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Dish R&D: Warm Garlic Soup

24 November 2006

Inspiration meets innovation in a simple, product-driven recipe from a new entrant to South Florida's sizzling dining scene.

This article first appeared in the 15 September 2006 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website here >>

By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor

DISH: Warm Garlic Soup With Charred Onions and Wild Greens
COMPOSITION: garlic, heavy cream, egg whites, charred onions, wild greens
CONVENIENCE PRODUCTS: none
MENU PRICE: $12
FOOD COST: N/A

The idea of garlic soup enchanted Chef Jeffrey Brana of Restaurant Brana in Coral Gables, Fla. If he created the dish for his menu, the Florida native knew his real challenge would be finding a formula to make it fly.

"We wanted to figure out how to do it so the garlic wouldn't be overpowering and, because it is rather warm this time of year, to make the soup very light, almost refreshing," says Brana, former executive chef at Norman's, also in Coral Gables.

Brana's solution flows from his philosophy of using forward-thinking techniques to coax the best flavors from seasonal products: A simple base of garlic, heavy cream and whipped egg whites is charged with nitrous oxide in a siphon canister, emerging light and pillowy into waiting bowls. The dish, completed with charred cipollini onions and wild greens, has become a cherished player on Restaurant Brana's à la carte and vegetarian tasting menus (a nonvegetarian version swaps pan-fried frog's legs, first poached and boned, for the onions and greens).

Brana prepares the base unadorned with spices and seasonings so the three main components shine. Onion is a natural complement for garlic, he says, and cipollinis work best for their size and gentle flavor. They are charred rather than sautéed or caramelized, bringing a light, smoky nuance to the sweet, garlicky base. Brana first tried cooking the onions in butter, then halving and charring them, but he wanted crisper results. Now the halved onions are charred skin-side down in grapeseed oil and simmered in water, butter and aromatics. Once tender, they are drained and charred again.

Dressed simply in red-wine vinaigrette, the wild greens act as counterpoint to the warm, sweetly mellow soup. "The greens have a touch of bitterness that offers a clean, acidic, refreshing foil to the garlic and onion," says Brana. Any slightly bitter green will work, he says, but more-aggressive options such as arugula or kale would threaten to overpower.

The recipe is easily assembled for service. To allow flavor to develop, the garlic soup base is made a day in advance and chilled. For service, it is brought to temperature and placed in a siphon charger, where it is held in a hot water bath until service.

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