The cooking trick with cold soups is not to taste them. Just yet.
Don’t taste them when they’re cold; taste them as you’re making them, while or when they’re warm, before you chill them. For example, cold foods won’t register properly whether the salt level is correct or not, or if one element or ingredient is off-balance, given the whole in the bowl.
But room temperature or warmer foods can. It’s a molecular thing and about heat as energy and the receptivity of taste buds when at body temperature (good) or when chilled (not so good).
All that aside, the cool thing about chilled soups is their consequential refreshment. That’s why we cook them, all over the world. Gazpacho and vichyssoise, of course are the two most famous, but also chilled borscht, avocado soup, Spain’s “white garlic” soup called ajoblanco, and the fruit soups of Scandinavia.
Many of these soups never get to the hot stage atop the stove, although most do, but they’re never made from merely cold ingredients. So always taste for salt especially, and also for the presence of and balance among other flavors and elements such as acidity, as you go along making these soups before they hit the ice.
And then keep in mind that all flavors are dulled by cold, so that, for instance, err on the side of a smidge too much salt when a soup is room temperature or warm, knowing that that increased salt level won’t blare in the end but will be necessary to do what salt always does and lift flavors in hiding. Salt “savorizes”; it’s the greatest.
Other suggestions for the kitchen when preparing chilled or cold soups:
- Opt for raw over cooked onion or garlic; the latter always taste better in hot soups, vichyssoise the notable exception. An undernote of cooked garlic or onion in a chilled soup makes the mouth want to heat it up in a pot. That’s why it’s not a good idea to merely purée an old soup first made hot in order to serve it cold on second use. Instead of being refreshing, your palate will ask you, “Hey, heat this up; it’s not supposed to be cold.”
- Don’t use butter or ghee to sweat vegetables for a cold soup. Either will later congeal, not a pleasant sensation.
- Often, the texture of cold soups is key. On the one hand, if puréed, they must be silken; on the other, if chunky, all the pieces of the constituent fruits or vegetables ought to be similarly sized or diced. Cold soups feel differently and therefore are less forgiving texturally than hot soups.
- When room temperature or warm, a cold soup to-be should be thinner than you’d prefer it as served. It will firm up when chilled, so begin on the less heavy side.
- Chill serving bowls or cups ahead of time so that they help keep the cool when at table. A small trick, but worth the forethought.
Today’s recipe is a sort of outside-in turn on the standard prosciutto-wrapped melon spear. Here, if you wish, you can use the crisped prosciutto slices as a one- or two-bite scoop for the thick, cool soup.
Cantaloupe gazpacho with crispy prosciutto
From turniptheoven.com; makes 4 large and 6 medium servings
This light, refreshing cantaloupe gazpacho is the perfect summer meal. Skip the prosciutto to make it vegetarian. Replace the yogurt with unsweetened almond milk to make it vegan.
1 medium cantaloupe (about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds), peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt (not Greek yogurt)
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Extra diced cucumber, cantaloupe, chopped fresh herbs, and olive oil, for serving (optional)
4-6 slices prosciutto
Make the gazpacho: In a blender, combine the cantaloupe, cucumber, shallots, salt, and 1/3 cup of water. Purée until smooth (blender will be very full). Transfer half of cantaloupe mixture to a large bowl. Add the yogurt and sherry vinegar to the remaining cantaloupe mixture in the blender and purée until smooth. With the motor running, slow pour in the olive oil and blend until creamy and very smooth. Pour into the bowl with the rest of the cantaloupe mixture and stir to combine. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Make the crispy prosciutto: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place a wire rack on a large baking sheet. (Alternatively, if you don’t have a rack, you can roast the prosciutto on a parchment-lined baking sheet.) Arrange the prosciutto slices in a single layer on the rack and roast until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes.
Bill St. John has written and taught about restaurants, food, cooking and wine for more than 40 years, locally for Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post and KCNC-TV Channel 4, nationally for Chicago Tribune Newspapers and Wine & Spirits magazine. The Denver native lives in his hometown. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org