I want to be totally frank with you and just say right up front that if you intend to prepare and eat the Clear Soup of Madrid, be prepared to do so with a salt shaker or a salt cellar or one of those big blocks that deer lick in the winter somewhere close by.
Otherwise, you might have the same experience the girls and I had this afternoon, when we gathered with pleased expectation around little mugs of consommé and each took a sip from our spoons and swallowed what tasted like dishwater that had had a tomato and a chicken dipped in it.
(Or an ocean. Oceans are good source of salt.)
Consommé Madrilène was not difficult to prepare, especially since I already had the chicken stock frozen flat and stacked neatly in freezer bags. I pulled one out (I freeze things like stock in four cup portions, which was fine for this recipe, since I intended to cut all amounts in half) and let it thaw in the fridge yesterday.
Today, all I had to do was get it out and pour it into a saucepan and allow it to come to a boil. While that was happening, the directions instructed me to make a meatloaf. Yes, you read that correctly: I made a meatloaf. I made it out of ground chuck, an egg white and herbs, as well as some leek, celery, carrot and chopped tomato. All this was supposed to be stirred together in a mixing bowl and Aisling, who was chopping vegetables with our newly sharpened chef's knife said conversationally, "I thought you said we were having quesadillas for dinner."
"We are," I said, stirring in the celery she dumped into my bowl.
"Then why are you making a meatloaf?" she asked in a reasonable tone.
"This is not a meatloaf. This is.....a filter."
"A filter?" Meelyn queried dubiously. "Like, for water? Or....for the central air?"
"No, it's a filter for the soup. This, er-....meatloaf will kind of float on top, if I'm reading the directions right, and it will draw all the little bits of herbs and all that kind of thing out of the chicken stock so that when it is finished cooking and it's been chilled, it will be as clear as glass and we'll be able to see the pattern on the bottom of our soup plates."
"Is that important, seeing the soup plate's pattern?" Meelyn asked politely.
"I'm thinking yes."
"But when you make a real meatloaf, you just put it in that baking pan," Aisling said, doggedly pursuing her own train of thought, and a very special train it is. So special, in fact, that passenger space is limited to one. "So what are you filtering then?"
"My thoughts, Aisling," I sighed. "My wicked thoughts."
She regarded me over her glasses. "You might want to be careful, saying things like that. Because I could believe you, you know, and tha-..."
"ANYWAY," I interrupted, giving her a quelling sort of look, "the consommé has to simmer with this meatloa-...I mean, filter on top of it for forty-five minutes, and when it's done, we'll pour the soup off the bottom and that will be our finished product."
Aisling looked at me suspiciously. "What happens to the meatloaf?"
"I'll just run it down the garbage disposal," I shrugged. (Actually, I was feeling guilty about that, but I have no idea what I would do with a wet, boiled meatloaf after it had filtered my consommé. I can't feed it to the dogs, because it would be much too rich for their delicate digestions, and I can't see my family being enthusiastic if they asked what's for dinner and I replied "wet boiled meatloaf sandwiches.")
(Or maybe you could eat a bowl of Consommé Madrilène while floating on the Dead Sea, which is so salty, fish and plants can't live in it. It will also support your body weight because the specific gravity of the Dead Sea's water is so high. The guy in this picture is reading a magazine, but I don't see why he couldn't be eating a bowl of cold soup, do you?)
The girls looked disapproving, so I distracted them by mixing the meatloaf with my bare (clean) hand.
The filter apparently worked just as it was supposed to, because the consommé came out of the saucepan as clear as a June sky, only golden instead of blue. There was some kind of bizarre instruction to drag strips of paper towel across the surface of the soup to soak up any fat left over from the stock or the ground chuck, but what is that all about? We did it just to say we'd done it, but I think it makes a lot more sense to just chill the soup and take the solidified fat off later. It didn't really work all that well, anyway. There was a tiny bit of fat on top of the cooled soup and I just lifted it off and discarded it.
So that brings us back to the moment of tasting and a feverish wielding of the salt shaker over our mugs. Salted, it had the flavor of rich chicken broth and tomato, and it was indeed very clear, but other than that, I was underwhelmed. I'm not certain what good the leek, celery, carrot and aromatic herbs were supposed to do, because they were all used in the original stock, which was already tasty. And I found out that I'm not a chilled soup kind of girl. The soup seemed more like a beverage than a soup, like Clamato. The sort of thing that might welcome a shot of vodka. Or, you know. Two shots. You know what, just make mine a Bloody Mary and you can have my soup, okay?
(Or the Bonneville Salt Flats. If you're reading in Utah, you could drive really fast across the plain while holding a bowl of Consommé Madrilène out the window. That would probably help.)
Oh, and I forgot to get the red pepper and extra tomato to dice and float on top, which would have been very cute.
Next week! Soupe à l'oignon gratinée (Onion soup) pages 48-49
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