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NO.53
SUMMER2017

A couple of creative consommés featuring shellfish (or not).

Beef consommé with oysters. A sublime combination of pellucid broth and bracing shellfish that, strangely enough, appears to have little historical antecedent. Rowley Leigh gets some but by no means all credit for the idea behind this preparation. He published it recently in the Weekend FT but the great Marcel Boulestin published a similar version over seven decades ago. You could take the (substantial and difficult) time to simmer and clarify your own consommé but, as Leigh notes, canned soup is more than adequate here. For two and may be multiplied at the same proportion.


Ladle.jpg-a 10½ oz can consommé, diluted with half as much water
-a jigger of dry or medium dry Sherry (see the Notes)
-splash of Worcestershire
-a shallot, peeled and sliced into the thinnest roundels
-8-12 shucked oysters, depending on your level of generosity, and their liquor
-minced chives or scallion greens


  1. Heat the diluted consommé with the Sherry and Worcestershire: Keep it hot.
  2. Throw the shallot and oyster liquor into a small saucepan with a little of the seasoned consommé and simmer the shallots until they barely begin to soften.
  3. Add the oysters to the pan and poach them only until they just begin to curl at the edges.
  4. Divide the oyster preparation into two bowls, ladle half the consommé into each bowl and scatter the chives or scallions over the soup. Serve immediately.

Notes:

- Boulestin’s version omits the Sherry and simmers the oysters in white wine instead before dropping them into the beefy broth. His consommé is simplicity itself and dispenses with the tiresome use of a raft to clarify the stock. From The Best of Boulestin edited by Elvia & Maurice Firuski (Salisbury, CT 1952):

“Take a good-sized piece of beef., some bones with a marrow bone as well, and put them in a saucepan with salted water. Bring to the boil and skim carefully, after which add the following vegetables: three carrots, two onions, one leek, one turnip and some parsley. The consommé should then simmer for five or six hours. Then skim it very thoroughly and pass it through a fine sieve.”

-  The grade of Sherry you select will have a considerable impact. Use either fino or amontillado: The fino will produce a more bracing soup, the sweeter amontillado a richer one.

- Nothing beats an oyster you open yourself, but if the prospect daunts you or you want to economize, preshucked oysters from a reputable fishmarket are entirely satisfactory for making this soup.

- Many Campbell’s soups display all the charm of dishwater, but not the consommé; an excellent product. It is a constant in the Editor’s larder, not only for soups like this but also to give backbone to beef and bird gravies. In undiluted form the soup is, however, salty, so adjust your seasonings with care.

- The combination of beef broth with oysters ought to be a classic. Oysters, after all, originally married into steak and kidney puddings and pies with subtle confidence, and carpetbagger steak with its pocket of oysters ranks as one of the great simple delights. It therefore is more than passing strange this rich and yet ethereal soup appears to be so new. Leigh gets credit for a quintessentially English innovation.

- He is, however, stingy with the oysters, offering only three per person in his recipe, which first appeared in the pages of the Weekend FT.

- Another marriage of Sherry and stock is polygamous. The Editor previously has published it in a Caribbean context, but because it shares its soul with the consommé and oysters it deserves description here.

 

An Anglo-Caribbean consommé with your choice of ballast. This soup in turn is the soulmate of another simple, unique and ingenious recipe from the Sugar Mill Caribbean Cookbook by Jinx and Jefferson Morgan. It is one of the more spectacular soups you will find anywhere at any cost (in its case, however, quite low). The only difficult thing about this recipe is the difficulty of obtaining white Port but not even its absence is an insurmountable obstacle (see why in the Notes). The Morgans somewhat sheepishly admit that this soup “is so simple to prepare that we are a little reluctant to reveal the recipe.” We are grateful they did, and abashed that otherwise we never would even have thought of something so good.  For six.


-3 cups chicken stock
-1 ½ cups beef stock or canned consommé
-1/3 cup clam juice (bottled is fine)
-1/3 cup white Port
-3 sea scallops cut into the thinnest discs you can manage
-salt and, maybe, a little pepper
-minced chives or scallion greens to float


  1. Bring the liquids to a boil while you arrange the scallops on the bottom of six wide bowls.
  2. Ladle the hot broth into the bowls; it will cook the scallops. Sprinkle the green stuff over the soup and serve.

Notes:

- This soup should be standard to anyone’s repertoire. If we ranked recipes, and we do not, this one would make the top ten along with our crawfish etouffe and (as yet) undisclosed steak, kidney, oyster and mushroom pudding.

- Be meaner than the Morgans and refuse to disclose the recipe to food pseuds; they never will figure out how you made it. This is one of those situations involving the sum and its parts.

- Do not despair if you cannot find white Port; a Sherry ranging from dry to medium sweet makes a serviceable enough stand in, and britishfoodinamerica’s own Phoebe Dinsmore prefers her Anglo-Caribbean consommé that way. The Editor, however, does not: She thinks that the Sherried version is good, but not as good as the Portly original.

- Her preference may stem in part from the alchemy induced by the Port; it seems to give the soup a luminous viscosity that is unfound elsewhere.

- If you have some, substitute oyster liquor for the clam juice. The Editor never discards it when she shucks oysters for any purpose that does not use their liquid. It freezes happily.

- The Morgans cut their scallops into strips rather than discs. They specify half a pound of the shellfish instead of enumerating them.

- For those sad creatures who claim to dislike scallops, or if you cannot find any, or if you are broke, thinly sliced mushrooms or avocado or both are nearly as good and certainly worth trying. A bfia innovation.