Soupe Aux Lentilles
In my last post, I explained two of Thomas Keller’s basic techniques: how to cook pearl onions and how to create a bouquet garni or sachet. As promised and without further b-poo, here is how the rest of the lentil soup came together.
Le Puy lentils
sachet + 4 garlic cloves
chicken jus/ stock
baby leeks, spring onions, ramps, or scallions
red pearl onions
white pearl onions
1/4 inch diced carrots, blanched in salted water
chopped Italian parsley
extra virgin olive oil
I scored the bacon fat and rendered it in a pot over medium heat. Then, I stirred in the soffritto and lentils, followed by the onion, carrot, sachet, and chicken stock. I did not have a chicken (or the time) to make chicken stock but I purchased some top-notch stock made fresh by Stock Kitchen in Granville Island Public Market. I simmered the soup until the lentils were tender, around 25 minutes.
I secretly find joy in tasting food for doneness. There’s a thrill in fishing out a steaming piece of food (pasta, vegetable, or in this case, lentil), blowing quickly on it, popping it into my mouth, burning my tongue, chewing it, pressing it to the roof of my mouth, judging its texture, anticipating how a mouthful would feel, and calculating how much the residual heat will continue to cook it.
So when the lentils were tender, I discarded the vegetables (actually, I ate the carrot), removed the bacon, trimmed the fat off, cut the bacon into lardons (1 1/2 x 1/8 inches), and set them aside.
I really appreciate the comments in the last post on how beautiful the finished soup looks because making the garnishes was the most time-consuming part. Apart from preparing the soffritto and garlic confit which you may have heard me mention numerous times already, the pearl onions had to be prepared “just so” and the 1/4 inch diced carrots had to be blanched in boiling, salted water.
Next, the turnips, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorn, and salt are added to a saucepan with enough cold water to cover them and simmered until tender. I was unable to find baby turnips so I cut the turnips into wedges instead. Meanwhile, I trimmed the tough, dark leaves off the scallions, blanched them until tender, shocked them in an ice bath, and then drained them on paper towels. At this point, I’ve lost count of how many pots of water I’ve boiled and salted in order to blanch the garnishes separately.
To serve, I followed his precise instruction to simmer the soup over medium heat, then added the garnishes to simmer for five minutes more. Lastly, I added the herbs, seasoned the soup with s&p, and served it up with a final drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of lardons.
This was a truly lovely spring-time soup. The flavors were fantastic as predicted: fresh, vibrant and aromatic. The sachet infused the toothsome lentils and heightened the vegetables’ flavours. My disappointment came when I discovered that the garnishes’ flavours were not distinct from one another in spite of the amount of time and care I paid to prepare them separately. This was simply another case of how the recipe would make sense in a kitchen where a large amount of each garnish is prepared (by a sous chef, no less) and combined when the soup is ordered. It does not transfer quite as well in the home kitchen. Nevertheless, following the recipe closely is the primary challenge of cooking from Bouchon at home.
Would I make this again? Most definitely. I never order lentil soup because it is usually gray, grainy or pulpy more reminiscent of a split-pea soup. I suppose it’s a butchered version of what Robert-Gilles Martineau described of having in France during the winter. It is no wonder that he sees Keller’s veggie-centric version as “more like a minestrone soup”. In reality, the lentils and the vegetables shared the spotlight here. This was possible because Keller specified Le Puy lentils as opposed to skinned or split lentils that become mealy when cooked too long. In comparison, the texture of Le Puy lentils reminds me more of mung bean when cooked to al dente, which is not achievable with skinned lentils.
Skinned v.s. Le Puy. See the difference?
When I make this soup next time, I’ll first cook the lentils with the bacon, sachet, onion, leek, and carrots. After discarding the vegetables, I would add the garnish vegetables directly into the soup instead of going through the trouble of pre-blanching them separately. The only amount of extra effort I would make is to add them in sequence according to the cooking time. After all, this is comfort food and should not only taste as such, but be prepared with just as much ease.