Recipe – Soupe à Nina

This household favourite may well claim to be the best soup ever designed by a two year-old. Part of Nina’s bath time is dedicated to preparing delicacies from her bath bubbles that Sara and I are often requested to critique. Lucky us. One of her favourites is an understandably foamy soap that while smelling strongly of Strawberry Shortcake children’s shampoo apparently contains “sausage, mushroom, and chicken.” Several dozen bubbly bowls of bath water later, I decided to have a go at making the real thing.

When September has arrived, the thermometer is starting to fall, but the fresh corn is still on the trucks, it is perfect timing for this harvest soup. The smoky broth created by the roast chicken and fried sausage is counterbalanced by the bright notes of the thyme and the creamy, sweet corn, making this homey comfort food at its finest. Tear off a big chunk of sourdough bread, toss together a light salad and eat curled up in the sofa in front of a Season Nine episode of Friends.

Soupe a Nina

Soupe à Nina

250 g sausage
250 g roast chicken, chopped
175 g mushroom, sliced
200 g corn
1/2 large white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp thyme, finely chopped
1 tsp parsley, chopped
1 L chicken broth
1 tbsp dry sherry
1 tsp sugar (optional)
butter
oil

Cook the chopped onion and minced garlic with a tablespoon of butter on low to medium heat until soft, then remove them to a bowl. Add a teaspoon or two of oil to the same pan and sauté the mushrooms on medium to high heat until starting to brown on the edges before putting in the bowl along with with the onion and garlic.

Toss a smattering of oil into the same saucepan and heat to medium-high before placing the sausages. Brown the sausages on all sides in order to develop some rich meaty flavour for the resulting broth. Much of the browning that you see here is due to the Maillard reaction – actually a set of reactions that is certainly the first, and perhaps the most important to be discovered under the banner of food science. At once incredibly simple and incredibly complex, the Maillard reaction at its most basic is the chemical joining of nitrogen in the form of a molecule termed an amine with a specific and very ubiquitous type of sugar. Simple, yes? And complex as well – imagine these structures combining, collapsing and recombining like a child’s Lego tower. Proteins and sugars are forming more and more elaborate molecules that lend increasingly varied and developed flavour as the cooking goes on. Some of these compounds are exceedingly large and the sheer volume of them created makes it impossible to dissect each and every taste and aroma in order to pinpoint exactly which flavour is due to exactly which chemical. Still, a great deal is known and the field of molecular gastronomy (or modernist cuisine if you prefer) harnesses this knowledge in order to push cooking to its limit. Maybe you are doubting whether I am overstating its importance? Consider that the Maillard Reaction has its own society. Of nerds, admittedly, but still…

Back to the cooking. Remove your sausage and cut into small pieces about half a centimetre thick before covering and setting aside. Pour some of the chicken broth into the saucepan and scrape free the brown bits on the bottom, which should slowly dissolve into the broth. Transfer to a soup pot, then add the rest of the ingredients apart from the sugar, which you can decide whether you need by taste. If you are using corn from a can then you probably should. If you have fresh corn from the market then you shouldn’t miss that extra teaspoon.

Even though this is a great couch soup, when the mood strikes me I pour this over a bowl of thin noodles and eat with crusty white bread and one of Sara’s fantastic bitter green salads. Put on a sweater and eat outdoors with a glass of IPA.

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