Cooking Like a Tough Guy – the soup edition

By D. Richard Pearce


Welcome to Cooking Like a Tough Guy. Find your seats, shut up and pay attention.

Now you may be wondering why or how exactly cooking can relate to being a tough guy, despite having seen all these shows of sweaty chefs yelling at everyone. I mean great, yelling and all, but how does being able to feed yourself and others fit into your kitbag, and why should it take up valuable space?

Well, for one thing, you never know when an undercover assignment is going to come up, and there’s ALWAYS room in the kitchen for another tough guy, whether it’s on a cargo ship, working the mining camps, or out on the trail. Why is this? Because bad cooks tend to mysteriously disappear – being able to actually cook will protect your cover and keep you from getting killed by the ostensible good guys.

Also, for the more debonair among you, cooking well is a way to impress the chicks. When you can whip up a four course dinner from a piece of celery and some condiments, you’re well on your way to seduction, if your particular method of slap-and-tickle is heavier on the tickle.

So this issue, we’re going to start on some basics – soups. With soups, you get some basic principles, how to use a knife (you think you know already, doncha?) and some other lessons that’ll carry you through on further lessons. Walk before you run, grasshoppa.

Gear – first things first – you need a knife. Combat knife will NOT do. But you’ll like the chef’s knife – it’s got a BIG blade. Go find one, the bigger and sharper the better. Don’t go spending a lot of money either – a mid-range knife will do you just fine. As a matter of fact, the best kitchen knife is one you’ll find down in Chinatown in the market – looks like a cleaver, only lighter, and will set you back about five bucks.

How to use a knife: if you want to get through this with all your digits, you need to learn how to hold a knife. Fortunately, if you use a combat or scuba knife, you already know. If you use a switchblade, pay attention. Basically, you hold the knife in a good firm grip, high on the handle, as if you were going for the low disembowel, spleen to sternum. There’s no hilt here, so you’ll be gripping it high on the handle, and by the end of the day, you should have a blister on the first pad of your index finger. Quit whining, in a week, you’ll have a callous. When you’re chopping (vegetables, not people), you’re going to be laying the edge of blade flat on the board, creating a rocking motion and feeding whatever you’re chopping to the blade with your other hand – the tip should never leave the board and if you’re making a bunch of noise, you’re doing it wrong. Think stealth mode there, Cookie.

The other thing you’ll need is a Burr mixer – Burr is a brand name, and there are a lot of pretenders in stand up mixers, but come on, do you want to work with, a Cuisinart or a BURR? What separates the men from the boys here is the heavy-dutyness and of course the power tool orange handle.

Ok, here we go.

A word about recipes – generally speaking, tough guys don’t follow recipes – there’s little room for measuring cups in your gear, and frankly a cup of motor oil is no different than a cup of olive oil (and you all should have an idea about volume in chemicals, right?). You’ll also note some optional ingredients in the lists below. These are by no means exhaustive lists; if there’s something in the fridge you think would make it better, add it. Feel free to use your judgment and for god’s sake, taste that crap as you’re going – if it tastes good, you’re doing fine. We’re not pastry chefs here.

The Holy Trinity – soups and sauces start with the basic three: carrots, onion, celery. Generally an equal amount of the three, but this can vary by soup. In all of the following lists (not recipes, remember) you’re going to start by dicing or chopping the carrot/onion/celery combo. If your pieces are about ¼ inch or so, you’re doing fine – anything smaller is mincing, and tough guys don’t mince. Ever. We don’t have time for the intricacies of recipes and cutting into powder.

Start the process by cutting off one of the round sides of whichever vegetable you’ve chosen – you want it to lay flat on the cutting board so it’s not flailing around while you finish the process. Nobody trusts a cook called Stubby.

Once you’ve got the three diced up, throw the mix into a pot on med-high heat with enough oil, olive or vegetable, your choice, to just cover the bottom of the pot. Stir it so the Trinity is coated and put the lid on – we’re going to let it sweat for a while.

Once the Trinity is soft and sweaty, you can throw in the bulk of your other ingredients.

Most of these soups are creamy, so when everything’s nice and soft and bubbling away, you get to use the power tool – stand the mixer in the pot and turn it on – in a couple minutes you should have a nice, smooth creamy soup. If there’s anything you wanted chunky, hopefully you set it aside, and now’s the time to add it. Turn the heat down and let it all simmer until dinner time – remember soups and sauces always taste better the next day, so if you can afford the time, let it all simmer for a couple hours then take it off and throw it in the fridge for tomorrow. That’s it – the basics – each of the soups below are made essentially the same way, and any differences will be described in the breakouts.

Hey by the way, we’re assuming some basic intelligence on your part – if you’re cooking in the Himalayas, and your soup is getting a bit thick, add some extra water/stock. If it’s too thin, let it simmer longer. You’ll notice I don’t tell you how much salt and pepper – the point here is to add a bit (a bit being about enough to cover the bottom of a shot glass – not the whole shot) and taste it – if it tastes thin, add some more; if it tastes good, don’t. Do I have to tell you everything?

Black Bean Soup:

So you’ve been assigned to cook duty in the Texas jailhouse. This one will feed about 5 or your fellow prisoners and you:

  • Holy Trinity: 3 carrots, 2 Med or 1 largish white or yellow onion, 3 stalks of celery (whole stalks – not sticks you stole from the bartender)
  • A clove or two of garlic, sliced.
  • 2 cans of black beans or 1lb bag dried (if dried you’re gonna have to soak them overnight)
  • Oregano, basil and thyme (aka Italian seasoning)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A quart of chicken stock (in the carton) or water and a couple OXO cubes, or if all else fails, water.

Optional leftovers:

  • Refried beans
  • Squash
  • Bell peppers

Sweat the Trinity, add the rest. Boil it for 20 minutes or so. If you have any of the optional leftovers, add them, but bump up the liquid count by a pint or so. Burr mix the crap out of it and enjoy.

Tomato Soup:

Just like mom used to make – oh no wait, she opened a can. Beat mom at her own game.

  • Trinity: 2 Med or 1 largish onion, 3 stalks of celery, 3 carrots
  • A couple of the big cans of tomatoes whole in the juice, or a couple pounds of tomatoes getting soft.
  • The aforementioned Italian seasoning
  • Quart of stock/water & oxo/water if nothing else
  • Salt & pepper

Optional leftovers:

  • Green beans
  • Sausage

See above – the only difference being if you have some leftover sausage or ham, dice it up and add it AFTER the mixing. Who’s gonna complain about chunks of meat in their tomato soup?

Potato Leek (aka Vichyssoise):

Feeling fancy pants? Working undercover in a frou frou joint while you wait to ambush the ambassador? This one will make the snootiest French chef boss kiss you on both cheeks. (Don’t forget to punch his lights out afterward.)

  • Trinity: 2 Med or 1 largish white or yellow onion, 3 stalks of celery – no carrot for this one. Hey – rules are made for breaking.
  • 3 good sized spuds, fit to match a steak. Peel em and chop em.
  • a couple cloves of garlic (shallots are fine if available, and they oughtta be if you’re making this soup).
  • 1 leek
  • Stock/oxo/water, again a quart or so.
  • Coffee cup of white wine
  • Salt & pepper

Ok this one’s a bit fancier – slice the leek across the grain with your big ass knife. Save the green part on the side. Throw the white part in with the Trinity and potatoes, sweat em til they’re soft, then add the wine, and let it sizzle a minute. Now add the stock and Burr it to gruel. Now add your green leeks and let it simmer for a while. If you get this one right, the ambassador will invite you to his table, making it much easier to kill him/seduce her.

All right, get out there and make some soup, Seagal.

D. Richard Pearce is the author of the stories “The Once and Future Dentist” (Escape Pod 13) about everyone’s favourite gunman (or at least his) and “El Alebrije”  (GUD issue 2). While he has seduced with his cooking, he finds it handy to keep a bottle of Tanqueray in reserve, just in case…

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