Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tomato Star Noodle Soup with Szechuan Pepper

     No Canned Tomato Soup For You!
     Many people are satisfied by eating the same old brand of canned tomato soup.  Others look for the cheapest brand of canned tomato soup.  Sometimes a better flavor can be found in a local bargain brand.  Every chef knows that the first concession that a canned soup company makes is quality.  Canned soups are never as good as a freshly made soup.  
     Some chefs never put out much effort into their cooking and they tend to look for the easy way to get through a day.  Frozen manufactured food products and canned food is all that they market.  There actually is a nickname for such a chef.  Referring to a "can opener chef" by the name "Chef Boyardee" is just about as low of an insult as it gets!
     Canned soups in a restaurant do nothing to increase sales and they cause many customers to never return.  Fresh soups can promote more sales.  
     Fresh soups can also reduce food costs and waste percentages in a restaurant.  Scraps of butchered meats and vegetable trimmings can be used to make broths, stocks and soups.  In an efficient restaurant kitchen, nothing is wasted and even spoilage is kept under control.   
     Choosing the right tomatoes for soup and sauce making is not an easy task for a cook that has minimal experience.  These next few paragraphs shed light on the tomato selection subject.  
     Modern commercial grade fresh tomatoes in America are usually not good for making sauces or soups.  Commercial grade fresh GMO tomatoes are picked green, shipped long distances and stored at a low temperature.  Just before marketing, the green hard tomatoes are are processed with ethylene gas, so they quickly ripen just before they are delivered.  The result is a tomato that has a tough chewy texture that tastes like cardboard.   
     The better choice of fresh tomato is local grown vine ripe organic tomatoes or heirloom tomatoes.  These fresh tomatoes can be costly, but they inspire consumer interest and they can be used to make great sauces.  As a chef, the way to reduce cost is go directly to the farm and offer to purchase the overripe local grown tomatoes that were too soft to send to the food market.  Farmers sell overripe tomatoes for cheap or they just give them away for free.  
     I once worked with an Italian chef that drove to every tomato farm in the county, till he amassed  10 cases of overripe tomatoes, so he could make a big batch of tomato sauce at his restaurant.  He got the overripe tomatoes for free and his tomato sauce was the best in town.  His food cost percentage for the great tomato sauce was next to nothing!

     Not every chef has access to good fresh tomatoes or free overripe tomatoes.  Canned tomatoes are never frowned upon by chefs.  
     Canned American and Spanish tomatoes are okay for some applications, but these tomatoes tend to be acidic.  Canned American or Spanish tomatoes should only be used in recipes that benefit from the flavor of acidic tomatoes.  Some tomato soups require acidic tomatoes.  Southwestern cuisine style soup recipes are a prime example.  
     For making tomato sauces or refined tomato soups that benefit from a "sweet" tomato flavor, the best choice is imported Italian canned tomatoes.  For the most part, canned Italian tomatoes are "sweet" and they are not acidic.  
     Italian canned tomatoes have a very rich bold tomato flavor that is perfect for soups and sauces.  Italian canned plum tomatoes are great for making anything from Salsa di Pomodoro to tomato soup.  Canned Italian San Marzano Tomatoes are regarded as being the best in the world and they should only be used to make premium tomato sauces, like Marinara.    

     Today's tomato soup recipe requires no cream or milk, so this recipe is good for anybody that is lactose intolerant.  Today's soup is a fine puree of vegetable broth, aromatic mirepoix vegetables and imported Italian canned plum tomato.  The tomato soup is delicately flavored with ginger and Chinese Five Spice Powder.  Szechuan Pepper is added as a finishing touch.  
     Chinese Star Noodles are a favorite of Chicken Noodle Soup fans!  Children really like the shape of little Star Noodles.  Bags of dried little Star Noodles for soups can be found in Asian food markets.

     Tomato Star Noodle Soup with Szechuan Pepper:
     This recipe yields 1 large serving of soup!  (2 1/2 cups)
     Only a few simple cooking techniques are required for this recipe.  Cornstarch slurry thickened soups cannot be reheated and they are made to order or made within a few hours before serving.
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium high heat.
     Add 3 1/2 cups of light vegetable broth.
     Add 2 tablespoons each of these finely chopped vegetables:
     - carrot
     - celery
     - onion
     Add the minced white part of 1 green onion.
     Step 2:  Add 1/2 teaspoon of ginger paste.
     Add 1 minced very small garlic clove.  (Less than 1/4 teaspoon)
     Add 1 1/4 cups of diced imported Italian canned peeled seeded plum tomatoes that are packed in their own juices.  Be sure to add a proportion of the juices from the can. 
     Add 2 pinches of Chinese Five Spice Powder.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.  
     Add 1 pinch of Spanish Paprika.
     Step 3:  Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer the soup, till the vegetables are very tender and till the soup reduces to about 2 1/2 cups. 
     Step 4:  Remove the pot from the heat.  
     Use an electric blending wand or a food processor to puree the soup to a very fine consistency.
     Step 5:  Place the pureed soup broth in a sauce pot over medium heat.
     Bring the soup to a gentle boil. 
     Step 6:  Mix a little bit of corn starch with cold water to create a slurry.  (About 1 or 2 tablespoons of cornstarch is plenty.)
     Slowly add just enough of the slurry, while stirring, to thicken the soup broth to a thin sauce consistency.  (Save any extra slurry for another recipe!)
     Step 7:  Add 2 tablespoons of dried Small Chinese Star Noodles.  
     Gently boil the soup, while stirring often, till the noodles are cooked tender.  
     *Thin Star Noodles for soup only take a few minutes to cook.  The soup has to be stirred often or the noodles will stick to the bottom of the pot!
     Step 8:  Add a little bit of vegetable broth if the soup becomes too thick after the noodle cook.  The soup should be a thin rich consistency that keeps the noodles in suspension.
     Step 9:  Pour the soup into a large 2 1/2 cup capacity soup cup.
     Place the soup serving cup on doily lined serving plate.
     Sprinkle 1 or 2 pinches of fresh Ground Szechuan Pepper on the surface of the soup.

     This noodle house fusion style tomato noodle soup tastes nice!  

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