Hearty stock: Soup is on the menu this winter in WNC

SOUPER BOWL: Soup seems like simple fare, but local restaurants often take great pains to make it. The veal broth for this noodle bowl at Bone & Broth was simmered with a collection of herbs and spices for at least 24 hours. Photo by Morgan Ford

Stock, broth, consommé: Whatever you call it, it’s a deceptively complex dish. The concentrated liquid doesn’t immediately reveal the multiday process hidden within its light, transparent core. The popularity of broth has skyrocketed in the last five years, thanks to dietary trends (think: paleo, ramen) and increased awareness of the nutritional benefits of collagen and amino acids.

“There’s a lot that goes into it, believe it or not,” says Sam Douglas of Asheville’s aptly named Bone & Broth, which serves a stand-alone bone broth made by roasting chicken or beef bones and then simmering them with a collection of herbs and spices for 24 hours. If a bolder flavor — like ginger or turmeric — is desired, it takes another full day to further reduce the liquid and enhance the flavor.

Throughout Bone & Broth’s rendering process, the fat that naturally rises to the top is skimmed, mixed with butter and then served atop steaks or smeared across homemade bread. “We try to get as much out of the bones as we possibly can,” Douglas says. “It’s all about creating a sustainable, healthy community for us all.”

The resulting broth is a rich and savory elixir, which can be used as a base for other soups (Bone & Broth frequently uses its as a building block for the restaurant’s daily farmer’s soup) or eaten as an entrée with an egg, vegetables or noodles.

That’s the approach taken by Asheville’s Broth Lab, the brainchild of Camp and Teah Boswell. Combining Camp’s formal training in Southern fine dining with their shared passion for Asian cuisine, the two have developed a self-described “ramen-ish” menu, where customers can create their own soup bowl from a variety of homemade broths, protein and vegetables. Replete with Southern fixin’s, like pickled cauliflower and crispy okra, and noodles sourced from a seventh-generation family of Japanese noodle makers, the quality and inventiveness of Broth Lab’s ingredients make its bowls sing.

When it comes to soup, time and care can make all the difference. At Vaste Riviere Provisions in downtown Hot Springs, Danny Arnold insists on doing soup the right way — even if it comes at a price. “It can be somewhat inefficient, as it really takes two days,” he explains. “You’ve got to roast the bones and make the stock, and then you’ve got to strain the stock and start over with aromatics before you’re even making your soup.”

Arnold makes all of the stock served at Vaste Riviere, but his true passion is the seasoning. He can tell you where each of his spices is sourced, thanks to a partnership with Burlap & Barrel, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based purveyor that specializes in single-origin spices like smoked pimentón paprika and high-curcumin turmeric.

Arnold’s soups, which usually carry no more than six or seven ingredients, act as a springboard for introducing his customers to the robust flavors found in high-quality spices. Vaste Riviere is currently serving a Thai coconut curry soup that features ginger and turmeric.

“It’s all about fresh,” Arnold says. “There’s a major difference between the nutmeg that’s been sitting in my mom’s cabinet all these years and the fresh nutmeg that I have here, especially in our soups. It’s night and day.”

Down the road in Marshall, Star Diner’s eclectic, European-inspired fare begins with a daily “soup impromptu.” While the diner may be housed in a former service station that’s overflowing with antiques, the approach taken by chef Brian Sonoskus — the Tupelo Honey veteran who oversaw the restaurant chain’s multistate expansion — is anything but old-fashioned. Each week, Sonoskus prepares a batch of soup that takes seasonal ingredients and even weather patterns into account.

That means clam chowder topped with crème fraiche and alligator gumbo chock-full of vegetables. The gumbo, which Star Diner began offering this month, starts with a brown roux, a thick mix of oil and flour that’s cooked slowly to develop its rich, caramelized flavor. Sonoskus then builds out the gumbo’s base with chicken and tomato before adding andouille sausage and a dollop of alligator tail meat that he sources from Louisiana. Finally, he adds a bounty of vegetables, including celery, peppers and onions — “the trinity” of Cajun cooking. The gumbo is finished with sliced okra.

“When I’m going into cold weather, I want something that will stick to your ribs, and with warmer weather, I want something that’s lighter and silky,” Sonoskus says. “Right now, I want something chunky. I want something that you can really sink your teeth into.”

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