It all started innocently enough. It invariably does. The inimitable winter soup maven posted a recipe for an incredible sounding wild mushroom soup.
I am not normally a soup person, but evenings have been getting chill. Though the days may still linger in the high 80’s the night time temperatures drop quickly, especially with the coastal breeze.
Night creeps upon just a little sooner and something changes in the air. There is a crispness to the air that beckons one to the warm glow of a kitchen perfumed with the long cooking scents of soup.
And thus I was riveted with the idea. Once it was in my head it would not let go. A steaming bowl of liquid Nirvana. Earthy, meaty, and herbaceous… I longed to smell it bubbling on my own stove, raising tiny geysers of fragrant steam to warm my kitchen.
I was especially enchanted by the fact that this was not a cream based soup. While I love mushroom soup in almost every variant, I find non-cream based recipes rare. As soon as the post went up I began having languid day dreams of sipping the amber liquid from a deep spoon. I would find myself biting my lip as I imagined scooping out bits of mushroom with wafers of crusty bread dragged through the soup they were almost, but not quite disintegrated.
And thus I began plotting and gathering. Alas I was gone last weekend and the weekend before and my schedule during the week did not permit me the luxury of indulging in my wildest soup fantasies. But I did not pass the time in vain.
Because I love… LOVE… shitake mushrooms I always keep a supply on hand. The rest of the mushrooms I staked on sale. As I have been unable to make it to the farmers market for fresh mushrooms, nor did I have access to wild mushrooms for my own picking, I was forced to use dried (woe!).
To be honest, for preparations like soups and risottos I prefer to use dried mushrooms anyway. The process of reconstituting them with hot water yields flavorful mushroom water that I then add back to the dish to enhance the mushroom flavor. The mushrooms water makes an excellent substitute for a few tablespoons of stock as well adding a robust earthy background flavor.
So after a couple of weeks of planning I found that I had a really good mix of mushrooms. Dried morels, a mixture of dried northwest native mushrooms (proceeds going to conservation), some oyster mushrooms, a couple of lovely portabellas, and the ubiquitous white button mushrooms. And of course my kitchen staple, shitake.
And the last thing I had to obtain was Sherry….
This, proved to be the hardest part of the entire process. Ok, maybe it wasn’t hard, but it was terribly confusing.
Being allergic to alcohol, every time I go into a liquor store, I feel as if I have been transported to an alien world. One where they speak a completely different dialect that I can only half understand. And apparently, having a short list of words in that same language just doesn’t help.
Walking up to one of the natives and pronouncing the word “sherry” got me pointed to a bewilderingly large shelf filled with almost identical dark glass bottles all labeled “sherry.” Remembering the lesson of “cooking wine,” I immediately eliminated anything that had the term “cooking” in the title. Thanks, I can add my own salt.
This of course narrowed the selection down by only three bottles. Reading the descriptions didn’t help either. Dry should never be used to describe a liquid as far as I am concerned. And telling the sales clerk that I needed a sherry to make soup got me pointed back to the cooking sherry which I had already eliminated.
In desperation I went with the only name I recognized. Amontillado. Though I suppose there is a bit of an ominous connotation when you pick your cooking wine based upon Edgar Allen Poe. Still, I brought it home only to realize that “holly crap I have to use up this whole bottle.” Fortunately the good folks over on the Live Journal cooking communities helped me out tremendously and it appears that I will be experimenting with sherry based recipes for some time to come.
Armed with all that I needed and a little bit of time to spare, I set about making the soup. It is as easy and uncomplicated as it is delicious. And Jewelweed’s (I love that name) recipe left me a lot of wiggle room so that I could embellish and alter to my hearts content.
And the soup? Everything I could have wished for. A rich amber broth with deep, soul-satisfying mushroom flavor. I could have probably just stuck a straw into the pot and sucked out the whole thing. The mushrooms lent a good textural balance and each their unique flavor. Though I would have been just as happy with the broth itself, perhaps topped with a crouton and some shredded gruyere cheese then broiled until crisp and bubbly. Would have been an elegant presentation.
This photo, by the way, was taken though the steam rising from the soup and I just love the fuzzy quality of it.
Jewelweed’s Wild Mushroom Soup
1 pound white button mushrooms (or a combination of white button and brown) 
4 tablespoons butter (or vegan alternative), divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole 
4 cups chicken stock (or substitute vegetable stock)
4 cups mushroom water
1 beef (or mushroom) bullion cube 
4-8 ounces dried wild mushrooms or ¾ pound fresh wild mushrooms
½ cup sherry
6 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon minced tarragon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste
One to four hours before making the soup, place the dried mushrooms into a large bowl and cover with 6 cups of boiling water. Invert a saucer over the top to force mushrooms to stay under water.
Wash the button mushrooms and slice roughly. If using fresh wild mushrooms, remove stems and add to the button mushrooms. Place half the button mushrooms into a food processor blend until fine.
Drain the dried wild mushroom, squeezing out as much water as possible without crushing them. Spread on paper towels to dry slightly.
In a heavy soup pot, add half the butter and the whole garlic cloves. Stirring constantly, allow the butter to melt and brown slightly. Add the sliced button mushrooms and sauté until they have let off their water and begun to brown. Add the minced mushrooms and continue to cook until they have let out their water and the pan is almost dry again. Add the chicken stock, mushroom water, and bullion along with three sprigs of thyme and 1/3 cup of the sherry.
Bring mixture to a boil letting it simmer on low for half an hour to forty-five minutes.
Line a colander with cheese cloth. Pour the soup into the colander to strain out the solids. Press mushrooms to extract as much liquid as possible and discard. Place the liquid back into your soup pot and set to simmer on low.
If you are feeling lazy, add the rest of the ingredients to the pot. Adjust seasoning to taste, bring to a boil and allow to simmer for a further 15 minutes. Then server with a scattering of fresh herbs.
However, for extra flavor:
Melt the rest of the butter in a large sauté pan, add the rest of the sherry allowing the alcohol to cook off a moment. Add the mushrooms with a sprinkle of salt and sauté until golden.
Right before removing the mushrooms from the flame, add the chopped tarragon and thyme leaves (pulled off the stems). Place the sautéed mushrooms into the soup base and bring the soup to a boil. Add the cayenne, black pepper, and adjust salt if necessary. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Serve with crusty bread and nice salad.
 I used a mixture of white and portabella for a deeper flavor
 By leaving the garlic whole and browning it slight with the butter you get a gentle garlic nuance without overwhelming the more delicate mushroom flavors.
 I used a teaspoon of “Better than Bullion” which smelled like beef jerky. And really its not necessary, just adds a depth of flavor to the soup.