Eastern Maine Medical Center’s Broccoli and Cheese Soup. Fall is just around the corner. Get a jump-start on soup season with some cream-based options that are sure to comfort and satisfy your customers.
James H. Ammons III, resource chef for the Florida Hospital System Administration, in central Florida, has found that home-style soups chock-full of chunky vegetables, like cream of mushroom, rustic potato, corn chowder and Moroccan pumpkin, sell best. “They’re creamy, savory and appeal to all different tastes,” says Ammons, who also offers to-go containers of prepackaged, refrigerated soups that customers can take home.
Jim Graham, production manager for Eastern Maine Medical Center's nutrition services, in Brewer, can relate. He offers both broccoli and cauliflower cheese soups, cream of vegetable and mushroom barley. “Here in New England, people look for hearty soups and chowders.”
That is a fact Matthia Accurso, executive sous chef at the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst, can attest to; his New England clam chowder is a best-seller. “It’s a regional specialty that we use to showcase our local ingredients,” says Accurso, who adds that locals love the soup for the comfort, while out-of-towners enjoy trying the signature dish of Massachusetts.
Though Accurso admits that cream-based soups don’t sell as well as broth-based soups in the warmer months, fall is a great time for offering a wide variety of cream-based soups and are a way to “provide healthy, flavorful dishes, using freshly prepared, sustainable ingredients.”
So just what goes into a delicious cream soup? The chefs say fresh and local (when possible) ingredients make the best soups. In Accurso’s chowder, he uses local cream, clams and potatoes. Likewise, his cream of asparagus is made with local Hadley asparagus, which is renowned for its unique sweetness. When appropriate, ents make the best soups. In Accurso’s chowder, he uses local cream, clams and potatoes. Likewise, his cream of asparagus is made with local Hadley asparagus, which is renowned for its unique sweetness. When appropriate, Accurso labels the names of the farms from which he sourced his ingredients, as well as their distance from the school, which helps boost sales.
Scratch cooking is key, as is technique, Accurso adds. “Prepare all of the ingredients up until the very end when you add the cream and adjust the seasonings and prepare them as close to service as possible, which will help vegetables sustain their bright color.”
Similarly, Ammons makes all his soups from scratch, without any additives or preservatives. He opts for 1% milk instead of heavy cream to make the soups healthier, and he uses margarine in place of butter. Graham takes a similar approach, using whole milk instead of heavy cream and margarine. Both recommend all-purpose flour as a thickener, though Graham stresses cooking the roux for at least 45 minutes before adding the cream. “Otherwise there will be a buttery skim over the top,” says Graham, who uses a super sharp American cheese to add tang. “It melts really well, unlike cheddar, which isn’t as creamy.”
Whatever you do, choose a recipe and stick to it, Ammons advises. “People are used to the same taste, and if you have recipe standardization and only one person scaling the recipe, you’ll maintain consistency and have a successful program.”
Holding cream-based soups is the biggest challenge, as they tend to break, the chefs warn. Temperature is paramount. Graham cautions against bringing the steam table above 180 degrees, though Ammons says anything above 165 degrees is too hot. “If the water boils, it will break, but you don’t want the soup to get cold,” Ammons explains. “So keep it above 141 degrees, as close to 150 degrees as you can.” A trick: Use non-dairy creamer as a thickener, which keeps soup from breaking and can even bring a broken soup back to life, Graham says.
Similarly, cream-based soups cool at a much slower rate than broth-based soups, making them more susceptible to bacterial growth, warns Accurso, who suggests close monitoring and proper storage of all cream-based soups.