Done well, this is one of my favorite soups.  Unfortunately, many recipes aren’t able to bring out the full flavor-potential of the wild rice and mushrooms, leaving you with a bland, boring soup.  This one, however, is the exception.  Using a few simple tricks, we are able to harness the wonderful umami flavors of the ingredients to make a very flavorful, earthy soup with just the right amount of richness.  A pinch of baking soda raises the pH of the water and allows the outer pectin-covering of the rice to dissolve more quickly, speeding up the cooking time as well as allowing for deeper flavor-development.  Additionally, we’ll use the rice water as a base, rather than discarding it and all of the flavor it imparts.  These and a couple other tricks make this soup meaty and hearty enough for the chill of winter, yet not too heavy for the heat of warmer months.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 c. wild rice
  • 4 c. water (plus a little more to make 3 c. after cooking the rice)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 garlic cloves, 1 whole 4 minced
  • 1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 t. salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 4 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 lb. baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 white or yellow onion, minced
  • 1 t. tomato paste
  • 3/4 t. black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms, ground to a powder in a spice grinder
  • 2/3 c. dry sherry
  • 1 T. soy sauce (dark soy, preferably)
  • 4 c. chicken broth
  • 1/4 c. cornstarch and 1/4 c. cold water, mixed into a slurry
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1/4 c. chives, minced
  • 1/4 t. lemon zest

Our first trick is to heat the oven to 375.  Cooking the rice in the oven cooks it at a higher temperature and is, therefore, faster, but also allows for more even cooking.  We’ll start it out on the stove-top, though.  In an oven-proof, lidded pot, bring the 4 c. water to a boil and add the whole garlic clove, bay leaf, thyme, and rice.  Return to a boil, cover, and cook in the oven for 35-50 minutes (mine took about 45).  Once the rice is tender, strain it over a bowl or large Pyrex measuring cup to save the rice liquid.  Discard the bay leaf, garlic clove, and thyme.  Add enough water to make 3 c., and set the liquid and rice aside.

In the same pot, melt the butter over high heat and add the mushrooms, onion, garlic, tomato paste, pepper, and about 1 t. of salt.  Cook on medium-high heat until there is a dark, rich fond (all that flavor-packed brown stuff that sticks to the bottom of the pan), and the mushrooms are nicely browned.

Next, deglaze the pan with the sherry, being sure to scrape up all the fond from the bottom.  Then add the rice liquid, soy sauce, chicken broth, and shiitake powder, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes.

After simmering, add the cornstarch slurry and simmer another 2-3 minutes.  Finally, turn off the heat and add the cream, cooked rice, chives, and lemon zest.  Cover once more and let sit for 10 minutes or so, just to let all the flavor from the chive and lemon release into the pot.  Taste and add salt or pepper if you wish, and enjoy!

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