Big Little Recipes

This 3-Ingredient Creamy Mushroom Soup Is Umami in a Bowl

February  4, 2020
Photo by ROCKY LUTEN. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE FOOD STYLIST: AMELIA RAMPE.

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re simplifying a classic soup.


While I’m contractually obligated to say that my mom’s chicken–matzo ball is, always has been, and always will be my favorite soup, if I had to pick a silver medal, it would be a no-brainer: cream of mushroom. It’s as umami-packed as vegetarian soup gets, with just enough richness to feel like you won an award and then Brad Pitt appeared, out of nowhere, to give you a hug.

Beyond its two namesake ingredients, most recipes for cream of mushroom soup call for other vegetables (like onions, shallots, celery), fresh or dried herbs (like thyme, tarragon, and bay leaves), stock or broth, red or white wine, and sometimes a thickener (like flour or cornstarch). What no one ever tells you is that you don’t actually need any of that.

ROCKY LUTEN. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE FOOD STYLIST: AMELIA RAMPE.

You just need cream and mushrooms.

The trick is to wring mushrooms for all their worth. In this case, that means using two types—fresh and dried. Here, I went with fresh creminis (aka baby bellas), which have a meaty flavor and relatively modest price, and dried shiitakes, which, according to Cook's Illustrated, “have 15 times more flavor-building nucleotides than dried porcini.”

The fresh mushrooms get sautéed until deeply roasty, toasty, and browned. Now perhaps you’re expecting me to say something like, Don’t crowd the mushrooms! Cook them in batches! Or else! But no. Go ahead and cook them all at once—they’ll happily stew in their own juices until, eventually, all that liquid simmers away. Most of these will get blended into soup, but a few will be spared and sprinkled on top at the end (texture!). Adding the cream directly to the pan, instead of to the blender, means we can deglaze all those caramelized bits stuck to the bottom.

The dried mushrooms also get blended into the soup. But before that, they get boiled in water for five minutes. This is all it takes to create an exceptionally mushroom-y mushroom stock. And since we’re making mushroom soup, why would we use anything but mushroom stock, anyway?

Because this ingredient list is so pared-down, seasoning is crucial. Taste it again—and again and again—and adjust the salt and pepper until you love it. I like to serve this with warm, buttered bread and a vinegary salad. There’s nothing more comforting on a chilly day.

Except for my mom’s matzo ball soup, of course.

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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.

3 Comments

Melody N. February 9, 2020
Back when I was able to semi-tolerate dairy, mushroom soup was one of my very favorite things. This recipe made my mouth water just reading it; curious if there's any recommended non-dairy version? What's the best lactose-free substitute for the heavy cream?
 
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Emma L. February 9, 2020
Hi Melody! I haven't tried this recipe with a non-dairy alternative, but my first thought would be full-fat coconut milk or extra-creamy oat milk (both unsweetened). If you give it a try, please report back!
 
J February 9, 2020
Seems like you could riff off of this one
https://food52.com/recipes/75760-luxurious-cream-of-mushroom-soup-with-garlic-herb-croutons