Chilled avocado soup with crisp pancetta, crème fraiche, lime, and dill.
The idea of staying local is a good one. And I tried to do this. I tried my best to keep the ingredients I used “local”. By that I mean I tried to keep things in Ontario.
That being said sometimes I had to break this rule either due to pricing (wines used solely for cooking) or, in the case of the soup dish, pure awesomeness.
Back in the early spring I got caught up in one of those Web Spirals we all succumb to here and there. I was browsing cooking sites for no other reason than it’s something I do. Click-click-click-click… oh my god, is this for real: Avocado Soup. I read it over, bookmarked it for a rainy day and went back to my spiral.
A couple of months later, when the idea for this dinner began to form in my mind, I was stuck on the soup course. I had all kinds of crazy ideas running through my head involving tomatoes and beets and potatoes and, at one point, frozen mango. Thanks, in part, to binge watching the original, UK version of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, I decided to step back and keep things simple … although not local and rustic ;-)
I decided to do the Avocado Soup.
I did make a couple changes to the original recipe. First, and most importantly, I made the stock from scratch. There was no question about this. If I want the soup to taste first rate, then I have to make the base myself. I did some research on chicken stock and found that if I wanted a balance between stock consistency and flavour, I needed to use wings. Taking some cues from various cooking sites and The French Laundry Cookbook, I spent part of the last Sunday in May watching a pot of fresh chicken wings and aromatics gently boil; skimming like a madman, and reducing until I had prepared what can only be described as a high octane chicken stock. The best part of this stock is that as it cools it turns into near gelatine. On its own the flavour can be overpowering. However this allows you to dilute the stock with water as needed for dishes. You just have to play with amounts and taste.
Next up, the original recipe calls for lemon juice. On the initial run we tried lemon and it simply did not jive. I don’t know what it was but the four variations with lemon made the soup taste like… stinky socks. So the next round I tried fresh lime juice and wow, that was perfect.
Onions, chicken stock, avocados before the creme-fraiche and blending.
Finally, the garnish is listed as either mint or dill, finely chopped. Again, I tried both and mint was definitely out (although it did inspire the drink paring). The dill, on the other hand, like the lime juice, worked perfectly; only I didn’t finely chop it, I just picked chunks off and scattered them on top. In the end eight variations were tried:
- Warm soup with lemon and mint
- Warm soup with lime and mint
- Warm soup with lemon and dill
- Warm soup with lime and dill
- Chilled soup with lemon and mint
- Chilled soup with lime and mint
- Chilled soup with lemon and dill
- Chilled soup with lime and dill
As is always the way with these things, number eight was the winner.
On the day of the dinner, I made the soup itself in the late afternoon so it would have time to chill and allow the flavours to blend. I fried up the pancetta, picked the dill, squeezed and strained the lime, mixed up the creme fraiche, and lined up the bowls just before we sat down for the first course.
Once we were done with the amuse-bouche, I popped back into the kitchen to plate the soup. In a perfect world, I would have had a fancy jug of some sort so I could pour the soup table side but alas, there is no jug to be had in our house so all was plated in the kitchen…
… I then mixed and served the drink pairing (Mojito), and then served the completed soup.
Out of the entire night, this course got the most praise. In fact at one point one of the guests took a spoonful, turned to me and said: “Ok. This is an Atelier level dish. I’m not kidding. This soup is hitting me on like five different levels all at once.”
Interestingly enough, every time I go our for a blind, multi-course meal it’s usually the soup that is the outstanding dish of the evening. Nice to see that I can keep with this tradition.
As for the pairing, the Mojito was an obvious choice. When I think of avocados, lime, sour cream, and crisp meat, I don’t think of wine, I think Mojito. Besides, why does it usually have to be wine pairings for multi-course menus? I think it would be cool to go somewhere and sit down to an eight to twelve course meal where the pairings were completely wine free. While I love wine, imagine what it would be like to have original cocktails prepared for the sole reason of complimenting each dish…