Get it right

I carry lumps of nutmeg in my change purse. I stand motionless in front of croissants, studying the paper layers and reading the smell of butter. I ask too much of the butcher. But at the moment, no kitchen belongs to me. I have a hot plate next to a tiny sink over a fridge behind a cabinet door. I have a box of chocolates in a drawer that opens almost all the way, along with a serving spoon and scotch tape. I have travel containers of baking powder, cornstarch, salt and saffron, under my books, next to plates.

There are kitchens near by that I slip into like those girls who buy a pair of pants to wear and return when the party is over, hoping that everything happens but not too much so that anybody would notice when they bring the pants back.

There is a mushroom soup that is not at all complicated but takes a full stove of burners. Canned stock is not an option. Chicken bones, celery, onion, leek, just enough carrot, parsley sprigs, bay leaf and a garlic clove with a spill of olive oil and a measured amount of sea salt are at the back. Some of the mushrooms are steeped from dried in a bowl of hot, but not quite boiling water that becomes a finishing tisane. Their fresh cousins are seared and sautéed, not too quickly, with a tiny dice of shallot and sprigs of thyme. To take it over the top, the cream simmers on its own with a clove of garlic that gets pushed through a sieve at the end. The steam from each pot rises with the pot next to it, like voices around the table. There is no party if people aren’t talking in and around and on top of each other. Do what you have to do.

Make a chicken stock. Season only to help you taste it–not enough salt to take it to the end. Steep dried porcini or shiitake in scalded water that just covers them. Lift them out after 5 minutes and drain on a tea towel. Reserve the liquid. Remember to pour carefully when you need it so that you leave the sediment behind. Finely chop 2 medium size shallots and saute in butter with a drop of olive oil until completely tender. Season with salt and a bit of freshly ground pepper. Cut nearly a pound of fresh, fat, wild mushrooms into chunks. You should be able to get a few at a time on a soup spoon. You never want to make anyone feel embarrassed when they eat, by giving them pieces to deal with that are unwieldy. Add to the shallot and saute over medium heat with a smashed garlic clove, a parsley sprig and a few sprigs of thyme, until cooked through. Chop the reconstituted mushrooms and add them to the pan. Give them another minute. Reduce a few tablespoons of dry white wine into the mushrooms. Don’t allow the pan to become dry. Remove the garlic and herb. Season with salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. Simmer 1/2 cup of heavy cream with a bay leaf and a clove of garlic until slightly reduced, and the clove of garlic is soft. Push the garlic through a sieve and whisk into the cream. Remove the bay leaf.

Add 4 cups of your stock to the mushroom mixture. Reduce until it tastes right. It should taste full, but not heavy. Whisk in enough of the mushroom liquid, which might be all of it so that you get the hint of it. Same with the cream. It is not a cream soup, it just wants cream to bind the flavor of the mushroom to the liquid. Taste the whole thing for salt and pepper. It is critical to get it right. Grate whatever hard cheese you truly love, to dust the bottom of each bowl. Toast a wildly thin piece of baguette and spread with butter to place on top of the cheese. Poach the yolk of a quail until just beginning to create a skin, and set one on each of the croutons. Set the croutons in the bowls, on top of the cheese. Gently pour the hot soup right around the crouton, covering it. Be sure each bowl has plenty of mushrooms. This is adapted from Jose Andres, whom I carry with me always and everywhere. He adapted it from the renowned, Lluis Cruanyes of El Dorado Petit.

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