Just Like Mom Used To Make, But Snobbier.
February 18, 2011 1:30 PM   Subscribe

What homemade or "real food" ingredient can I substitute in recipes that call for Cream Of Whatever soup?

Inspired by the stroganoff recipe in this question.

I often come across recipes that call for soup as an ingredient of the final recipe. Most often I find it in old family recipes, or recipes spread by word of mouth like the one linked above. Now I'm seeing it a lot in the posts sponsored by Campbell's Soup on Serious Eats.

It seems logical to me that the called-for soup is a convenience to replace some group of other liquid ingredients. That, once upon a time, instead of adding a can of soup, you would add [X].

What is [X]?

Or, if I'm wrong and these recipes sprung up fully formed in the era of convenience foods, what can I substitute in if I don't want to use canned soups? I typically prefer to cook from scratch. I'm pretty distrustful of recipes that call for a bunch of pre-processed food items when using the real thing would be almost as easy. I especially don't like buying processed foods I would not normally eat on their own to use as an ingredient in another dish.

Side question: should I just stop worrying and learn to love the cream of mushroom soup? Am I being a snob about this?
posted by Sara C. to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Make a roux, thicken it up, and use that as a base for whatever kind of creamy vegetable soup you can dream of.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:32 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, any sort of roux or perhaps a bechemel sauce should work. (and I don't think you're being a snob, I also try to avoid those processed soups -- too much sodium and other weird stuff!)
posted by Bebo at 1:33 PM on February 18, 2011

Sorry, more info:


And no, you're not being a snob. Making your own base allows you to control fat, sodium, and flavor. It's many times better if you care at all about cooking, and it might even be cheaper, depending on how you buy your ingredients.

It will be slightly more work though. However, making a roux is easy once you've got practice and absurdly useful to have in your repertoire.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:34 PM on February 18, 2011

Best answer: Béchamel sauce.
posted by paulsc at 1:34 PM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with bechamel or roux, but if you want a little twist on it, I recommend making that kind of sauce with sour cream instead of milk. It'll be a little tangier and more interesting.
posted by piratebowling at 1:36 PM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

No, you are not being a snob at all. In fact, I purposefully avoid recipes that call for pre-processed food as they are usually pretty gross (and that includes green bean casserole- disgusting).

This is kind of a tough question because there are plenty of recipes that span all different flavor profiles that call for this stuff.

A roux is a good start. You could also use a bechamel sauce which is a mother sauce and can be transformed any way that you want.

Keep fighting the good fight and don't go back to those nasty canned soup recipes.
posted by TheBones at 1:38 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can also jar up the roux and keep for a while in the fridge, so once you get the hang of it you can make a big batch and always have it on hand. Just remember, a famous New Orleans chef once said (I forget which one) that the first thing you do when making a roux is stir up one batch, burn it by accident, throw it away and start again. So don't be intimidated.
posted by raisingsand at 1:42 PM on February 18, 2011

Depending on what you are making, you may want to make your own cream of mushroom soup for those recipes that call for a can of Campbell's. Mushrooms add umami flavor, so if you just subbed a white sauce it might not taste quite right. Here's an example.

Once you have the bechamel/cream soup techique down you can make any kind of flavored soup for your recipes. Keep in mind though that the canned stuff is condensed. So if your recipe calls for 1 can of soup and 1 cup of water, you would replace both ingredients with something like 2 cups of your sauce.

If your recipe doesn't call for any added liquid, your replacement sauce might not work unless you really thicken it up.
posted by cabingirl at 1:46 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I recently reverse engineered tater-tot casserole by substituting bechamel sauce for the cream of mushroom soup and mashed potatoes for the tater tots. I think I may have invented Shepherd's Pie!

Anyway, yes, the answer is bechamel sauce. You can tweak it lots of ways. I usually saute some veggies in the butter before I add the flour: about half an onion, a small carrot, and a celery stalk works well. Often I add cheese and Worcestershire sauce after it's thickened.
posted by craichead at 1:50 PM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I use roux and buttermilk and try to get the consistency to the proper gross lump from a can consistency.
posted by advicepig at 1:56 PM on February 18, 2011

Best answer: Making your own cream of mushroom soup and freezing it in little containers will improve your life if you are someone who, like me, does not enjoy the taste of canned condensed soup (just too salty for me), or if you are someone who (like my late dad) has to restrict your sodium intake. Or, I suppose, both.

It's also something useful to do with your leftover mushrooms/mushroom stems. I cannot recommend it highly enough if you enjoy casseroles.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:56 PM on February 18, 2011

You'll also have to add a ludicrous-seeming quantity of salt, or else it won't taste right.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:57 PM on February 18, 2011

Best answer: You'll also have to add a ludicrous-seeming quantity of salt, or else it won't taste right.

It's not a lot of work to train your palate away from the high salt levels of most commercial processed foods, though. (Though the downside is not being able to find anything to eat in the airport that isn't OH MY GOD SO SALTY.)

But, yeah, a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup has 1740 mg of sodium, which is about a full teaspoon of salt.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:01 PM on February 18, 2011

Best answer: Instead of Bechamel, you could also go with veloute, which is the same thing only using stock instead of milk, with the flour/butter roux. Depends on what result you want in the final dish you're working on.

(What I would do for quick mushroom soup to use in a casserole or whatever: saute chopped mushrooms and chopped shallots in butter until lightly browned. Add couple spoonfuls of flour and stir into the butter to cook off the flour taste, then pour in either milk or stock. Bring to a boil, stirring to prevent lumps, and simmer for a couple minutes til thickened.)
posted by dnash at 2:05 PM on February 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Came in to add veloute to the bechamel suggestions, but see that dnash has beat me to it.

Sometimes, depending on the desired result, I'll do a 'bechoute': I'll start off with a thick bechamel and incorporate stock into that.
posted by trip and a half at 2:10 PM on February 18, 2011

Response by poster: Duh, roux... My Cajun great grandmothers are spinning in their graves that I didn't think of that.

I'm extremely familiar with the roux making process.

Thanks for all the suggestions and links and info, guys! Keep 'em coming!

Oh, and to clarify one thing - I used to be the kind of person who saw "1 Can Cream Of Chicken Soup" in a recipe and moved on. I don't know if it's the return of the casserole as a food trend, the exceptionally cold and miserable winter, or getting older, but more and more those homey comfort foods are starting to sound really appetizing to me.
posted by Sara C. at 2:14 PM on February 18, 2011

You can actually make cream of whatever soup.

Here is a recipe for cream of mushroom.

It's a....roux with stuff in it. Which other folks have pointed out. But I figure it's worth pointing out that the cream of ____ soup doesn't have to come from a can.
posted by bilabial at 2:17 PM on February 18, 2011

As a note, I recently finally figured out how to successfully make a roux. I followed the step by step instructions from Smitten Kitchen. The piece that really seemed to make it work that I had been missing was gently warming the milk before adding it to the butter/flour mixture. Her directions read as follows:

Make sauce: Combine cream or milk and garlic in small saucepan; bring to simmer; keep warm. Melt two tablespoons butter in a medium heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in flour. Cook roux, whisking, one minute, then slowly whisk in warm cream/milk and boil, whisking, one minute. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Also, this casserole was delicious! And I do think a roux will get you the desired creaminess of cream of mushroom/potato/celery soup, but you will definitely need to add salt, as mentioned above.
posted by fyrebelley at 2:18 PM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you want to avoid the carbs of roux, take the terminology literally. Add cream, mushrooms (pre-sauteed in olive oil or butter) and stock. In reverse order, though.
posted by Namlit at 2:25 PM on February 18, 2011

I haven't used recipes that call for canned soup as an ingredient (I do move on when I see those ... am I a "snob"? who cares?). But I'd use potatoes if you're going to end up pureeing the soup. Aside from that, yeah, a roux. Or, plan to make your own real, homemade cream of mushroom soup (or potato leek soup or whatever) on one night; make enough so you have leftovers, and then use them the next day for the kind of recipe you're talking about.
posted by John Cohen at 2:30 PM on February 18, 2011

Best answer: Most of those soups aren't terribly difficult to make from scratch; Personally, I'd make a big batch, eat some of it for dinner, and then thicken down the appropriate amount to make it closer to the "fresh out of can, unrehydrated" consistency and make the casserole the next night. Just a slightly different take on leftovers!

Some of those recipes totally call for the can o' soup, though, and just don't taste comfort foody without it. I have a couple I just make with the canned soup because I don't make them often (once a winter) and it just tastes like childhood that way. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:34 PM on February 18, 2011

Many of the classic recipes that call for cream of mushroom soup were invented by Campbell's to sell more soup. Green bean casserole is definitely one of those recipes.

Yes, you can substitite bechamel, but it's less authentic that way, for what it's worth.
posted by chrchr at 2:43 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use Amy's Cream of Mushroom Soup for recipes like those. It's not homemade, obviously, but it's closer to real.
posted by Wordwoman at 3:06 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

"... Oh, and to clarify one thing - I used to be the kind of person who saw "1 Can Cream Of Chicken Soup" in a recipe and moved on. I don't know if it's the return of the casserole as a food trend, the exceptionally cold and miserable winter, or getting older, but more and more those homey comfort foods are starting to sound really appetizing to me."
posted by Sara C. at 5:14 PM on February 18

You're not alone, Sara C. "Lutheran hot dish" got its reputation not just because of canned mushroom soup (aka "Lutheran binder"), but because it is simple, homey food, that can be made from long-lived canned food items, in the dead of winter, when human beings huddle inside, and need comfort from the dark and cold. And for what it's worth, in such circles as still make and serve hotdish with Lutheran binder in winter's dead days, it matters a lot less what you believe, and what you bind noodles with, than with whom you willingly congregate, and raise spoons...
posted by paulsc at 4:04 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

One other quick suggestion: boiled cream can be used in just about any application where you'd use a béchamel, and it's a lot easier to make. 1. Pour cream into a pot. 2. Boil it hard until it reduces and thickens. 3. There IS no step three!

I don't know how this works, you'd think the cream would curdle, but it doesn't. I picked this up from Ina Garten and it really works. Throw it in a pot and let it boil away while you're working on other things and it will be sauce by the time you need it...
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 4:15 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Rice flour is great for thickening soups and sauces.
You can also use egg yolk. Or coconut cream. Or sour cream.
posted by leigh1 at 9:29 PM on February 18, 2011

another great substitution for bechamel, reduced cream, and coconut milk that hasn't been mentioned yet is soaked and pureed cashews. Their higher carb content compared with other nuts results in a creamier texture.
posted by umamiman at 12:12 AM on February 19, 2011

Most of the recipes I've seen that call for canned soup or other packaged/processed food are really just quick cheating abominations of traditional recipes that companies like Heinz invented to sell more canned soup.

If you do a little poking around its usually not hard to find a "real" recipe for the traditional dish that is being emulated. In the case of the linked example. Clearly this is a kind of cheats Stroganoff.

So instead of using Can of Mushroom soup you should go looking for a reputable Stroganoff recipe. Here is an example of a more reputable recipe BBC Rick Stein recipe where it can be deduced that the can of mushroom soup is actually a poor mans substitute for, wait for it... actual mushrooms and sour cream!

I personally would never use canned soup in a dish. I would however use say a bottle of Passata or a bought Chicken Stock as these are much more straightforward and shouldn't include too many odd additives. but yes i'm a bit of a food snob.

- oh and I would never put Bechamel sauce in a Stoganoff!
posted by mary8nne at 3:42 AM on February 19, 2011

Response by poster: Just to clarify - yeah, guys, I'm aware that a lot of recipes that call for canned soup are not the "authentic" version of the traditional recipe. Obviously Russian peasants didn't have canned condensed cream of mushroom soup to invent stroganoff with.

But sometimes I don't want to labor away for hours at The Most Authentic version of a recipe. I want a compromise - a simple recipe like purple crackers' "stroganoff" is appealing not because it's actually stroganoff (any more than the midwestern take on goulash is actually goulash), but because it sounds like something tasty to throw together on a cold night after a 14 hour shift at work. I'd much rather make a variation on that recipe but throw in a veloute than spend three days slaving over Alice Waters' recipe for stroganoff.
posted by Sara C. at 10:08 AM on February 19, 2011

Sour cream + something very salty? (salt, anchovy paste, parmesan, Marmite, Bragg's, etc?)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:01 PM on February 19, 2011

Plain Greek yogurt is thick.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 12:30 AM on February 20, 2011

Best answer: I make a home-made condensed cream of mushroom soup... here is the shorthand recipe

2 oz of dried mushrooms soaked in 1/2 c water, mushrooms removed and chopped, soaking liquid reduced by at least half
1 can evaporated milk
1 lb mushrooms sauteed with onions until they are caramelized and beautiful

So good you want to eat it with a spoon.
WAAY more expensive than campbell's
posted by LittleMy at 1:56 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

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