For as long as I can remember, my mom has made and served this recipe as the first dish at our family Christmas meal. It is a simple broth, yet it serves an incredibly important function as it effortlessly calms the 30 or so raucous Christmas-cracker-crowned relatives gathered around our enormous table – itself made of a hodgepodge of tables – that spans across two separate rooms. As the bowls are handed around, the fragrant wisps of steam rolling off the soup magically create a space in time where each person, both young and old, becomes focused on the dining ritual we share each year.
Sadly for me as a chef, travelling home to Vancouver from Paris during the holiday season is nearly impossible. The restaurant is far too busy for me to take significant time off, not to mention the absurd cost of air travel in December. So, for the third year in a row, I will be far away from home for the holidays, dreaming fondly of Christmases past in a Bing Crosby sort of way as I slurp up bowls filled with this amazing mushroom soup. It's not easy being so far away, but I take comfort in knowing my relatives will be enjoying the same flavours and look forward to hopefully spending next year together.
Amontillado sherry is a dry, amber-coloured fortified wine made in the far south of Spain. Classically served chilled alongside clear soups, it is added here to lend a nutty and complex flavour to the dish.
4 litres water
2 carrots, ends trimmed, diced
2 small yellow onions, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1 medium-sized leek, white part only, halved and sliced
2 large shallots, halved and quartered
1-inch piece ginger, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
3 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs thyme
1 teaspoon salt
10 pieces small-to-medium-sized dried shiitake mushrooms, or other dried mixed mushrooms
1 litre water
1 kilogram cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced thinly
4 tablespoons canola oil
Fleur de sel
1 bunch scallions, sliced finely into rounds (4 tablespoons reserved for garnish)
4 tablespoons Amontillado sherry, divided
Sauteed mushrooms and scallions
2 litres stock
1 litre mushroom liquid
120 mL light soya sauce
120 mL Amontillado sherry
10 grinds fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoon scallions, finely sliced, as garnish
Add all ingredients to a medium-sized pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer and skim any froth that comes to the surface. Ensure the mix doesn’t boil – this will help create a clear liquid. Continue to cook and skim for 60 minutes. Gently strain through fine mesh strainer. Discard vegetable solids.
Boil water and pour over dried mushrooms in a medium-sized bowl. Cover with a lid and allow to soak for 25 minutes or until soft. Remove mushrooms and strain liquid carefully to avoid pieces of dirt that may have settled in the bottom of the bowl. Remove and discard stems from the shiitake. Slice caps finely. Mix with sliced cremini mushrooms.
Saute cremini and re-hydrated shiitake in batches in a non-stick skillet over high heat with 1 tablespoon of canola oil and a pinch of salt each time. Allow mushrooms to brown in the pan, adding a small handful of scallions at the end of each batch. Deglaze each batch with a tablespoon of sherry, allowing alcohol to cook off and evaporate each time. Place each finished batch of mushrooms in a bowl to the side.
Add all ingredients together in a large pot except reserved scallions for garnish. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook slowly for 30 minutes. Skim any foam that rises to the top. Adjust seasoning with sherry, soya sauce and black pepper as necessary.
To serve, spoon evenly between warm bowls and garnish with remaining scallions. Serve immediately.