Chefs share favorite soups and stews.
At Marsha Brown Creole Kitchen & Lounge in New Hope, Pennsylvania, bowls are so big (both literally and figuratively) they have their own section of the menu. And, as in the Big Easy, owner Brown’s birthplace, these “Creole by the Bowl” selections, which include Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffee, and Lobster Pot Pie, are seafood-based and big on flavor.
Even when it takes a rest from the menu, guests often call in advance to ask Executive Chef Caleb Lentchner to prepare his signature Court Bouillon (pronounced COO-be-yahn by Creole speakers), a fisherman’s stew jazzed up by the hallmark “holy trinity” variation of mire poix: onions, bell pepper, celery, tomatoes, and red wine. Lentchner says that this versatile sauce can also be used to prepare grouper, halibut, or any firm white fish as well as scallops and shrimp.
While the “mother sauce” requires about a half-hour of simmer time, it can be prepared ahead and, after a quick sauté, the seafood can be added and the dish served in minutes. Lentchner serves the stew with plenty of hot, crispy French bread, so guests can sop up all of the flavor-intense juices.
Jason Daniels, executive chef at The Inn at Willow Grove in Orange, Virginia, originally hails from Alabama, but he went even further south, all the way to Latin America, to find inspiration for one of his signature seafood bowls. Two types of chilies—slightly fruity ancho and slightly nutty cascabel—along with chorizo, kick up the flavor without cranking up the heat. Accompanied by pupusas, which are queso fresco–filled warm, grilled corn cakes that have been a staple of Latin cultures since Mayan times, this dish is—according to Daniels—“classic comfort fare.”
Daniels is a big fan of one-bowl meals and draws from a wide variety of cultures to feature at least one or two on each of his seasonal menus. Recent selections have included hot and sour soup with tuna and mussels, forest mushroom risotto, and “good old-fashioned” chicken and dumplings.
Patrick Allouache, executive chef at Piquant, in Brooklyn, New York, hails from southwestern France, and enjoys riffing on classical techniques and French and Latin ingredients to create dishes with intriguingly complex flavors and contemporary style. An example is the lobster tartar he brightens with a pink grapefruit and pomelo gelee (“It’s like a deconstructed aspic,” Allouache explains) and lime-spiked whipped cream. He notes that the same recipe works well with shrimp.
When Allouache is in the mood for some homestyle cooking, he whips up a batch of super-lush, white bean soup. For him, “homestyle” means using the organic coco beans grown in the small town of Tarbais in his native, southwest France. “The beans are expensive, but when they’re cooked properly they melt in the mouth,” he says.
To make sure the beans come out tender, he brings them to a boil and then simmers them on low heat for 30–45 minutes. After the beans are pureed, Allouache folds in whipped cream and butter to both lighten and enrich the soup. And—as if the result is not luxurious enough—he takes it over the top with a dash of truffle oil, a splash of truffle juice, and a slice of black truffle.
Yankee Pier Executive Chef Michael Dunn may come from California, but his best-selling bowl is based on a Northeastern American tradition that is so beloved, any tampering can create a controversy. And it has in Dunn’s own family.
His Bostonian grandmother is a New England clam chowder purist, so she does not exactly approve of her grandson’s thick, bacon-spiked variation on the classic. “For her, the only acceptable ingredients are clams, potatoes, clam juice, and milk. Period,” he says.
But guests at the three Yankee Pier restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area prefer a heartier broth, so Dunn makes his version so creamy and thick they can stand a spoon up in it. (Unless his grandmother is listening, the West Coast–born chef readily admits that he likes the richer broth better, too.)
Dunn is able to give his chowder its rich, hearty texture without adding any heavy cream. Instead he uses flour as a thickener, adding his milk–clam juice mixture very slowly, and keeping the heat low and even to maintain a smooth consistency.