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Monday, January 17, 2011

Mulligatawny Soup

Mulligatawny soup was one of the first things I made at home after I started cooking school. It's an inherently simple recipe if you don't strive to make it difficult, and it's very Victorian in origin. The British had colonies in India (as we all know) and the quite fashionable chaps who subjugated and exploited the native people of that country liked to "go native," or adopt a few customs here and there from their innocent victims. One of the popular items to make its way back to England (along with curry in general) was this soup, the name of which means "Pepper Water" in Tamil.

Almost every period cook book in my collection—encompassing both physical and electronic—contains a recipe for Mulligatawny Soup. Herein is presented a quick sampling of them, and then a recipe combining elements of each.

Mrs. Beeton's recipe calls for:
2 tbsp Curry Powder, 6 onions, 1 clove garlic, 1 oz ground almonds, 1 fowl or rabbit, 4 slices of lean bacon, and 2 quarts stock.
With these ingredients, she says:
Slice and fry the onions; line the stewpan with the bacon; cut rabbit or fowl into small joints, and slightly brown them; put in the fried onions, the garlic, and stock; simmer till the meat is tender; skim carefully, and when the meat is done, rub the curry-powder to a smooth batter with a little stock; add it to the soup with the almonds (pounded), with a little of the stock. Season and serve with boiled rice.
The White House Cook Book, in the recipe for Mulligatawny Soup (as served in India) says:
Cut four onions, one carrot, two turnips, and one head of celery into three quarts of liquor, in which one or two fowls have been boiled. Keep it over a brisk fire till it boils, then place it on a corner of the fire, and let it simmer twenty minutes. Add one tablespoonful of curry powder, and one tablesponful of flour; mix the whole well together, and let it boil three minutes; pass it through a colander; serve with pieces of roast chicken in it; add boiled rice in a separate dish. It must be of good yellow color, and not too thick. If you find it too thick, add a little boiling water and a teaspoonful of sugar. Half veal and half chicken answers as well.
A dish of rice, to be served separately with this soup, must be thus prepared: Put three pints of water in a saucepan and one tablespoonful of salt; let this boil. Wash well, in three waters, half a pound of rice; strain it, and put it into the boiling water in saucepan. After it has come to the boil—which it will do in about two minutes—let it boil twenty minutes; strain it through a colander, and pour over it two quarts of cold water. This will separate the grains of rice. Put it back in the saucepan, and place it near the fire until hot enough to send to the table. This is also the proper way to boil rice for curries. If these directions are strictly carried out every grain of rice will separate, and be thoroughly cooked.
Similar‚ and with the useful addition of the boiled rice recipe.

My (admittedly modern) culinary textbook contains the following recipe, although it doesn't include the rice as an essential part of the service:
1 oz unsalted butter; 12 oz mirepoix; 2 Tbsp flour; 2 tsp curry powder; 1 qt chicken stock; 3.5 oz cooked chicken meat, diced; 1 oz green apple, diced; 1 oz mushrooms, sliced; 4 fl. oz milk, warmed; Salt and white pepper to taste, and minced chives to garnish.

1. Sauté mirepoix in butter for 5 minutes over medium heat.
2. Add the flour and curry powder and cook to form a blond roux.
3. Add the stock, bring to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.
4. Add the chicken, apple, and mushrooms and cook for 15 more minutes.
5. Finish with milk and season with salt and white pepper. Garnish with chives.
I like the addition of apples to the soup, but from experience I know that I like my soup thicker than this recipe yields.

Other recipes all follow more or less the same pattern—a white meat stock with vegetables added, thickened with roux, colored and seasoned with curry powder, and served with rice. Fairly straightforward.

Soup in Progress
Therefore, I present to you...

Mulligatawny Soup:
3 oz/85 g whole butter
10 oz/285 g onion, small dice
6 oz/170 g carrot, 1/8 inch (3 mm) rondelles
3 oz/85 g celery, small dice
1 clove garlic, paste
3 Tbsp/45 ml all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp/15 ml Curry Powder
1 quart/950 ml Chicken Stock
2 tsp/10 ml Salt
4 oz/114 g tart green apple, small dice
10 oz/283.5 g cooked chicken meat, shredded *
4 fl. oz/118 ml heavy (double) cream

Sautéeing the Mirepoix
1. Heat butter in a saucepan over high heat and sauté the mirepoix for one or two minutes, until it begins to soften. Add the garlic, and continue to sauté for five minutes further. Reduce heat to medium-high.

2. Add flour and mix well, adding more clarified butter if needed to create a roux around the vegetables. Sauté for a few minutes, until the roux begins to take a blond color, then add the curry powder and sauté for two to three minutes.

The stock has been added.
3. Add stock and mix well. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Add the apple and chicken meat, and simmer for another 15 minutes.

4. Add cream, and adjust seasonings. Serve with rice.

* Cooking your chicken meat can be done in one of many ways. If you wish, you may start this soup with one broiler/fryer chicken, roughly 2.5-3.5 lb (1.1-1.6 kg) and 2-3 quarts (1.9-2.8 L) of water, as well as about 1/2 lb (226 g) of mirepoix. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3-4 hours, strain, and use 2 quarts (1.9 L) of the broth to make the soup, and the measured amount of cooked meat as well. Otherwise, roast a pound (453 g) of chicken (bone-in) until it's done, then use that.

This will yield about 1 1/2 quarts (1.4 Liters) of soup.

Rice ready to boil.
Boiled White Basmati Rice
1 cup (237 ml) White Basmati Rice
Kosher Salt

1. Begin by rinsing the rice well, in at least two changes of water, until the water does not cloud overmuch. To do this, place the rice in a sieve, and immerse the grains in a bowl of water; swish around, change the water, and repeat. My rice took three rinses. (If you have enriched rice, this step can be omitted, although the rice will be stickier. The purpose of this step is to get rid of the starch granules that are coating the rice grain, allowing better separation of the rice.)

2. Place the rice in a pot and cover it with about two inches of water. Allow it to soak for 30 minutes.

A worthwhile dinner.
3. Place on the stove, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Once the boil is reached, time for three minutes, and test the rice. If it is tender but not mushy, turn it out into a strainer, shake firmly but carefully to release as much water as possible, and return the rice to the pan. (If not, test again in another minute, continuing to cook until the rice is done.)

4. Cover the pan tightly and cook for 5 minutes over very low heat. This will help the rice dry out slightly and re-distribute the moisture. Allow it to sit off the heat for 3 minutes, and then fluff for service with a fork.

This ought to yield 3 cups of rice, give or take a little.


  1. "Why English people always spell this word wrong? Everybody knows this—Mollagoo, pepper; tanney, water. In proper Tamil the mollagoo tanney is pronounced “Mollagoo Neer” and “Mollagoo Tannir." -The Curry Cook's Assistant [1887] [http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34107]

    You might enjoy that book. So many curries.

  2. That I HAVE to see. Thanks for sharing!


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