Jan really liked the last mushroom soup I made. She asked for a soup just for the two of us, Eilene—who hates mushrooms—was off on an overnight. Reworking that recipe actually improved it quite a bit.
Using five disparate mushrooms made it taste very umami, but was also a bit muddled. It did not taste of any particular mushroom. Using fewer types of mushrooms was actually an improvement.
Since I was only making soup for two, I eliminated the Oyster mushrooms and button mushrooms I used last time. ” While Crimini mushrooms lack an enormous amount of flavor, they have the distinctive texture—after they have been sautéed—that this dish requires.
Shitaki mushrooms have both a good texture and flavor. You need to be careful when you fry them. They are a very low moisture mushroom and go from well sautéed to burnt very quickly.
Dried porcini would add the powerful boost of umami to the broth of this soup. However, using dried mushrooms comes with a cost. If you simply re-hydrate and chop them up you get tough, chewy pieces of mushroom—not the tender chew of a fresh mushroom.
A trick I picked up—from an episode of America’s Test Kitchen—is to powder the dried mushrooms. In the last soup, I simply stirred the powder into the broth—this boosts the mushroom flavor as the bits are evenly dispersed throughout the soup. I was treating this mushroom powder like a spice and I thought, “Why not bloom it like a spice?”
After sautéing the leek and garlic I sprinkled the powder over the buttery vegetables. The heat and oil in the pan gave me more of a sautéed mushroom flavor, rather than just dried mushrooms. This simple technique changed this from a “ho hum” broth to a “Wow!” soup.
In the last mushroom soup, I had used powdered lentils to thicken my broth—my son-in-law Chris is on a low/complex carb diet. Since this soup was just for Jan and myself, I decided to use barley. I would cook whole barley for the chew it would add to the soup and some powdered barley as a thickener.
The whole barley I cooked separately in some chicken broth. I had planned to stir in the powdered barley in the last few minutes of cooking the soup. However, as I added the mushroom powder to the sauté pan I thought, “Why not?”
Into the pan went the powdered barley. Stirring and toasting the barley powder produced a nutty smell, over the smell of the “blooming” mushroom powder. The barley powder had became more of a flavor ingredient, rather than simply a broth thickener.
I had liked the addition of the sherry vinegar in the last soup. It provided a high note to the deep melodies of the mushroom and barley flavors. I also added more cream to lighten the dark— not to say “muddy”—appearance and to bring all of the flavors together.
Karl’s Mushroom and Barley Soup
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
7.5 oz. fresh shitaki mushrooms, sliced
½ oz. porcini mushrooms, powdered
3 Tbs. ghee, separate uses (olive oil for Vegan)
1 leek, quartered and sliced finely
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. barley, powdered
¼ cup pearl barley
2 cans (29 oz.) low sodium chicken broth (vegetable broth for Vegan)
1 tsp. thyme, dried (but fresh would be better)
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 Tbs. Spanish sherry vinegar
1 tsp. chervil, dried, separate uses
½ cup half and half
1. Wipe and slice the crimini, and shitaki mushrooms—keep each pile of mushroom separate and dry.
Tip: Remove and discard the tough stems of the shitaki mushrooms.
Note: If you are the economical sort, save the stems to use in a vegetable stock.
2. Put the dry porcini mushrooms in a spice grinder and process them to a powder.
Note: I use a dedicated coffee grinder as a spice grinder. Half an ounce of dried mushrooms filled the cup to capacity.
3. Slice the leek into small bits and reserve.
Note: I wanted my leek to be chopped fairly finely. The usual method would be to slice the leek lengthwise and then the halve into quarters. This can get a bit tricky, because as soon as the layers are separated they want to go their separate ways, making cross cutting them evenly a challenge. I discovered a solution to this problem.
Tip: Slice down half the length of the leak, but do not cut it in half. Rotate the leek a quarter turn and slice down again. Half of your leek is now cut into quarters. Slice this end finely—the rest of the leek holds the sliced portion together making cross cutting evenly a snap. When you have sliced down to the end of your cuts, slice the leek lengthwise to about an inch from the end and continue cross cutting. If you do not trim off the root end while you are cleaning the leek, you can simply discard this last bit.
4. Put half of the broth into a medium soup pot and bring it to a boil.
5. Stir in the pearl barley and cover the pot.
6. Reduce the heat and simmer until the barley is tender, 20-30 minutes.
Tip: Stir the pot occasionally to make sure that none of the is sticking to the bottom of the pot.
7. While the barley is simmering, add a tablespoon of ghee to a large sauté pan over medium high heat.
Tip: How much butter and oil you use depends on your diet. I actually used about half of what I am recommending , because of Jan’s dietary restrictions.
Note: If you do not have ghee you may use just olive oil or a mix of butter and olive oil. The butter gives flavor, while the oil allows you to use a higher heat without burning the butter.
8. Add the crimini mushrooms and spread them out into a single layer.
Tip: You want to use a pan large enough that 8 eight ounces of sliced mushrooms are—mostly—in a single layer in contact with the heat of the pan.
Note: You may be tempted to start stir frying the mushrooms as soon as they hit the pan. Do not do this! Crimini mushrooms actually have a fair amount of moisture in them. Knocking them about releases the moisture, dries them out, and prevents them from browning. Let them lay for 2-3 minutes before flipping them over—if you are feeling brave you may use a pan flip. Let them cooked undisturbed on the second for 2-3 minutes, before stirring.
9. When the mushrooms are well browned, transfer them to a bowl.
10. Reduce the heat to medium and add more ghee.
11. Sauté the shitake and transfer them to the bowl with the crimini mushrooms.
Tip: The shitake are much drier than the other mushrooms. Keep a careful eye on them, as they will go from browned to burnt very quickly.
12. Increase the heat, back to medium high, and add the leeks and salt to the pan.
Tip: There should be enough ghee left in the pan, but you may add more if you think it necessary.
13. Sauté the leeks until they are just starting to pick up some color, about 3-4 minutes.
14. Pull the leeks to the edges of the pan and add the garlic to the hole in the center.
15. Sauté the garlic until fragrant, about one minute, and then mix it into the leeks.
16. Pull the leeks to the edges of the pan again and add the powdered mushrooms and barley.
17. Toast the powdered in the open space for one minute.
Tip: Stir and scrap constantly to keep the powders from sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan.
18. Stir the powders into the vegetables and sauté for 2 minutes more.
19. Stir in a bit of broth to deglaze the pan.
20. Transfer the vegetables to a soup pot and use some more of the broth to rinse out the pan.
21. Transfer the mushrooms to the soup pot and use some of the broth to rinse out the bowl.
22. Stir the rest of the broth, the thyme, and the pepper into the soup pot.
23. Simmer the soup for 10 minutes until the soup is melded and the barley powder has thickened the broth.
24. Stir in the vinegar and one teaspoon of chervil.
25. Let the soup simmer for two more minutes and then stir in the cream.
Tip: If you are using fresh chervil you may immediately add the cream. This last two minute simmer is to re-hydrate the dried chervil that I was using.
26. Transfer the soup to individual bowls and (optionally) garnish with more chervil.