This is one of my gastronomic “reset” recipes. You know, when you’ve been living it up out at restaurants or slurping down a decadent cream sauce of two? We attended a fund-raiser for the hubby’s work the other night and enjoyed the delights of the sea. And while I enjoy a respite from the kitchen and tasting a different approach to the same ingredients, sometimes I need a quick rebooting of my taste buds. This simple and hearty soup really hits the spot when I want something flavorful but not rich and as you vary the veggies like switching out some potatoes for zucchini or summer squash you can change it from a really filling soup to a lighter, more refreshing one.
A few pointers:
1) How do restaurants get their broth clear enough to read a newspaper through it? They have lots-of-refrigerator space. Eh? After you’ve skimmed off that foamy froth that bubbles up to the surface which is basically a “soap” composed of fat from your delicious soup bones and proteins (usually blood from the meat and marrow), there’s often still some small fat droplets and shaggy particulate matter floating around. By scooping out the solids (veggies and meat), pouring the broth through a Chinoise or very fine mesh strainer, and then cooling the broth down you can solidify any leftover fat so that it can easily be skimmed off. Sound like a lot of work? Yeah, I think so too. I sometimes make this soup the day before and skim off the fat after taking it out of the fridge but what’s a few fluffy particles between friends? And if you’re using fresh corn/a corn cob, the tiny kernelets will be floating around anyway.
2) Can I freeze this so I can have soupy mini-dinners for later? Yup, all the ingredients freeze well except the potatoes. They turn grainy and have a hard, almost woody texture so scoop them out. When you reheat your soups you can add back potatoes that have been steamed in the microwave (cut into bite-sized pieces and microwave with 1-2 tsp of water but make sure that the lid of your microwaveable container is just resting on the container, not snapped shut or you’ll get to experience your own Old Faithful geyser in the comfort of your kitchen. Or you can just add some boiled potatoes.
3) Seriously, fish sauce? Yup, besides all that umami goodness cuz fish sauce, aged hard cheeses like Parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, seaweed like konbu kelp, and cured meats are all naturally high sources monosodium glutamate or MSG. And as the Japanese have rightly named it 旨味 or “good taste” it helps you taste “savory” foods. Not only is glutamate an important neurotransmitter or chemical signaling hormone in your brain, your taste buds actually have glutamate receptors to let you parse out all the savory umami goodness in your food. I like a little soupçon of fish sauce in my broth to give it a little depth and add some briny saltiness as well. So, can something that’s naturally found in your body and necessary for your brain to function be evil? Probably not, but everything in moderation, no? For an entertaining read on the history and demonification of MSG check out this article in the Guardian.
1 large beef shank ~ 1-1 1/2 lb
10-12 c water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 c low-salt beef stock
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
1 small whole onion
1 ear corn, shucked and corn silk removed
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2 into pieces
2 lbs potatoes, skin on and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
8 oz green beans, ends trimmed
1/2 cabbage, roughly chopped
Remove kernels from corn. Set kernels aside. Save cob for use in the broth.
In a large 5-6 quart pot add beef shank and enough water to cover shank by an inch. Simmer and skim foam and fat droplets periodically. Once broth** is clear add salt, beef broth, fish sauce, whole onion, and corn cob then simmer for ~50-60 minutes or till beef is tender.
Add carrots, corn kernels, and potatoes then cover and simmer for another 15 minutes. Add green beans and simmer another 2 minutes. Add cabbage and simmer another 2 minutes. Remove corn cob, onion, and bone and discard. Salt and pepper to taste. Makes 6 main dish servings or 12 first course servings.
**At this step everything can be transferred to a slow-cooker and finished on the medium or low setting depending on how many hours you’re gone for the day. If you don’t want mushy green beans and cabbage, I would add them the last 5-10 minutes and increase the temp to high.