I got it right!
One of the problems of going deep on a recipe is that you sometimes don’t know what flavor you’re looking for, so it’s hard to get there. I had an idea that I wanted something woodsy and earthy, but that was all I knew. Last week’s detour into sweet had been all wrong — far too orange — so I dialed way way back and focused instead on the really deep brown flavors.
I let the onions and mushrooms cook very very slowly in butter. The trick with onions and mushrooms is that they are both mostly water and I wanted to cook all the water out. If I am cranky about what’s on the radio, I will wait until I see a lot of liquid and then crank the heat up so as ti evaporate it off quickly. And then I get distracted by something and it all goes pear shaped.
This time I turned off the radio and turned the heat way down and let it happen slowly. The juices simmered down and then browned on the bottom of the pan and I deglazed it with a bit of sherry and cooked it down even further. Once it was nearly a paste, I scooted it all out ot the sides of the pan and added a tiny touch of tomato paste. Tiny. A half teaspoon or so. Then I poked it with the tip of my wooden spoon, moving it around as it browned. But it was too little to really cook properly and I gave up and stirred it in with the rest of the pan. I added a bit of flour — maybe two tablespoons — and a generous helping of dried thyme. Then, at the last minute, a four cloves of crushed garlic.
I cooked that until it was nicely browned and deglazed the pan again with chicken stock and cooked it down until it was practically a paste. Frankly, I wanted to spoon it onto cheese toast and eat it like that.
But I was making soup, so I resisted.
I whisked in a broth that was mostly chicken but I decided to cheat a little and added a teaspoon of Better Than Boullion Mushroom Base. Three diced carrots, three stalks (with leaves) of the good celery from the CSA, and a bay leaf. While that was coming up to a simmer, I pulled out another pan and seared the skin side of four chicken thighs. I was too rushed and the skin stuck to the pan when I tried to flip them so I just dropped the still-mostly-raw thighs into the soup to cook, poured the golden shmaltz out into a tiny dish, and let the stuck skin crisp up in the skillet. Once it was crunchy-crispy golden, I deglazed the pan with more stock and scraped up all the brownness. Into the pot with the deglazing liquid (into the trash with the boiled skins).
All that was left was to fish out the thighs once they were cooked and shred the meat.
Sipping the broth, I realized what flavor I’d been groping towards: the smell of the forest floor in the thin wintry sunlight after a cold night and that dark richness of the soil under frost-spangled oak leaves after all the trees have gone bare. I wanted a soup that some fairy-tale hunter could come home to in the early twilight.
I served the soup with mini popovers, and the buttery eggy golden poufs were the perfect foil for dark, layered, but still lean soup. We were out of sweet cider — our last bottle had gone hard in the fridge and I couldn’t serve it to little ones any more. But a small glass of just-barely hard cider would have gone beautifully.