Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weird Little Mushrooms in Soup

After living a mile from it for a decade, I finally made a shopping trip to Jong Boo Korean Market, which I drive by often but had never set foot in. The occasion was a successful day of marketing that included the new fancy supermarket that just opened across from the Jewel, Paulina for meat and a fly-by of Andy's for some weird little cucumbers and such. Jong Boo was pretty cool, and I got some stuff I was curious to try cooking with, including red miso, a big hunk of fresh pork belly, Korean shiso leaves (colloquially called "sesame leaves" in Korean), Koeran leek chives, fresh Chinese noodles and a carton of weird little white mushrooms cultivated in a mass. As soon as we got home I decided now was as good a time as any to try making a soup with some of this stuff.

I started the soup by sweating some onions and garlic in some sesame oil reinforced with olive oil. When they were soft and smelled good, I added some finely diced ginger, carrots and peppers. The alley patch has been incredibly productive this year, prodigiously producing Hungarian wax peppers, jalapenos, tiny Thai chiles, little golfball-sized cherry red peppers and some red things that look like serrano peppers but aren't as hot. For this soup, I made a brunoise of a fat jalapeno, one of the red mock serranos and a couple of the little Thai firecrackers. Those things are pretty hot, but aren't disruptive unless you bite directly into a whole chile.

I salted all the vegetables, and once they made their introductions, I covered them with water and stirred-in a healthy blob of the red miso. When the miso had dispersed and formed a broth, I added a splash of fish sauce and let the whole thing come up to a boil. Meanwhile I boiled water for the noodles. Typical Asian soups have noodles boiled separately and added to the bowl, and that seemed like a good protocol to follow. Boiling the noodles separately keeps the starch in the noodles from leaching into the soup and clouding and thickening it. The noodles are less flavorful than egg noodles, so it's critical to salt the water they boil in or they'll be a flavorless paste. 

While the noodles were boiling, I prepared some herbs. I tried one of the leek chives, and it was underwhelming. Not a lot of flavor and a strong chlorophyll taste. I plunged one into the soup stock and let it blanch a little, then tasted it again and was surprised that the raw greenness had left, leaving a nice mild onion/chive/leek flavor. I chopped a small handfull and dropped them in the soup. I tried the shiso/sesame leaf raw and it was pretty rude, with a medicinal/poisonous licorice flavor that reminded me of sassafras and wintergreen. I was intrigued by the flavor and didn't dislike it, but I suspected Heather would be put off by it. I tried blanching a leaf and the medicinal quality was reduced considerably, leaving just the suggestion of anise and wintergreen. I rolled a couple of the leaves into a bundle, cut them into ribbons of chiffonade and added them to the soup. The final flavor of the soup was hearty and complex, with considerable spiciness and a rich mouth feel. Given the complex flavor of the shiso, I thought fresh mint and tarragon would compliment it, so I ran out to the alley and grabbed some, then chopped them fine to use as a garnish.

When the noodles were done, I made a little mound of them in the soup bowls, then ladled the soup over the top. The stock had turned a lovely amber color, but was a little plain, so I floated a couple slices of spicy capicola on it. The heat from the soup instantly made the fat transparent and the meat turned a bright rosy pink. I pulled a few of the weird little mushrooms off the cluster and plunked them in the soup, then scattered some of the chopped herbs over the soup, and the final look of the soup was nice.

The pork belly will be in play shortly.