“I live on good soup, not on fine words,” Moliere once said.
That quote from France’s great playwright applies to Brian Flanders’ rich black bean chili. A cup goes a long way to chase away the chill penetrating the bones these late fall days in Maine. J.M. Gerrish Provisions’ very popular soup, topped with a dollop of sour cream and Cheddar cheese, has a pleasing texture. The savory black beans are firm, seasoned with a hint of cilantro and garnished with scallions.
“Black beans are so underused and underrated,” lamented the Winter Harbor chef who took over the landmark Main Street business last May. Recently, Mr. Flanders was busily cooking up a mushroom bisque in his restaurant’s spotless kitchen. Chanterelles, shiitakes, portobellos and hen-of-the-woods were among the morsels destined for the soup.
Also on the menu was clam chowder.
“The key is to use even portions of bacon and pork fat,” said the Bangor-born chef, who has cooked with some of the most famous American chefs including Maine’s own Sam Hayward of Fore Street in Portland, the James Beard Foundation’s 2004 Best Chef Northeast; and acclaimed French chef Daniel Boulud, whose Restaurant DANIEL in York was named one of the 10 best restaurants in the world by the International Herald Tribune, just to name a few.
So why is Mr. Flanders cooking soup on the verge of winter in a sparsely populated Maine hamlet? The 1992 New England Culinary Institute graduate has personally opened nine restaurants for other restaurateurs and won many accolades for his food and cooking over 22-year career. At his last job – as executive chef at Brown University in Providence, where he oversaw a 500-employee food service program including various affiliated teaching hospitals – the stress finally got to him and he gave up the big salary for a major lifestyle change.
The stress, though, never robbed Mr. Flanders of his love of cooking. He’s still not getting enough sleep, but he and his pastry chef wife, Maria, are doing all the cooking on a much smaller scale. As J.M. Gerrish Provisions’ only full-time staffers, the couple have complete quality control over the food, whether it’s the pineapple pecan coffeecake or the silky pumpkin bisque garnished with roasted pumpkin seeds.
In the latter, Mr. Flanders dusts the pumpkin seeds with pickling salt — not ground sea salt — because the crystals stick better before roasting the seeds coated with a little olive oil and butter. He shares another trick.
“A lot of people break their bisque because they add cold cream to hot soup,” said the chef, who adds milk or cream very slowly to achieve his pumpkin bisque’s velvety quality.
In Southwest Harbor, chef Chiaolin Korona’s specialty is making miso soup at Chow Maine Asian Specialities. As the days grow colder, the clear, aromatic and fresh-tasting broth is taking the edge off people’s growing winter appetite.
Two decades ago, the former Bell Labs corporate executive taught herself how to make miso soup and later refined it while taking a class with “Sushi for Dummies” co-author Mineko Takane Moreno in New York.
“It’s clear and uncomplicated,” Ms. Korona said of her miso soup. “It gives a very warm feeling.”
In the fishing town of Stonington, soup is on the mind of many locals hankering for the Hungarian Mushroom Soup served up starting in late fall and through the winter at Lily’s Café in Stonington. Chef and café owner Kyra Alex seems to have an infinite repertoire of hot soups to nourish people during the winter months. Curried Lentil, Creamy Kale Sausage and Creamy Smoked Turkey and Wild Rice are among the many soups she offers.
Creamy Smoked Turkey and Wild Rice Soup
- 7 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup wild rice
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup cream
- 4 oz. smoked turkey, diced
- 1 tsp. dried tarragon
- 4 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 4 Tbs. all-purpose flour
- Salt and pepper
Combine stock and wild rice in your soup pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until rice is open and tender. Add milk, cream, smoked turkey and tarragon. Bring back to boil.
Meanwhile, make a roux with the butter and flour; melt butter, whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute. Turn off the heat. When soup is just boiling stir in roux and continue to cook, stirring, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Makes 6 servings
- 2 large pieces Konbu (kelp)
- Small handful Bonito flakes (dry fish flakes)
- 3 to 4 Tbs. White Miso (depending on the brand, the miso’s saltiness varies. Adjust amount according to taste.)
- Fresh Soft Tofu (1 block, cut into small cubes)
- 1Tbs. Wakame (tender Japanese seaweed)
- 2 Tbs. scallion, finely chopped
First, make the Dashi. Dashi is the soup base for many Japanese recipes. Fill a stockpot with 6 cups of water, put in the konbu and boil. Don’t wash the konbu, please. The natural sea salt on the outside of the konbu makes the stock flavorful. Let the stock simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the bonito flakes. Let the stock cool for a few minutes. Drain the stock; this is Dashi. Don’t discard the drained konbu and bonito. They can be reboiled with another handful of bonito flakes to get more Dashi stock for future use.
Boil 5 cups of the Dashi from previous step. Add tofu and simmer for a few minutes. Mix white miso in a separate bowl with a few spoonfuls of hot Dashi.
Add wakame to the Dashi stock. (It will expand and does not need to be cooked much). Turn off the heat. Stir in the miso mixture gently. The soup is ready.
Serve with some finely chopped scallion on top.
Curried Pumpkin Soup
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 1 1/2 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 1/2 white onion, chopped
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
- 8 oz. pumpkin puree
- 3 Tbs. medium curry paste
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 3 cups milk
- 6 Tbs. sour cream
- Juice of half lemon
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Fresh chives, chopped for garnish
Heat the butter in a large pan and add the garlic and onion. Fry gently 4 to 5 minutes, until lightly golden. Stir in the cumin and coriander and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the pumpkin and stir until well coated with the butter. Then, stir in the curry paste followed by the stock. Cover the pan and simmer for 15 minutes. Ladle the soup into the blender or food processor and process until smooth.
Return the soup to the pan and stir in the milk. Heat gently for 2 to 3 minutes, then add half the sour cream and all the lemon juice. Season well. Serve in bowls topped with swirls of the remaining sour cream and chopped fresh chives.