional milk. Whisk or stir frequently during this time—you don’t want the mixture to scorch.
- When the soup base is ready, stir in the mushrooms and thyme. Cook for another 10 to 15 minutes (or longer, if you prefer). Stir frequently—again, you don’t want the soup to scorch.
- Now add the cream, and simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes. Taste, and add additional salt and/or black pepper if necessary.
- Garnish (if you wish), and serve.
- If you prefer, you can leave out the milk and instead increase the amount of chicken stock (see Steps 1 and 6). The soup base won’t be quite as rich, though, so add extra cream if you go this route.
- Why heat the chicken stock (Step 1)? So lumps won’t form when you add it to the roux (Step 6).
- Same deal with the milk—although after you add hot chicken stock to the roux, even cold milk probably won’t form lumps if you add it slowly and whisk while you’re doing it. But we always heat the milk; it just seems to work better that way.
- Better quality mushrooms make a better soup. The everyday white button mushrooms work fairly well in this dish, but portabellas add more oomph. Or use a variety of mushrooms for even more interesting flavor.
- Kosher salt is more coarse than regular table salt, so it’s less salty by volume. If you’re substituting table salt for Kosher, always use less—about half as much. If the dish isn’t salty enough for you, it’s easy to add more salt later.
- Which is a good reminder: Always taste as you cook, and adjust seasonings to your palate. Your taste always trumps what the recipe specifies.
- That goes for using herbs in this soup, too. We like just a touch of flavor from the herbs so they don’t overpower the mushrooms. But by all means add a larger quantity if that tastes better to you.
- A (perhaps) more traditional way of making this dish is to add egg yolk at the end. This adds good flavor and silky smoothness—though we don’t think it improves the soup enough to justify the extra complexity, so we don’t bother.
- But if you’re interested, here’s the drill: At Step 8, don’t add the cream to the soup. Rather, add it to a large bowl with a couple of egg yolks. Beat the cream and egg yolks together. Then beat spoonfuls of hot soup into the egg yolk/cream mixture a bit at a time. After you’ve added about a cup of soup, slowly and gradually stir in the rest. (You don’t want to add too much hot soup at one time, otherwise you’ll curdle the yolks.) Next, return the soup mixture to the cooking pot. Bring it just to the barest simmer, stirring all the while, and cook at a simmer for a minute or two until the egg yolks are poached. Garnish (if you wish) and serve.
- BTW, if you haven’t diced the mushrooms finely enough and the soup has too much texture for your taste, just insert an immersion blender and give it a few spins to break up the mushrooms a bit. (But don’t overdo it—a bit of texture is nice in this soup.) Use an immersion blender with a stainless shaft—the plastic ones can crack when immersed in hot liquid. Ask us how we know.
Ladles of Fun
“Mmm, one of the best soups ever,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Cream of the crop.”
“Indeed,” I said. “It’s souper.”
“These puns are getting outrageous,” said Mrs K R. “I should cream you for that last one.”
“Yeah, we better stop,” I said. “They’re starting to mushroom.”
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