We had it a few days ago for our New Year's Eve dinner. Along with a fruit salad and some homemade bread, I found it to be a perfect close to a month of holiday eating. When I was growing up, my mother made a wild rice soup every year on Christmas Eve. For that reason, I always think of this soup around the holidays, but there is nothing particular about it that would cause others to form a similar association. Every time I prepare it, I wonder why I don't make it more often.
If you live in the Twin Cities, you will no doubt find this soup to be familiar. It is a variation on a very popular Wild Rice Soup sold at Byerly's. My version has more vegetables and less wild rice. It is also much thinner. Since I don't believe I have done so before, I will take a moment now to state my opinion on cream soups: They should be velvet-y and elegant, with just enough body to make you aware that this is soup and not a beverage, but not so much that you might mistake them for a vegetable side dish or worse, a hot breakfast cereal. I am opposed to thick, gloppy purées masquerading as cream soups. If, after drawing a spoon through the bowl of a cream or puréed soup, a faint path or small trough is visible, the soup is too thick
Correcting the consistency of a soup is an easy thing to do. If it is too thick simply add water, stock or milk. If it is too thin, there are several things that can be done. If it is a soup that has been thickened with a roux (flour cooked in butter) and it is way too thin, then you might consider preparing a little more roux: Measure out equal quantities of butter and flour. Melt the butter over medium heat, whisk in the flour and cook until foamy and straw colored—there is a picture of what a cooked roux should look like, embedded in the recipe, in my post on Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Two Cheeses. When the roux is ready, gradually add it, a bit at a time, to the simmering soup until the soup has reached the desired thickness. Adding heavy cream is a good way to add body to a cream soup or a puréed vegetable soup that seems just a tad too thin. Finally, if it will not ruin the soup to cook it longer, simply simmer a soup that is just a bit too thin briefly and allow it to reduce.
While I am on the subject, don't overlook the fact that soups allowed to sit on the heat—even very low heat—will continue to thicken as the liquid in them slowly evaporates. If you have ever been served a cup or a bowl of soup at a restaurant that was so thick it would practically hold a spoon upright, it is because the soup has been held in a steam well where it continued to thicken. Better restaurants will either heat soups in small batches, to order, or, if they are holding soups in a steam well, they will make sure that someone is keeping an eye on them and adding water when necessary. Any time you hold a soup on the heat for a while, or reheat a soup, you will need to check to make sure that it has not become too thick. If it has, just add water to restore it to its proper consistency. It is not necessary or desirable to add stock or milk to a soup that is too thick due to over-reduction. You only need to replace what has evaporated—the water.
You will notice that my method for cooking the wild rice for this soup is a bit unusual. According to Madeleine Kamman, wild rice doesn't really have to be "cooked"—it can simply be rehydrated, or gradually softened, in successive baths of hot water. Since this process of adding boiling water, letting it cool, draining it and repeating can take several hours, I have modified it a bit. I soak it for an hour first before cooking. This one soak seems to help the wild rice cook more uniformly, producing tender grains of wild rice that are intact rather than split open and curled back. If you are short on time, you can skip the one hour soak, but you will need to increase the time the wild rice is simmered by 10 to 20 minutes.
Since I began this post with a mild rant on dieting, I'll bring it to a close by suggesting that instead of dieting, perhaps it would be a better idea to join me in enjoying all things in moderation. Begin with a small bowl of this rich and satisfying soup. Happy New Year.
Cream of Wild Rice Soup with Vegetables & Country Ham
4 oz. (2/3 c.) wild rice
2 qt. chicken stock
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/8th-inch dice (about 2/3 c.)
1 small onion, cut in 1/8th-inch dice (about 1 1/3 c.)
1 carrot, cut in 1/8th-inch dice (about 2/3 c.)
8 T. butter, divided
1/2 c. flour
4 oz. ham, cut in 1/8th-inch dice (about 1 c.)
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 T. dry sherry
1/4 c. slivered almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. sliced scallions, green only
Salt & Pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, pour boiling water over the wild rice. Allow the rice to soak for one hour, then drain. Place the drained rice and the stock in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the rice is just tender—about 30 to 40 minutes. Strain, reserving the stock and rice separately. Measure the stock—add water if necessary to make 6 cups. Keep the stock hot.
While the rice is cooking, in a large saucepan set over medium heat, sweat the celery, carrot and onion along with a pinch of salt in 2 to 3 T. of butter until tender.
Add the remaining butter and melt.
Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or two—the roux will be bubbly and cream-colored.
Remove from the heat and pour in half of the hot stock, whisking constantly until smooth—it will thicken immediately. Add the remaining stock. Return to the heat and stir constantly until the soup base returns to a simmer; stir in the reserved wild rice and the ham.
Simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavors to blend. To serve, add the cream and the sherry and heat through. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in warmed soup bowls, garnished with toasted almonds and sliced scallions.
Makes 2 quarts soup—serves 6 to 8.