ad hoc at home – or – the most complex soup I’ve ever made

Ad Hoc at Home

I love cookbooks. I love leafing through the pages, looking at the glossy photos dreaming of the dinner parties that I would have. The problem is that I also get a couple cooking magazine subscriptions each month and they are equally enticing. And finally, factor in that I only cook at home maybe 50% of the time (given that breakfast & lunch are eaten at work most days) and the competition of the plethora of recipes for the open time slots is fierce.

Over the holidays as I was reaching for some cookbooks that held traditional favorites, I stopped to really look at what was on those shelves and was shocked, and a little embarrassed, to admit that there were a fair number of cookbooks that I’d only made a couple recipes out of, and indeed several I had never made anything from! Since I just wrote a blog about not making resolutions, it was too late to turn back now, but I could make a goal of dusting off one of these under-loved cookbooks each month and taking it out for a spin.

As I was still pondering my January choice, my husband surprised me with a cookbook I’d been eyeing for awhile  – Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry fame. I have looked through the cookbook for this signature restaurant and was completely overwhelmed at the complexity, steps and time it would take to complete just one dish. And while Ad Hoc at Home is aimed much more at the home cook, apparently even what Keller cooks at home is really rather complicated. I figured while I was full of drive would be a good time to take on this beast because I was going to need it.

One of the first things I realized is that almost every recipe refers to other recipes that have to be made before the first recipe can be completed. I picked Chicken Soup with Dumplings, in part, because it’s cold in Idaho this time of year and soup sounds perfect, plus this recipe only required me to make two others – roux (easy enough) and chicken stock. I have made my own stock for years but not with the painstaking technique outlined in this cookbook, but I figured if I was going to have the full Ad Hoc at Home experience, I needed to do everything the Keller way. And as you can see by how long the directions are that follows, the Keller way, even at home, is quite complex.


Chicken Soup with Dumplings
Makes 6-10 servings (about 8 cups)

1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
1 cup celery, coarsely chopped
1 cup onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup leeks, coarsely chopped
Kosher salt

1/2 cup water
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp chives, minced
4 quarts chicken stock (see recipe below)
5 stalks celery
3 large carrots
1 tsp honey
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 large garlic clove, crushed, skin left on
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup roux (see recipe below)
2 cups cooked chicken (dark or white meat), shredded
1/4 cup chives, minced
1 Tbsp Champagne vinegar
Flat-leaf parsley leaves

This simple, satisfying soup is all about texture. A roux is used to thicken the stock to achieve a luxurious satiny feel on the palate. And we add refinement to it by making the dumplings with pâte à choux (cream puff dough) rather than the standard biscuit dough. This is a great soup to make when you have leftover roast chicken. If you start off with a nice rich chicken stock, you can’t go wrong.

Melt the butter in an 8- to 10-quart stockpot over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, onions, and leeks, season with salt, and cover with a parchment lid.

Reduce the heat to low and cook very slowly, stirring occasionally, 30 to 35 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Remove and discard the parchment lid.

Make the dumplings: Fill a wide deep pot with salted water and bring to a simmer. Set up a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Combine the water, butter, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the flour all at once, and stir rapidly with a stiff heatproof or wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and the bottom of the pan is clean. The dough should be glossy and smooth but still moist; enough moisture must evaporate from the dough to allow it to absorb more fat when the eggs are added. Continue to stir for 4 to 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent the dough from coloring; a thin coating of dough will form on the bottom and sides of the pan. When enough moisture has evaporated, steam will rise from the dough and the nutty aroma of cooked flour will be noticeable.

Immediately transfer the dough to the mixer bowl. Add the mustard and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix for a few seconds to incorporate the ingredients and release some of the heat. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating until the first egg is completely incorporated before adding the second and incorporating it. Then add the chives and incorporate. Remove the bowl from the mixer.

Making dumplings

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Shape the dumplings using two soup spoons to make a quenelle shape (see note), dropping them into the simmering water. Cook the dumplings in batches of about 6 to avoid crowding the pot and allow them to cook evenly. Once the dumplings rise to the surface, it will take about 5 minutes for them to cook; remove one and break it open to make sure it is cooked. With a slotted spoon, transfer the dumplings to the baking sheet, and cook the remaining dumplings. (You will have about 18 dumplings.)


Once the dumplings have cooled, trim any uneven edges with scissors.

Finish the soup: Add the chicken stock to the vegetables and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, then strain the soup base into another pot and discard the vegetables.

Peel the celery stalks with a peeler. Cut each stalk crosswise on the diagonal into thin slices about 11/2 inches long. As you get to the wider lower part of the stalk, adjust the angle of your knife to keep the pieces relatively the same size. You need about 1 1/2 cups celery for this recipe (reserve any extra for another use). Cook the celery in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender. Drain, cool in an ice bath, and drain again.

Cut the carrots lengthwise into quarters and then crosswise into bite-sized pieces. As each carrot widens, adjust the size of the cut to keep the pieces bite sized. You need about 1 1/2 cups carrots for this recipe (reserve any extra for another use).

Put the carrots in a saucepan, add the honey, bay leaf, thyme, garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the carrots are tender but slightly resistant to the tooth. Drain and transfer to paper towels.

Bring the soup base to a simmer and whisk in the roux a little at a time until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon; you may not use all the roux. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming often—this is necessary to remove all impurities from the roux. (The soup will continue to thicken as it simmers.)

Add the dumplings, chicken, carrots, celery, and chives to the soup and heat through. Season with the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer to a large serving bowl and sprinkle with parsley leaves.

Chicken Soup with Dumplings

Note: To form a three-sided quenelle using two soupspoons, start by using one spoon to scoop up a portion of dough that is slightly smaller than the bowl of the spoon. Hold the second spoon in your other hand, place the side of the spoon against the far side of the dough, and scoop it onto the second spoon, forming one smooth long side. Continue transferring the dough between the spoons until you have the desired oval football shape. (With practice, this should take no more than three transfers, but it may require more when you are first getting started.) Before you begin, set up a container of hot water in which to regularly dip the spoons—this will make it easier to form the quenelles.

Chicken Stock
Makes 4 1/2 qts

5 lbs chicken bones, necks, and backs
1 lbs chicken feet (optional)
4 qts cold water
About 8 cups ice cubes
1 1/4 carrots, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 heaping cups leeks, cut into 1-inch pieces (white and some light green parts only)
1 1/2 cups Spanish onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bay leaf

Rinse the bones, necks, backs, and optional chicken feet thoroughly under cold water to remove all the visible blood. Remove any organs that may still be attached to the bones. (The rinsing of bones and removal of any organs is an essential first step in the clarification of the stock, as blood proteins are removed that would coagulate when heated and there will therefore be less chance that impurities will cloud your stock.)

Place all the bones and the feet, if using, in a 14- to 16-quart stockpot. Cover with the cold water. Slowly bring the liquid to a simmer, beginning to skim as soon as any impurities rise to the top. (It is important to keep skimming, because as the stock comes to a simmer, impurities could otherwise be pulled back into the liquid and emulsify and cloud the finished stock.

Once the liquid is at a simmer, add the ice and then remove the fat. (The ice will chill and thicken the fat and turn it opaque, making it easier to remove.) Skim off as much of the impurities as possible. (Once the vegetables are added, skimming will be more difficult.)

Add the aromatics and slowly bring the liquid back to a simmer, skimming frequently. Simmer for another 30 to 40 mins, skimming often. Turn off the heat and allow the stock to rest for 10 mins; this allows any particles left in the stock to settle at the bottom of the pot.

Set a chinois or fine-mesh strainer over a container large enough to hold at least 6 quarts. Use a ladle to remove the stock from the pot and strain it into the container. (It is important to ladle the stock rather than pouring it, as the force of pouring it out all at once would force impurities through the strainer.) Discard any stock toward the bottom of the pot that is cloudy with impurities.

Fill a sink with ice water and place the container in it to cook the stock rapidly. Stir occasionally until there are no traces of steam. Refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze in smaller containers for up to 2 months.

Makes 2/3 cup

8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

Keller uses a roux, the traditional thickener made by cooking equal parts by weight butter and flour, for sauces and other dishes. For the smoothest sauces, add room-temperature or cold roux to a simmering liquid, or add cold liquid to a hot roux, to prevent the roux from seizing up.

Put the butter in a small skillet or saucepan and set it over medium heat. When it is almost melted, whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly and adjusting the heat as necessary so the roux bubbles but does not brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or other container to cool, then store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Yes… that’s where the recipes FINALLY ends.
I roasted the chicken one day and made the stock on another. I finally put the soup together on a third day and even so, it took well over 2 hours and I think my husband was starting to suspect we were never having dinner. But when I set that steaming bowl of soup in front of him, and he took that first bite, I knew I was in trouble.
During this laborious recipe, I was inspired to look up the definition of “ad hoc”.
1. Formed for or concerned with one specific purpose
2. Improvised and often impromptu
This cookbook’s namesake comes from Keller’s more casual restaurant but I don’t get an improvised or impromptu feeling from anything this chef does. It all seems really calculated and this soup is no exception. The broth is completely delicate. The vegetables crisp. The dumplings add a contrast in textures. There’s a touch of brightness from the vinegar. And my husband raved about this soup maybe like nothing else I’ve ever made.
No… I’d say this cookbook is more concerned with one purpose. Challenging the home cook. Maybe pushing them to create something like they have never have. I was in trouble because I knew my husband was already dreaming of when I was going to make it again. It was hands down the most complex soup I’ve ever made, but dang it, it also might have been the best. I’m thinking it’s cause for a little more experimenting from this cookbook – on an ad hoc basis of course.

About bistroonesix

I have an interest in all things food and am lucky enough to be surrounded by people that share this same passion. There’s never a shortage of inspiration or partners in collaboration. Some of my happiest memories involve big tables covered with food, plenty of wine, and extra chairs pulled up to accommodate all the friends and family. If I can help facilitate these kinds of evenings, well then I’d say this is a great hobby to have. I live in Boise, Idaho with my husband and 2 adorable cats.


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