Bouchon’s Lentil Soup Recipe: Complete

Posted by on Jun 12, 2009

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.
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slab bacon
drained soffritto
Le Puy lentils
sachet + 4 garlic cloves
chicken jus/ stock
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bay leaves
kosher salt
baby leeks, spring onions, ramps, or scallions
red pearl onions
white pearl onions
1/4 inch diced carrots, blanched in salted water
garlic confit
chopped Italian parsley
minced chives
extra virgin olive oil
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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  • French Cooking for Dummies

    This soup is mouthwatering! Nice job ;-)

  • Cucinista

    Fantastic photos and great exposition. I feel like I’ve had the meal just sitting here reading. Thanks again for bringing TK to the masses.

  • flfarmgirl

    I too find comfort in soup, and discomfort in mushy lentils. Love black ones though and your post is just beautiful and review most helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  • Stumptown Savoury

    I also taste at every step. I think it’s the best part of cooking, the search for the right flavor. You expressed the joy of that quite well.

    Thanks for another outstanding post about the wonders of TK. I’ll have to give this a try.

  • Jessie

    that is such a comforting soup but yet so pretty to look at because of all of the colors in the soup.

  • Jennifer

    That soups look delicious and lovely all at once.

  • Lynda

    This is the most delicious lentil soup I’ve seen!

  • Danica

    Fantastic presentation. I LOVE all the colors and flavors ~ especially the roasted garlic. Yum!

  • jeremy hanlon

    I have made this recipe before and I applaud you for following the individual techniques – beautiful photography!!!

  • helen fenn

    years ago when i lived in charlotte, nc, my landlady made me lentil soup when i was ill , she also gave me the recipe but i seemed to have lost it. i am saving this in my (fff) foodbuzz folder forever and i’m sure this is just as good if not better. THANKS AGAIN, HELEN

  • Tangled Noodle

    Beautifully done! I love lentil soup but I do recognize that description of mushiness. This bowl is the embodiment of delicious comfort. I only wish I had your patience and skill!

  • Shasheta B

    mmm, looks so yummy :)

  • LucyGucy

    They are not black, they are green puy lentils.

  • Melody Fury

    Wow, you really dug deep for this post. I hope you feel better after taking time to correct me.

  • LucyGucy

    Nice hair.