Saturday, July 14, 2012

Roast pumpkin soup with Mexican spices, fried chorizo and sour cream (with recipe)


This post has been a long time in the making.  I promised three of my colleagues that I would post a soup recipe.  For one reason or another, I either didn’t have the chance to cook or if I did, I didn’t have enough time to make soup.  However, I did eventually find time to make soup and weeks later, write about it.
Being male, I don’t have soup all that often.  That is, soup is usually not filling or substantial enough to constitute a meal and in general, there isn’t enough time on most nights to have more than one course for dinner.  Also, it can take a really long time to make soup, especially if you want to make your broth from scratch.  From a cooking perspective, a good soup must take the time it needs to take and cannot be rushed. 
In the vein of coming up with something substantial, I thought about making a roasted pumpkin soup.  I consider pumpkin to be a bit of a crossover vegetable.  That is, it is a vegetable in the squash family, but is essentially sweet in flavour.  Having grown up in America, my earliest memories of pumpkin relate to trick or treating on Halloween and pumpkin pie.  I had always associated it with sweets and dessert because I had never eaten pumpkin with anything savoury. 
However, it is the sweetness of the pumpkin that combines perfectly with salty meats as well as spices and heat.  As such, I came up with the idea of combining the pumpkin with:
(a)    homemade chicken and vegetable broth to form the flavour base and add complexity;
(b)   sliced chorizo sausage to add substance and balance;
(c)    toasted Mexican spices to give the soup some real character and give it a nice kick; and
(d)   a dollop of sour cream and fresh parsley to complete the picture.
I served the soup with slices of crusty bread, which is most useful for mopping up the last bits of soup in the bowl.  
Roasted pumpkin soup with Mexican spices, sour cream and parsley served with crusty bread.
 
I made the soup over two days because I made the chicken broth from scratch.  You can use store-bought stock if you want, but I think it is really worth the effort to make your own.  In fact, it turned out really well.  The soup was really flavourful, just the right thickness it disappeared really quickly.
Anyhow, now onto the recipe (which I will separate into the following two parts).
·        Stage 1: Chicken and vegetable broth.
·        Stage 2: Pumpkin soup with fried chorizo.
STAGE 1: CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE BROTH
The broth simmering away.

This is a basic chicken and vegetable broth.  It is very rich because even though you start off with 3 litres of water, you end up making around 1 litre of broth.  There is some support from the vegetables, but the focus is very much on the chicken.  Aside from the use of aromatic vegetables, I do not season the broth in any way with salt or pepper or use any herbs or spices.  This is a pure chicken and vegetable broth.  When you use it to make other dishes, you can season it then.
This version uses both the meat and bones of the chicken to really add flavour to the broth.  The breasts are removed because they wouldn’t really add much flavour to the broth and you will completely waste the breasts because they will dry out.
Ingredients (makes about 1 litre of broth)
·        1 whole chicken (breasts removed).
·        2 small carrots or 1 large carrot (roughly sliced).
·        1 medium onion (roughly chopped).
·        3 sticks of celery (roughly chopped).
·        3 litres of water.
Process
1.      Remove the breasts from the chicken.  You can set them aside and use them to make something else.
2.      Add a whole chicken into a large pot or stockpot. 
3.      Roughly chop your vegetables and add them into the stockpot.
4.      Pour in 3 litres of water.  The chicken should be entirely submerged.  Try moving the ingredients around a bit to make sure everything is covered by the water.  If the water is too shallow, add enough water to barely cover the ingredients.
5.      Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer on the lowest heat setting.  On a small stove element, the water should be close to boiling but not quite there.
6.      Cover and leave for 2-3 hours.
7.      After 3 hours, remove the lid.  If you prod the chicken, it should fall apart.  Prod the chicken to really break it up and spread it around.  This will help infuse flavour into the broth.  It will also allow you to have all of the ingredients submerged after you reduce the broth.
8.      Continue to simmer for another 3 hours with the lid off.  By the end of this, your broth should have reduced significantly.  This will reduce the volume of liquid but increase the intensity of flavour and make the broth thicker.
9.      Pour into a large bowl or another pot through a sieve.  You can use the chicken bits for other things such as sandwiches.  If you wanted to make chicken soup, you would put the chicken back into the broth.
10.  Let the broth cool down and then refrigerate in an airtight container.
11.  When you take the broth out of the fridge, there will be a layer of fat over the top.  Remove the fat with a spoon or butter knife.  You can set it aside to fry things if you like.
The broth with fat mostly skimmed off the top.  As you can see, it is like jelly.
 Key tips
1.      Don’t be tempted to boil the water at high heat.  Boiling doesn’t speed up the process.  In fact, it will both boil the moisture out of the meat (you won’t be able to use the meat after) as well as boil the flavour out of the broth.
2.      However, you can speed up the process by using a pressure cooker if you have one.  You can make a reasonably flavourful stock in around half an hour under pressure.  However, there is no substitute to a slow simmer so if you have the time, I highly recommend doing it the long-winded way.
3.      Even if I wanted to salt the broth, I don’t do so until the very end.  This broth is reduced and therefore the intensity of all of its flavours will multiply.  If you salt at the start, it will become inedible by the end.
4.      You really want to buy the best chicken that you can – something free range and organic.  The better your chicken, the better your broth. 
5.      If you want to further enhance the broth to add texture and body, buy some chicken feet and add them in.  They have very high gelatin and collagen content which will really add body to the broth.
6.      I prefer to keep broths very basic, given they are used as flavour bases for other dishes.  If you flavour it with herbs and spices, it becomes less versatile.  You can always infuse your dish with other flavours later.
7.      You can actually clarify the broth with egg whites at the end if you want to and pour through a muslin cloth.  This will give you a very beautiful clear liquid.  I don’t think this step is really necessary unless you are planning to serve up the broth by itself.  If it is being absorbed into another dish, it would be a waste of time and effort.
STAGE 2: Pumpkin soup with fried chorizo
Once the stock is made, the soup will take about 1.5 hours to make.  The reason for this is that the pumpkin needs to be roasted first.  Pre-roasting the pumpkin adds time but creates an entirely different flavour.  The sugar in the pumpkin caramelizes in the oven and becomes nicely browned.  The flavour is very different to if you cook the pumpkin in liquid.  It is kind of like the difference between the flavour of sliced white bread and the same bread after it has been toasted to a golden brown.
Ingredients (serves 4)
·        750 mL of homemade chicken and vegetable broth (or you can use store bought salt-reduced liquid stock).
·        1 whole butternut pumpkin.
·        Olive oil.
·        2 chorizo sausages.
·        2 teaspoons of ground cumin.
·        2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper (more if you want to add heat).
·        1 tablespoon of New Mexico chili powder.
·        1 teaspoon of Nigella seeds.
·        Smoked salt (to taste).
·        Black pepper (to taste).
·        Fresh parsley or coriander.
Process (roasting the pumpkin)
1.      Pre-heat the oven to high (around 200°C).
2.      Roughly chop your pumpkin (remove the skin) and place the pieces on a roasting tray. 
3.      Drizzle the pumpkin pieces with olive oil and place in the oven for around 1 hour.
Some of the roasted pumpkin pieces.
Process (dry-toasting spices)
4.      While the pumpkin is in the oven, dry toast your spices.  Do this by combining all of your spices together in a bowl. 
5.      Pre-heat a small frying pan on medium high heat and then remove the frying pan from heat. 
6.      Immediately add the mixture of spices and stir around on the hot surface of the frying pan with a wooden spoon.  This will make sure it toasts evenly and doesn’t burn. 
7.      After 1 minute, scrape the spices into a bowl and set aside.
Process (making the soup)
8.      After the pumpkin has been roasted, the pumpkin pieces should be nicely browned.  Poke the pieces with a fork and it should pass through with very little resistance (if the pieces are firm, the pieces may have been cut too big and not cooked through and will need more time).
9.      Pour/scoop chicken broth into a saucepan and heat on medium heat, stirring occasionally. 
10.  Once the broth is close to boiling, add the pumpkin pieces, the toasted spices and combine well. 
11.  Pour the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth.
12.  Pour back into a saucepan on low heat for around 5-10 minutes to thicken up slightly.  At this time, add smoked salt (or regular salt if you don’t have that) and black pepper to taste.  Don’t add too much because the chorizo will add saltiness.
The broth on its way to becoming fully liquid.

Process (frying the chorizo)
13.  Meanwhile, slice the chorizo sausages diagonally into slices.
14.  Pre-heat a frying pan on medium-high heat and add peanut oil to the hot frying pan.
15.  Add chorizo slices and fry until nicely golden.
16.  Remove the chorizo and place the slices on paper towel to absorb excess grease.
Finishing and serving the soup
17.  Ladle the soup from the saucepan into large bowls.
18.  Add slices of fried chorizo to the soup.
19.  Lightly beat some sour cream with a fork (so it becomes more liquid) and then spoon in a circular motion into each bowl.
20.  Add a small sprig of fresh parsley or coriander leaves to garnish.
21.  Serve with crusty bread.
The final dish again.

Key tips
1.      Dry toasting spices is not a must, especially if your spices are fresh.  However, it is highly recommended because it will bring out the best flavour in your dry spices.
2.      When dry toasting spices, make sure you move the spices around the hot pan so it heats evenly and doesn’t burn.  To prevent burning, I also recommend turning off the heat if you are just toasting a small quantity of spices.
3.      When frying chorizo slices (or anything really), make sure you add oil to the pan and make sure the pan is pre-heated.  If the pan is too cool when you add the sausages, it will absorb the oil and not fry properly.  Make sure the heat is sufficiently high so the sausages get nicely browned (of course, keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn).
4.      If your frying pan is too small, fry the sausages in batches.  This is always a good thing to do just to make sure that the oil temperature doesn’t drop if you add too much at once.  That way, you ensure that all of your sausage slices brown nicely.

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