Pastry topped creamed soup is the star on any restaurant menu.
Putting aside the taste, consider how impressive and mysterious it looks. With wide eyes wondering what is underneath that layer of crispy, fluffy pastry, most people can’t wait to try it. A simple creamy soup can be made into a heavenly chowder with the addition of clams, shrimp or other seafood, and today we are going to make one special chowder!
Forrest Gump said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get.’
Pastry topped creamy chowder has the same charm, you don’t know what you’ll get until you puncture that pastry shell.
My family abandoned pastry covered soup a while back, but in recent years we’ve taken to it with new fervor; getting better at making it and gaining experience has made it more enjoyable again. Today we are cooking a shrimp pastry topped cream chowder.
Ingredients for the Chowder:
- 500 g potatoes
- 400 g onions
- 200 g celery (about 2 stalks)
- 20 g garlic (2-3 cloves)
- 30 ml olive oil
- 750 ml water
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper (1 teaspoon = 5 ml)
- 45 ml cream
Ingredients for the Chili Garlic Shrimp:
- 500 g shrimp
- 1 teaspoon garlic
- 15 g red pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon + 3 teaspoons olive oil
- 4 sheets of frozen puff pastry for 8 servings
Method for the Chowder:
Step 1: Prepare the Ingredients
Wash, peel and chop the potatoes into 1 cm thick cubes. More potatoes make Western style soup thicker, fewer potatoes and the soup will be thinner.
Onions are another basic and important ingredient in Western style soup. Slice the peeled onion thinly.
The last basic ingredient is celery. Wash and cut it into thin slices of 0.5 cm.
Slice the garlic thinly. If you don’t like the smell of raw garlic, don’t worry, it will mellow when it cooks in the soup.
Step 2: Make the Soup
Preheat a 20 cm soup pot for 1 minute and add the olive oil.
Toss in the potatoes and stir fry for 1 minute to coat the surface in olive oil.
Cover with the lid and heat for 1 1/2 minutes. The purpose of doing this is to produce a golden yellow color on the surface of the potatoes, which adds a rich flavor to the soup, otherwise the chowder will have a slightly powdery taste.
Add the onion slices to the potatoes and stir fry for 2 minutes.
Add the water and bring to the boil. Reduce to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add the garlic, cover the pot and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the celery, cover again and cook for 4 minutes.
Turn off the stove and using a stick blender, blend the soup to a smooth, creamy texture.
The texture of the soup is very important, so you should repeatedly taste it until there is no graininess. If you do not have a stick blender, you can use a food processor, but check the manufacturer’s instructions to see if your model can process hot food and if so, you will have to do it in batches.
Season the soup with salt and ground black pepper to your family’s liking.
Stir in the cream and taste test to see if you need more. Adjusting the amount of cream is very important for almost all Western-style soups, especially chowders: you need to add enough that it makes a difference and make it ‘creamy’. At this point, the soup is finished but it will need to cool before you cover it with the pastry.
If you put the pastry on top of the hot soup, it will not crisp up properly in the oven and will hang over the edges, giving a ‘wilted’ look.
Pour a thin layer of cream on the surface of the soup, and cool to room temperature with the lid on, but slightly ajar. If you completely seal the lid, condensation will drip down into the soup, and if you leave it off, the surface will form a skin.
Step 3: Make the Garlic Shrimp
Firstly, cut off the shrimp head with a sharp knife,
and peel off the shell.
Cut the shrim’s back with scissors,
Don’t throw away the shrimp heads – they can be cooked up to make shrimp oil, which adds a deliciously robust flavor to Asian dishes.
With a sharp knife cut along the back of the shrimp about 2/3 of the way into the back, leaving 1/3 still attached. This cut will cause the shrimp to curl into a beautiful shrimp ball. Dry the shrimp with paper towel.
Remove the seeds and white parts of the chili and chop it finely.
Grate the garlic and mix it with the chili.
Add the salt and olive oil and mix to a paste. Add the pepper at the end and mix evenly.
Rub the chili mixture all over the shrimp and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Wash your hands immediately – you don’t want to rub your face and get chili in your eyes or up your nose!
Take a flat bottomed non-stick skillet, preheat for 1 minute and add the 15 ml of olive oil.
Put the coated shrimp in the pan and fry it slightly until the shrimps curl. You don’t want to cook them completely as they will cook further in the chowder when you cook the pastry tops.
Step 4: Assemble the Chowder
Just like the final assembly of a spacecraft before the first launch, this is the most exciting moment!
To get the most stunning effect for Creamy Pastry Topped Chowder, the quality of pastry is important. Good quality frozen pastry thaws very quickly, in warm weather within a few seconds, but some cheaper pastry needs a few minutes to soften. Pastry made with butter, as opposed to vegetable shortening, gives the best flavor and fragrance. Pastry made with plant based shortening makes it difficult to control the thawing point.
The point here is to cut your pastry while it is still hard as it is much easier to handle and shape. If it is too soft, it may stretch and tear.
The diameter of the pastry lid should be larger than the diameter of the soup bowl to allow for shrinkage during cooking. If it shrinks too much, it may fall into the soup!
To illustrate, my soup bowl’s diameter is 11 cm, so I found a bowl with a slightly bigger diameter, 12.7 cm to be exact, as a template to cut the pastry.
Use a sharp knife to cut out each pastry top individually. Don’t be tempted to stack the pastry to cut them all out at once! As soon as you have cut out one piece, put it between the two layers of baking paper and put it back into the freezer immediately.
Once the soup is cooled to room temperature, pour it into the soup bowls about 2/3 full, leaving a space of approximately 1.2 cm at the top to make room for the shrimp. Add one garlic shrimp to each bowl of soup.
Take the pastry rounds out of the freezer. Position the pastry so it is centrally aligned over the rim of the bowl.
Use the template dish to gently press the pastry into place.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Bake the pastry covered chowder for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden yellow. The time may vary due to different oven temperatures, so check the pastry tops from about the 15-20 minute mark. If the pastry darkens too much, it will taste bitter.
Don’t they look stunning? The chowder is very hot since it has been covered, so let it sit for a little while to cool slightly, and be careful of steam when you break open that golden crust.