Sky Full of Bacon


Pinching Pennies With Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter

My wife ate lunch several days a week at the Trotter’s To Go downtown before it closed last week.  What, did she inherit money?  Nope, she ate soup, the one thing that seemed relatively economical there.  But now it’s closed and so it has fallen to me to attempt to replicate Trotter’s To Go’s soups in little plastic containers for her to take to work.  Consequently, she’s been bringing me soup from there to taste and attempt to retro-engineer.

One of her favorites was curried sweet potato soup.  I tasted it and, well, it pretty much tasted like sweet potatoes, a nice yellow curry powder, and a little cream.  But I suspected, it being Trotter’s, that there were hidden depths in it, specifically a top-quality vegetable broth.  This was a bit problematic for me, since I’ve pretty much never made soup without a carcass in it, in fact, my idea of soup is pretty much, take a bone, add water.

Poking around the web I found that Thomas Keller had a recipe for vegetable broth, which seemed as close as I was likely to get to Charlie himself, in The French Laundry Cookbook (which I look at from time to time, it’s very beautiful and thoughtful, but generally find hopeless to cook from).  Now, coming from Keller, the recipe was very particular about what should go in vegetable broth to produce something clear and beautiful.  Yes to fennel, carrots and leeks, no to celery (gets bitter), no to salt and pepper (save for the final dish), no to the random scraps that cloud up flavor (says he), yes to straining and straining till it’s perfectly clear.

So I started out with the Keller-approved vegetables:

Just 45 minutes later, I strained it and then put the sweet potatoes in the broth:

Now, making a Keller-level broth right there pretty much killed the economic value of making your own soup, what with those leeks and that fennel bulb and so on.  There’s probably $12 worth of vegetables at Whole Foods prices there, before we ever get to adding sweet potatoes to it. But I figured, throw in some more of the scraps Keller wouldn’t approve of and I could get a second batch out of those same vegetables.  So, after reducing both the remaining pint or so of the first broth and the quart or so of the second broth to fit in my freezer, I ended up with another little jar of very clean and flavorful Keller-approved broth concentrate, and a slightly larger one of, if truth be told, pretty much indistinguishable Keller-plus-scraps broth concentrate, which will make a nice base for my next batch. The cost per unit is at least a little better now.

This is either right after adding milk, or the opening credits of a Roger Corman picture:

Not exactly the way Charlie makes it— I think this recipe I used for guidance adds more milk than he does— but not bad, not bad at all.  I got one good dinner for the whole family, and three pint containers to freeze. A good start. Thanks, Tom and Chuck, for helping me stretch that household budget!

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One Response to “Pinching Pennies With Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter”

  1. crazy Says:

    What a great sounding recipe! Your pics are so drool-worthy!
    Thanks for sharing!