Back in my undergrad days at Ball State, one of my favorite things the food service came up with was known as Chicken Velvet Soup. Everybody loved that soup, so creamy, so rich, so....velvety! On the days when it was served for lunch or dinner, people would sit at the tables, their heads bent dreamily over their bowls, inhaling the inviting fragrance the way a lover breathes in the scent of his beloved.
Well, okay. Maybe not quite that dreamily. But still, it was really good soup. And throughout my adult life, I have judged all chicken soups on this criteria: Does it measure up to BSU's Chicken Velvet?
I'd have to say that Velouté Agnès Sorel is very, very close. Velouté does mean "velvety," so I was hoping to achieve a very close approximation.
I prepared the stock on Monday afternoon, having scored a gorgeous three-pound chicken at a butcher's markdown price that morning. I made the stock in the slow-cooker, using the recipe I posted here a couple of weeks ago. Only this time, I filled the cooker a bit too full, and when everything inside came to a simmer, it sort of sploshed out and my copy of Le Cordon Bleu at Home received a chickeny baptism that marks it as a true cookbook: In my mind, a cookbook can't properly carry that title if all its pages are pristine and untouched as they were the day it was boxed up by the printer. No, a real cookbook -- a Velveteen Cookbook, if you will -- is one that has pages with notes scribbled in the margins, and greasy butter stains and pages stuck together and all that. My copy of LCBatH already has notes scribbled in the margins ("Totally screwed this up - use fresh mussels next time" the chagrined note at the edge of the Billy Bi recipe reads) and now it has about forty pages that have been well and truly chicken-stocked.
But I digress. As usual.
I was intrigued by the idea of using beef tongue or ham in this soup (guess which one I chose?) because it seemed it would add another dimension of lusciousness to something that sounded pretty darned good, even without the meat. It also called for the breast of the chicken cooked in the slow-cooker plus the addition of butter-sautéed mushrooms, so I was looking forward to a really hearty soup, which is what we got. I found that surprising, considering that this soup is named after the favorite mistress of King Charles VII of France, Agnès Sorel, natch. In fact, several delectable dishes and a couple of operas feature her, a person of reported grace, beauty and intelligence, so I'm thinking she must have been one hot little number who would have appreciated a thick soup made with...er, tongue. And breast.
ANYWAY, the soup came together fairly easily, except for four problems that dogged me.
1) The first trouble spot occurred when I tried to julienne the mushrooms, which refused to comply with my dull and unintimidating knife, so I just sliced them and reflected that last week's Julienne Darblay's results had been better, but not by much;
2) Then I tried to slice the chicken breast before it was cooled because my family was standing outside the kitchen door, murmuring among themselves and sampling the leg of one of the dining room chairs as an appetizer. It wouldn't slice, and was so tender from the slow-cooker that it ended up shredding itself in the creamy broth later on. It still tasted okay, but it wasn't the look of julienned chicken, ham and mushrooms that I was supposed to achieve;
3) I ran out of twine and the becursed bouquet garni went all to pieces in the broth. You know those pictures you see sometimes of a bouquet garni tied with a bit of a scallion's green end? Well, that's all just a cruel lie, so don't bother, and;
4) The soup wouldn't thicken when I added the cream. I don't know where I went wrong on that one, because I followed the recipe to the letter. Is one of my daughters a secret Cordon Bleu spy who made an international call to tattle to the director that I made the stock in a slow-cooker instead of on the stove? And then, according to instructions from abroad, did that girl replace my real copy of the cookbook with a fake one that had little changes made to the recipe so that it would flop? And have I been watching too many TiVo'd episodes from The X Files, or what?
So I served the soup and I thought it was pretty good and Meelyn thought it was just okay and Aisling turned up her naughty nose and my husband ate one bowl in stoic silence, pushing his mushrooms onto the rim of his soup plate with a pained grimace. I sat in a grim silence of my own and resolved to serve the ingrates some pre-fabricated macaroni and cheese for the next three nights.
I just ate the rest of it for lunch and thought it was rather good, although still not up to the Chicken Velvet standard. The combination of chicken, ham and mushrooms in that really delicious creamed stock is quite good. But I would definitely try this out again and work to make it thicken the way it was supposed to.
I felt that this soup, because it was so full of chunky ingredients, was definitely the type of soup you eat for a meal, whereas last week's Julienne Darblay, smooth and creamy could be either a first-course dinner soup, or a main course luncheon soup, or even a simple supper soup, if you wanted it to. To complement the Velouté Agnès Sorel, I made up some buttery garlic croutons to float on top (along with a garnish of flat-leaf parsley) and placed them on the table in a serving dish for people to help themselves.
I would have made a lovely little green salad to go with this soup, but I was pressed for time and everyone was mad at me, so pretend that's what I did, if you don't mind. I'd like you to imagine it with some cucumber and tomato chunks, plus a little chopped red onion and a handful of dried cranberries. We like a nice garlic vinaigrette with that. If you'd like to pretend that my husband and I had a chilled glass of white wine and didn't have some cross words after dinner, it wouldn't hurt my feelings.
Next week! Bisque de Langoustins (Langoustine Bisque) pages 185-186
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