Cold soups are a frustrating anomaly, because nobody knows what to make of them.  “Huh?  No.  Give me something I recognize.”  It’s understandable–I wouldn’t order hot ice cream.  My brain’s wired for cold ice cream and hot soup, thank you very much.

Wait a minute, though–what about vichyssoise, and gazpacho?  Are they not classic soups?  Are they not deserving of attention?  There must be good reason for them to be classics.  Maybe there’s something to be said for cold soups.  Hm.

When I stop and think about it (which, to be honest, I rarely do, but it does happen), cold soups do indeed merit more consideration and they deserve to be taken seriously.  Let us open our minds a little bit.  It’s best not to have a mind like a soup bowl:  wide but shallow and easily spilled.

In case you can’t tell, I’m trying to talk myself into being amenable to cold soups.  I know perfectly well that my mind is like a soup bowl.  When I get all cheerleaderish about some kind of food, it’s often–not always, but often–because I’m trying to get myself interested in it too.

As I said earlier, “cold soup” is an odd and surprising category, but I honestly think it deserves some respect, and we–myself included–should be reminded of its value.  Let us then now praise cold soups.

It might be as simple as an ordinary cream soup served cold, or it might be a relatively hotsy-totsy fruity thing blended with yogurt or cream.  It’s really hard to classify or categorize cold soups, since there are so many different ways of preparing and serving them.  Let’s keep it fairly simple and say that there are two kinds:  cooked and not cooked, and we’ll leave it at that.

A lot of cold soups are just chilled versions of their heated brethren–consommé madriléne, for instance, or consommé portugaise.  Vichyssoise is another good example–potato and leek soup, which is perfectly good hot, but surprisingly satisfying when it’s cold.

When you’re making a cooked cold soup, there are a few simple things to bear in mind:

  • If you’re going to cream the soup, add the cream at the last minute.  Adding cream to a cold soup removes the concern of curdling (as with a hot soup), but we still have concerns of shelf-life and food safety.  Cream doesn’t last forever, after all.
  • Cold soups can’t be as thick as hot soups, so back off on the thickening agents–roux or cornstarch or whatever.
  • Cold soups–or any other cold things–chill your taste buds and knock them somewhat out of commission; they dull the sense of taste.  Consequently, cold soups require more seasoning than hot soups.  As always, be sure to taste stuff before fending it off on others.
  • This last point is super-simple, but you’d be surprised how often it goes awry:  Serve cold soups as cold as possible, and in chilled bowls.

Okay, let’s hit a couple of cold homeruns, shall we?

Vichyssoise

Like I said earlier, vichysssoise is a classic cold soup, made with potatoes and leeks.  It’s elegant as all get-out, cheap, and very easy.  What’s not to like?

If you follow this here recipe, you’ll wind up with about a gallon, which is a lot if you’re cooking at home.  A gallon is generally enough to feed about sixteen people, so unless you’re one of those freaky oddball ginormous families with a dozen kids, do the math to make less.  Those of you who keep up with this blog (if there are any) know that I draw the line at doing math for you.  I might give you a kidney, but I’m not doing long division.  I’m not even quite sure what long division is, to be honest.  Is there short division?

Off we go.

2 lbs. leeks, but just the white part*

1/2 lb. butter

2 lbs. taters, chopped up in a not necessarily fussy way

3 1/2 qts. chicken stock

salt and white pepper

3 c. heavy cream

little bits of chive for garnish

*–Remember, leeks are notoriously filthy and loaded with sand and grit.  It’s not their fault, and don’t hold it against them.  They do come from the earth, after all.  Just be sure to rinse the heck out of them before you use them.

Slice the leeks thin, and sweat them in the butter.  Don’t let them get brown.  There’s a difference between sweating and caramelizing.

Add the taters and the stock, hit it with some s & p, and bring it up to a simmer.  Let it go until both the leeks and the taters are tender, which will take about 45 minutes.

Put the soup into a blender or a food processor or whatever (a food mill works too) and purée the heck out of it.  After that, put it through a fine sieve (a chinois is ideal, but dang!–they’re expensive).

Stash it in your icebox as long as possible.  When it comes time to serve it up, stir in the cream, adjust the seasonings (almost everything benefits from more salt and pepper, and that’s especially true of cold stuff), and ladle it up into chilled bowls.  Garnish it with the little bits of chive and prepare to be lauded as a culinary genius.

Before we get to gazpacho–which is generally an uncooked cold soup–here’s another cooked one, but not at all like vichyssoise; it’s a fruity one.  A lot of cooked, cold soups use fruit juice as a base–usually apple, orange, or grape.  They’re then typically thickened with cornstarch or arrowroot and some fruit purée (again, though, don’t thicken a cold soup as much as you would a hot one).  You can splash some wine into it if you happen to be that kind of person, and it’s not unusual to see certain spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger) or citrus juice for a little added punch and/or acidity.  You can add some richness by stirring in crème fraîche, yogurt, or sour cream at the last minute.

Anyway, here’s:

Chilled Cherry Soup

Once again, this recipe yields about a gallon, and I ain’t doing  the math for you.  You want less, you’re on your own.

5 lbs. pitted cherries

2 qt. apple juice (give or take)

a sachet of 2 cinnamon sticks and 4 whole cloves (“sachet” meaning you bundle it up in cheesecloth and tie it off with string)

6 oz. honey

1 oz. cornstarch

lemon juice

1 c. dry champagne or sparkly white wine

crème fraîche* for garnish

toasted slivered almonds for garnish

*–Crème fraîche is a fancy-pants version of sour cream that you can’t really get in the USA because of FDA or USDA restrictions (I’m not sure which).  You can buy stuff labelled “crème fraîche,” which is fine, although it’s not the same as the real thing.  You can also use ordinary sour cream, which sure as heck isn’t the real thing but is better than nothing.  Remind me and I’ll tell you how to make your own crème fraîche.  It’s super easy, and I even got the go-ahead from a food scientist at the FDA:  “I don’t see a problem with that, as long as it’s pasteurized and you keep it covered.”

My goodness, I do digress.

Put the cherries, apple juice, sachet, and honey into a pot and let simmer for about half an hour, and then pluck out the sachet.

Dilute the cornstarch with a bit of cold apple juice (doesn’t take much) and stir it into the soup for thickening.  Let it simmer for about ten minutes, just to get rid of the starchy flavor.

Purée the soup in a blender or a food processor.  If you’re feeling fussy, put it through a strainer.  Chill it well.  When it comes time to serve it, add as much lemon juice as you think is appropriate (taste it!) and stir in the champagne/white wine.  Garnish it with some crème fraîche and the almonds, and you’re done.

Sorry I don’t have any pictures, but I’m too tired to go on an image hunt.  Use your imagination.

I once made this soup when I was in Vermont and some woman who ordered it sent it back.  She had a sour, squinty face, and said “It’s like eating a melted Slurpee with a spoon.”  Part of me wanted to punch her, but part of me understood–cold soup is a weird thing.  It shouldn’t be, but it is.

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