Friday, January 31, 2014

Creamy Chestnut Soup

"I want you to make that chestnut soup", said Mrs. Hackknife, perusing a recent (December 2013) issue of Saveur Magazine. The article in question is focused on traditional holiday dishes from the Gascony region of southwest France, highlighting such artery-clogging pleasures as duck confit and Gascon-style flan. If you read the article, you definitely get the sense that the locals have a certain joie de vivre to their daily life that apparently includes the otherwise-humble chestnut, made more festive via the addition of cream, butter, and bacon to a brothy base. "But, Dear", I tried to explain, "the hardest part of that whole project would be prepping the 2.5 pounds of chestnuts (!) that the recipe requires." I knew from previous experience that working with fresh chestnuts was, well, a pain in the rear, requiring boundless patience and stellar fine motor skills to carefully peel off the tight shells after boiling them, followed by vigorous rubbing with a hand towel to wear away the paper thin skin surrounding the meat. Figure about 2 minutes of labor per chestnut times however many of them constitute 2.5 pounds (50? 60?) and you get the picture. So the recipe went immediately to the back of the queue until a few days later I happened upon bags of shelled, skinned roasted chestnuts ready to use at Costco. Ignoring online warnings about how these chestnuts were vastly inferior in quality to both the fresh kind (duh) and those jar-packed in water, I bought two bags and got to work on Mrs. Hackknife's soup (you can see the recipe here). Not being terribly complicated, all went well until it came time to whip out my immersion blender to puree the chunky soup into a smooth veloute - at least, that was the plan. By the time I finished, I had a substance that had a consistency much more like refried beans (and, oddly, not that dissimilar of a taste) than soup, and, without any more chicken stock to thin out this chestnut gruel, I bravely pressed onward, slinging this puree into bowls and landing them on the table for dinner. Verdict? Well, the flavor wasn't bad if you could just get past the heavy texture. I retraced my steps looking for errors and the only thing I could theorize is that the bagged chestnuts were somehow starchier than their fresh or jarred counterparts (that is, assuming I didn't commit any egregious mistakes during prep, a big if at that). I suspect from this point onward, we'll be content to get our chestnut soup from the nearest local Gascon bistro (which might actually be in Toulouse)...

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