The soup of the day is cream of jalapeño – a soup I have always wanted to make. I love spice in food. The heat tastes great when balanced well. My interest in Chinese food has helped me grasp the wide varieties of flavor in heat. Authentic Sichuan cuisine tastes quite different than spicy Hunan dishes or Thai dishes. While the heat only comes from a small variety of peppers, the preparations vary and the combinations are limitless. So Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Mexican all balance spice in distinct combinations and have many different dishes built off the same core spice.
I also love spice that is tempered by a base like coconut cream, or milk/cream. The cream takes the edge off the spice and allows more room for other flavors. The cream also thickens while offering rich and tasty fat. A couple of years ago I had cream of jalapeño soup at a restaurant and thought it the best thing I had tasted in weeks. It was hot, but not too hot, and the cream and melted cheese were perfect. I wanted to attempt the soup but the ladies in my house don’t care for spicy food.
The idea was shelved until I invited Gary over for lunch and he jumped at the chance for a spicy soup. Gary is a co-sabbitcal-kindred-spirit and we needed to both talk about a future project and celebrate that we could casually gather for lunch at noon on a Thursday. It turned out we had also both exercised mid-morning, which is a further benefit of sabbatical life. Of course we are both working our tails off, but I embrace a contrarian schedule while on sabbatical!
I chose red jalapeños for the color. Red jalapeños are slightly spicier and a bit sweeter. They were seeded and roasted for 20 minutes at 400F. I wanted to take the raw edge off the peppers and cultivate caramelization. I then sautéed carrots, vidallia onion, and garlic for a good bit before adding the jalapeños. Two days earlier I made a rich chicken broth from drumsticks and chicken feet. Chicken feet are both high in collagen and make for a great broth (another tip I’ve learned from Chinese food). Chicken feet are cheap and sold in modest bunches at the Asian supermarket. I roasted the drumsticks and feet first to create a rich dark stock and then cooked them for a long time in my stovetop pressure cooker. This is my new method for making stock and I’ll write about it soon.
After bringing these ingredients to a gentle boil I simmered for 20-minutes and then used my stick blender till everything was smooth. I then tasted and it was overwhelming. The first second was OK and then the heat kicked in and obliterated every other flavor. Damn! I thought it was ruined and I had to remind myself this is a hobby and it is OK to fail. I had also not added the cream or cheese so there was still a chance for balance. I put the soup in the fridge as my plan was to make this base a day ahead of time. Most soups taste better when made a day ahead of time. The flavors mix, mellow, and mature and often the soup tastes better on day 2 or 3.
On the day of lunch I brought my base back up to temperature. I was delighted to see how gelatinous it was as that is the sign of a good stock. Then I put in a generous portion of white cheddar cheese, and some chopped up oxtail meat. I had made an oxtail beef stock earlier in the week but took the meat out before it lost all flavor. I thought it would be a nice addition to a soup with a chicken stock foundation. I also decided to put in cinnamon and a bit of honey. In the moment these felt like desperate additions in my hope to reduce or mask the heat. Lastly I put in more cream than I thought necessary. The soup was served with a garnish of pan fried sliced green jalapeños, and grated Jarlsberg cheese.
The soup was great! It was thick, rich, and well balanced. The spice did not overwhelm but my own itch for heat was scratched. The oxtail, cinnamon, and honey were good additions and made the soup much more complex than a straight ahead cream of jalapeño. I had some homemade pizza dough left over from family pizza night and made a fresh pizza to accompany the soup. The pizza had bacon, caramelized shallots, pickled pimientos, and green onions. It worked. The conversation was lively and Gary agreed to the proposed project. If homemade food was a bribe, it worked.