Vern’s Cooking & Tidbits

By Vernon Summerlin

Soups or Stews?

             Soups are similar to stews and in some cases there may not be a clear distinction between them. Generally, stews are much thicker than soups and require longer cooking over low heat. While soups are almost always served in a bowl, stews may be thick enough to be served on a plate with the gravy or as a sauce over the solid victuals such as fish or beef.

            Soup is a primarily liquid fare, generally served warm (but may be cool or cold), that is made by combining ingredients such as meat and vegetables with stock, juice, water, or another liquid. Hot soups are additionally characterized by boiling solid ingredients in liquids in a pot until the flavors are extracted, forming a broth.

            Traditionally, soups are classified into two main groups: clear soups and thick soups. The established French classifications of clear soups are bouillon and consommé. Thick soups are categorized by the type of thickening agent used. Many popular soups include carrots and potatoes.

            A stew is a combination of solid food ingredients that have been cooked in a liquid and served in the resulting gravy. Ingredients in a stew may include any combination of vegetables (such as carrots, potatoes, onions, beans, peppers and tomatoes), meat, especially tougher meats suitable for slow-cooking, such as beef. Fish, seafood, poultry and sausages are also used.

            The stew-cooking liquid can be beer, wine or stock. Seasoning and flavorings may also be added. Stews are typically cooked at a relatively low temperature (simmered, not boiled) allowing flavors to intermingle thereby creating more complex tastes.

            Stews may be thickened by reduction or with flour, either by coating pieces of meat with flour before searing, or by using a roux or beurre manié (a dough consisting of equal parts of fat and flour). Thickeners like cornstarch or arrowroot may also be used.

Crappie Noodle Soup

            1 cup cooked crappie, flaked

            2 medium carrots

            1 quart water

            1 celery stalk

            1 small onion cut into thin wedges

            1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley

            2 teaspoons instant chicken bouillon granules

            1/2 teaspoon salt

            1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

            1/8 teaspoon black pepper (for an extra kick, throw in a few dashes of cayenne pepper)                 1/2 cup uncooked narrow egg noodles

Cut carrots into diagonal slices. Cut celery into thin slices. In 2-quart saucepan, combine carrots, water, celery, onion, parsley, bouillon granules, salt, thyme and pepper. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add noodles and return to boil. Cook until noodles are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in fish. Simmer 1 minute. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Beer Cheese Soup

            8 cups milk

            2 teaspoons Tabasco or Louisiana Hot sauce

            4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

            4 tablespoons chicken base

            16 ounces Cheeze Whiz

            6 tablespoons cornstarch

            1/3 cup water

            1 cup beer

            Cayenne pepper

Combine milk, Tabasco, Worcestershire and chicken base. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly. Add Cheeze Whiz, after warming in hot water or in microwave. Mix in well.

Dissolve cornstarch completely in the water. Add to soup, which should thicken immediately. Reduce heat a bit and stir in beer. To serve, ladle into bowls and dust with cayenne pepper.

Makes 6 servings.

Fish Stew I    

            1 pound crappie fillets cut into 1-inch pieces

            2 tablespoons butter

            1 large leek, cleaned and thinly sliced

            1/2 cup sliced shallots

            Salt

            3/4 cup white wine

            1 1/4 cups chicken broth

            1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb

            1 pound baby red potatoes, trimmed

            Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

            1 pinch cayenne pepper, or more to taste

            1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

            1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook and stir leek, shallots, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the melted butter until softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir wine into leek mixture, increase heat to medium, and cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

Mix fennel and potatoes into leek mixture and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are nearly tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Add cream and stir to combine. Stir fish and tarragon into soup, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Stir gently, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until fish flakes easily with a fork, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.

Fish Stew II

            1 to 1 ½ pounds crappie fillets cut in 2-inch pieces

            4 large garlic cloves, cut in half, green shoots removed

            4 anchovy fillets, soaked in water for 4 minutes, drained and rinsed *

            2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

            1 large onion, chopped

            1 celery rib, chopped

            1 medium carrot, chopped

            Salt, preferably kosher salt, to taste

            1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with liquid

            1 quart water

            1 pound small new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered or sliced

            A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf

            Freshly ground pepper

Place the garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a mortar and pestle, and mash to a paste. Add the anchovy fillets and mash with the garlic. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add onion, celery and carrot with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the pureed garlic and anchovy. Cook, stirring, until the mixture is very fragrant, about one minute, and then add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down a bit and the mixture smells aromatic, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the water, potatoes, salt (to taste) and the bouquet garni (bundle of herbs usually tied together with string). Bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low, cover partially and simmer 30 minutes. Taste, adjust salt and add pepper to taste. Remove the bouquet garni.

Season the fish with salt and pepper, and stir into the soup. The soup should not be boiling. Simmer five to 10 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets) or just until it flakes easily when forked. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley, taste once more, adjust seasonings and serve. Makes 4 servings.

            * I like to eat anchovies straight from the can. Some folk don’t eat’em at all. But in this case keep them in the recipe. They add great depth of flavor and omega-3 fats. And don’t worry, the stew won’t taste like anchovies.