Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lenten Friday cookalong, part 5

As someone who keeps in touch with one's pals from one's former life (including one's rather miserable Wall Street life of epochs ago) it's fun to go out and have lunch and dinner. I had Becco and LondonBar on my schedule but I was open for the other slots.


I was pleasantly pleased to be introduced to a place called Craftbar, of which I had heard in passing. Well.

[Darned] nice.

It's always good to go to these sorts of places with a regular, so that when he (or, in your case, possibly she) orders something offmenu nobody emerges from the kitchen with eyes rolling in a fine frenzy and stainless steel flashing menacingly. The item in question is a -- no, really -- carrot and crab soup. During the colder [!!] months, it's apparently made with parsnips and it's even more of a revelation.

At any rate, the base for this soup is very much like a variation of the Puree o' Carrot soup. So that's pretty much sorted out. There were bits of tart apple and, I think, jicama in there as well.

Of course, when I eat stuff like this, I IMMEDIATELY start trying to deconstruct the recipe in my head -- to all the foodies here, do you do that as well? Or is that just me? -- so invariably I get asked "Are you okay?" as my brow furrows and my face is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought. Some people do acrostics, or crosswords, or sudoku...I try to figure out the recipe for things I enjoy.

So, basically I'm telling you I've been working on this.

(Incidentally, the prices at Craftbar are "not bad...for New York." I also liked it that it had a kind of locals/insiders sort of vibe to it.)

I'm pretty sure I have the carrot & crab soup wired properly. The breakthrough came when I realized two things:

1- There was no effort to emphasize the sweetness of the carrots. In this context it would have devolved into "sugary."

2- There was no effort to emphasize the seafood-y nature of the crab. In this context it would have come across as overly piscine.

This soup pretty much hangs on two factors: the greatness of the stock and the freshness of the crab.

So, this is what I'm thinking, after a couple of trial-and-error runs:

1/2 lump crab meat (ideally you'd buy it very fresh from the fishmonger, but the refrigerated canned stuff is okay IF it's fresh...check the "sell by" date)
1 lb carrots (or if you're trying for a more winterish thing, parsnips)
1/4 lb unsalted butter*
Coarse sea salt (kosher is fine) and fresh-ground black pepper (white pepper if you are using parsnips)
6 cups vegetable stock (you COULD buy some, I'spose)
1 small jícama
1 tart (braeburn, granny smith, whatever) apple
extra virgin olive oil
chives [opt.; if you think fennel fronds is too much bloody fennel, use this as garnish]

For vegetable stock:
4 large carrots
4 celery ribs
2 whole leeks, sliced open and rinsed free of grit (1 large white or yellow onion would work)
1 fennel (bulb, stalk and frond)
1 head garlic
2 dried bay leaves
1 tbsp. whole peppercorns
extra virgin olive oil

Start with the stock:

Cut off the fennel stalk. Peel the outermost layer of the bulb, and core it out. Dice the carrot, celery, onion and bulb roughly. (Reserve about a handful of fennel fronds.) Cut the head of garlic in half and loosen as much of the papery outer skin as you can.

Swirl oil (twice around the inner perimeter) into a stockpot and put over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, toss in the chopped vegetables. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Sweat the vegetables making sured they do not color, figure about 2 minutes. Add the peppercorns and bay leaves and stir. Then, add cold water to just cover the vegetables. Wait for the first TINY bubbles to show up and then lower the heat to whatever temperatures allows for a pleasant simmer, leave it uncovered for about half an hour.

(You need cold water to extract the flavor of the vegetables. Hot water would cook the surface areas and not let the flavor components leach out into the liquid.)

Strain the stock (a mesh insert is IDEAL). No need to be fanatical about it. If you feel extra-diligent, mash down on the vegetable matter with a ladle. The juices emanating (from the vegetables you're abusing) are GOLD, baby. If you're smart, you'll make 2x - 3x the amount called for, as this freezes beautifully and tastes eleventy zillion times better than anything store-bought. To say nothing of not screaming with sodium. Oh, yes, look at the label of that canned're begging to hold water with that stuff.

Drain the crabmeat and, still in the strainer, give it a GENTLE dunk in the strained stock. Figure a minute to warm it through. Quarter the carrots (or parsnips) and GENTLY boil in the stock until soft; start checking at the 4-5 minute mark. Fish them out, set aside.

Immediately place carrots (or, you got it, parsnips) into a food processor or blender (or another pot in case you want to use an immersion blender). Add a couple of tablespoons of butter to carrots (or parsnips). Add pinch of salt and pepper. Add a couple of ladles of the stock into the carrot or parsnip and blend. (If using a blender be careful because the steam can make the whole thing distribute itself very evenly on your walls, ceiling, floor, face, hair, etc.) Repeat, one ladle of stock (up to four) at a time as you puree again. At this point it will be rather thick, so add more stock depending on how thin you like your soup, reserve and freeze any leftover stock. Place soup back into the pot, and back on the stove over medium-low heat.

In crayon: Basically, boil the carrots in the stock and puree them with some of the stock.

Peel the jicama (if you use parsnips as the soup base, try to get the golden Caribbean jicama, for a nice color contrast) and dice, core the apple and cit it into a large julienne (think the size of "McBurger Hut's Drive-Thru Fries" or maybe a bit smaller). Toss these two things in water with a teeny splash of lemon juice or vinegar to keep them from browning.

Make a small bed of jicama on a soup bowl, add crab to that pile, and then garnish with the apple and chives. Ladle the soup around the solids. Sprinkle a few fennel fronds as garnish. If you feel especially frou-frou you can use an old tuna can as a "ring mold" because no sane person would ever pop $$ for a ring mold when disused tuna cans are free.

Serves 2 very generously.


* Notice the 4:2:1 ratio of carrot:crab:butter, this is key to multiplying the recipe.