Soup in the time of pandemic: or How a food stylist learned to love cooking.
Updated: Nov 17, 2021
By Emily Marshall-Garrett
Something that always surprises people is that a food professional can view cooking as drudgery. People also assume that because I chose food styling as a career I must be a chef. I am not a chef, I am a person who cooks for a career (sort of), and I have always found cooking to be an unenjoyable chore. Now that I cook professionally, only more so, as I see it as a thing I should be paid for. This was before I discovered soup.
I’ve been a full time professional food preparing hater of cooking for about 6 years now. In 2014 I went full time as a food stylist in film and television with ABC’s mini series The Astronaut Wives Club. I discovered a latent talent for mid-century food ideation, and slowly discovered as I turned this into my career, that I really didn’t love cooking that much. I see it as a chore. I figured out that what I love about my job is crafting a narrative, and that the actual cooking was just a necessary evil.
I grew up in a family of people passionate about food, and thank god cooking for work made me no less excited about eating. Most of my life I have known I didn’t love cooking as much as my sister and father, but my food loving family history in many ways prepared me to be good at my job, because (after eating) I believe the most pleasurable part of food is talking about it. And, it turns out, apart from knowing how to work on a film set, creatively conceptualizing with food is actually the most essential aspect of being a food stylist in film and television. Cooking it is really just a thing you have to do to transform it into a deliverable you can bill for.
So, TL/DR: I cook for work and don’t like it much. Did you know the motion picture industry is seasonal? It is. We have dry spells. So being broke is a yearly possibility/likelihood. Traditionally this is when I have to get over myself and cook some food so my little family of two can eat. This is really when I started soup-ing.
Enter the stay-at-home-order/full time unemployment 8 month long dry spell. My slow-season “soup is cheap to eat” phase turned into a full fledged year long weekly commitment to escaping from the tyranny of cooking three meals a day. This is mostly because my husband likes to pretend that he has no opposable thumbs when he is at home, and he would actually probably starve if I didn't prepare food. I hate cooking (see above) so I figured out quickly a massive pot of soup takes care of minimum one meal/day for a week. Soup became my escape from drudgery.
And then a magical thing happened: I learned that not only am I good at soup, I like making it. Making a minimum of four soups/month taught me there are some basic rules to soup and that it is 100% the anti-baking: you can fudge your way through almost any soup recipe; you don’t really have to measure anything; it can be adjusted as you go along; you can even fix it after the fact. Soup has a 100% transparency policy: you always know where you are. It keeps no secrets from you. Soup can be made from what you already have, is open to substitutions, runs the full spectrum of basic bish easy to multiple step, multiple day insanity. Soup meets you where you are. Soup is your friend.
I became so into soup I decided to build a temple to my love of it. I made a soup only Instagram for my soup journal website. I actually look forward to making soup. This is a truly surprising fact. Even stranger, loving to make soup made me welcome cooking for myself more frequently, and grew my interest in trying new things in the kitchen. I have even (MAJOR PLOT TWIST) become a person who bakes things before I have had my morning coffee. I paid for a NYT Food subscription and bought a year of Milk Street. Who am I? Answer: still extremely lazy about actually following the recipes, but a person needs inspiration for their soup habit.
If, like me, you think carefully following a recipe is for the birds, if you don’t have any extra bandwidth for frequently preparing meals, if you are quite probably short on cash from not working, let me invite you to welcome soup and all its accompanying subcategories into your life. There is a soup/stew/pot of beans/chili for every season, mood, and budget.
actual list of stuff that went in the soup:
A big spatula full of coconut oil - 1/4-1/2 cup
3 tennis ball sized yellow onions
1 well past it’s prime orange bell pepper and a mess of small peppers see pic above
2 habanero peppers that were sort of wrinkled and old
1 entire small head of garlic
2 TSP hot paprika (it’s what I had)
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes and their juice
2 TSP each pink salt and black pepper
1.5-2 lbs 2 week old frozen then thawed wild caught salmon (w/skin) filets cut up in BIG chunks
The zest of 2 limes, all their juice & 3 thawed frozen lime juice cubes - maybe that’s 6 TBS? (a lot of lime juice b/c I like it)
2 8 oz bottles of clam juice
1 can coconut milk + 1/2 of 1 can coconut cream
6 very old and frankly kind of bitter mini zucchini from my garden
About 10-12 baby potatoes cut into chunks
1 old cilantro ice cube that didn’t do much but look nice
MAKING THE SOUP WENT LIKE THIS:
Chop the onions, de-seed and chop the big pepper, de-seed one habanero and chop both, smash and mince all the garlic. Reserve half the garlic for the marinade.
I used my Le Creuset 26 AKA big red. Heat up your coconut oil and throw that mess (only half the garlic tho) into the pot and start letting it sweat down.
In a big bowl, drop your fish chunks. Cover them with the zest, lime juice, and half the garlic. Mash it around, try to cover it, let it sit while you go back to the pot. Don’t leave it forever or it goes to mush, I’m told.
Add your paprika salt and pepper stir sweat cook some more.
Add the clam juice, and the tomatoes. I did drain my tomatoes and realized my soup could stand some more broth, so I added the liquid back in.
Add the coconut milk/cream (just use what you got) - use the liquid and the cream. It will all melt down in the heat.
Bubble bubble toil and trouble. Somewhere in here I added some more of that sad frozen cilantro I had.
Add the potatoes they’re going to need some time to get soft. Add anything else you’re using after the potatoes if it’s a fast cooker. Add with the potatoes if it’s a long cooker. Honestly add the cilantro anytime if you’re using whack cilantro like mine. If it’s fresh, maybe add it with the fish.
Add your fish and as soon as it is flaky the soup is ready.
SOUP REVIEW/SUGGESTED TOPPINGS
An actual for-real Moqueca Bahia uses red palm oil, and the Milk Street article intentionally rewrites this dish without it. There is zero shame in ordering some and using it as called for. Consult your internet resources to look into this option.
This soup was so super bomb. We ate it with rice about half the time. I had to make another pot of something b/c like the pozole, I was not about to let my husband eat this all himself.
Moqueca Bahia usually calls for cod. Try out other kinds of seafood if you want. There are recipes for shrimp Moqueca in the world too. Go nuts. Salmon was REALLY great.
There is nothing wrong with hearts of palm or whatever your heart desires to replace it. I had old zucchini and free potatoes, so in they went. Food 52 recipe calls for sweet potatoes and I bet that would be great. Just try to be sensible about “what goes with this” and when you drop it in the pot so it doesn’t go to mush.
Herbs if you like - cilantro or parsley.
Another squeeze of lime if you want.
Put it over rice if that sounds good to you.
To see more of Emily's work head to http://www.jelloandcasseroles.com/