Potage aux champignons à la bressane
If asked to come up with the menu for my final meal, this soup would be a strong contender for the first course. It’s intensely flavoured and is a pleasing proper mushroom grey colour, flecked with black gills. When left overnight it thickens considerably and makes a rather good sauce for chicken.
What separates this from other mushroom soups is its secret ingredient: a thick slice of bread. Jane Grigson tells us that sauces in the Middle Ages used breadcrumbs for thickening (as opposed to flour or a final enriching addition of egg yolks & cream).
This culinary habit persisted into Tudor times, and has a final echo today in the Christmas bread sauce. The most extraordinary thing is that there is no trace whatsoever of the taste or texture of the bread upon eating.
I’ve had great success in cooking this soup for avowed mushroom avoiders. And so I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of our friend Sean Donovan, who was killed in the summer of our second year at university, who hated mushrooms and loved this soup.
The recipe below comes from Jane Grigson’s seminal 1975 cookbook The Mushroom Feast, which I bought in 1995 on the book bursary I was awarded for my theology degree. (Cookery books were so much more beguiling than tomes on Redaction Criticism.) Grigson found it first in Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, but I’ve chosen Grigson’s version to run here as it is slightly clearer.
I make this soup by sight now, but I cooked it according to the exact recipe for these photographs.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Mmm butter.
Chop mushrooms roughly
Cast mushrooms into saucepan to cook gently in the butter. As the juices run, add half the parsley, garlic, salt & nutmeg to taste.
Realise you have forgotten to pick the parsley, put on unspeakable gardening clogs and venture out into the night to forage for parsley.
Add the chopped parsley to saucepan
Take heel of stale bread from bread bin. Remove crusts
Tear the slice of bread into pieces and soak in a cup of the stock.
Transfer everything into the saucepan and add the remaining stock. Cook for fifteen minutes
and then blend in the pan with a stick blender (or use a liquidizer)
Heat the cream to a boil, add to soup with the rest of the parsley. Adjust seasoning
The soup is named from Bresse, an area of France famous for its food, and for being the home country of Brillat-Savarin. Grigson tells us that recipes from the area have ‘a fine simplicity of flavour which can only be created by using ingredients of the finest quality, without skimping’.
Well, that’s us told.
¾ lb mushrooms chopped (I like to use a mixture of large flat, white, and brown/chestnut to get the best flavour)
2 ozs butter (Do not use margarine EVER)
2 tbsps chopped parsley
small piece of garlic, chopped
salt, freshly ground black pepper
nutmeg or mace
a thick slice of bread
1 ¾ pints good stock (I’m afraid poor Jane wld roll in her grave as I use Marigold bouillon)
3–4 ozs cream