Dear Home Ec 101,
Hi! I really enjoy your website and am constantly quoting it to my husband. He loves this, I promise. My question is regarding your previously posted recipe for basic béchamel, and variations, to use instead of “cream of something” soups in recipes. Your recipe suggests it will sub for one can of soup. Many of these recipes call for the soup, undiluted. This is a 10.75oz can (1.3c, approximately?) Using your recipe, I got about 2.5c of a much more liquid product. For today, I just cooked it down until it was goopy and will forge ahead. For tomorrow, is there a modification I can make to your basic recipe, to yield a sauce that equates to the UNDILUTED canned product? Less milk? Or just reduce as I attempted last night? If this is already addressed in comments or your site somewhere I apologize, but could not find it.
Cookin’ Casseroles in Charlotte
I’m with you on loving Home Ec 101 – that’s how I ended up writing for the site!
According to the label, a 10.75 ounce can of condensed Cream of Something Soup contains “about 2.5 servings” of one-half cup each. The word “about” used in the number of servings means there’s slightly less than the number it states. So, this works out to slightly less than 1 ¼ cups of condensed soup in each can.
Heather’s béchamel sauce recipe makes approximately the equivalent of one prepared can of condensed soup or not quite 2 ½ cups. This will work fine in some recipes, but perhaps not so well in others. Let’s talk about why this is, and how to make it work for you.
Sometimes you must be precise in the kitchen, sometimes you can wing it.
Precision is required when making baked goods: cakes, pies, cookies, muffins, biscuits, pastries. Oh, and soufflés. Too much or too little of an ingredient, failure to use the proper method, or making a poorly chosen substitution can result in sunken cakes, chewy muffins, hockey puck biscuits, deflated soufflés, and other disasters. While they MAY still be edible, you wouldn’t want to bring them out for company, or anyone you actually liked. My baked goods often come out this way, because I compulsively fiddle with recipes. I rejoiced when my daughter* became interested in baking, so I didn’t have to do it anymore. Then she moved out. Meh. If I convince myself I’m Doing Science, then I’ll follow the recipe and get all precise, and everything’s copacetic. Capiche?
Cooking (by which I mean Not Baking) on the other hand, can be a little more forgiving. Approximations (as opposed to carefully exact measurements) are acceptable in some cases. But if you’re making something like a casserole, using too much liquid in the dish may result in a sloppy supper.
So, if you’re preparing a recipe that calls for milk or water or broth or some such liquid, in addition to a can of condensed soup, then one recipe of béchamel sauce will substitute for both the soup and approximately 1 ¼ cups of the required liquid in the recipe. If the recipe doesn’t have that much milk, stock, tomato sauce, water, or other liquid, in addition to the soup, then you have to do it a little differently.
You can reduce the amount of liquid you add to the béchamel – and by reduce, I mean “use less” and not the usual cooking definition of reduce, which is what Cookin’ Casseroles in Charlotte was doing when she “cooked down” the béchamel.
If you feel unsure about the substitution, or if you find fractions frightening, you can use the basic recipe below to create a variety of Homemade Substitutes for Condensed Cream of Something Soup. The proportions are slightly different, so they come out thicker and more like the canned product, and what you get will exactly substitute for One Can of Undiluted Soup, but without all those exciting preservatives and flavor enhancers.
I stopped using canned Cream of Something soups long ago, primarily because of those perennial favorites of food manufacturers: MSG (monosodium glutamate) and Way Too Much Salt. Instead, what I use is basically the same process as béchamel sauce, but it comes out very thick and makes the equivalent of one can of undiluted condensed soup. Last night, I used it to make condensed tomato soup. Yes, tomato. It tasted like Campbell’s Tomato Soup, only better. Then I melted some sharp cheddar into it and had it over toast.**
But, before I did that, I put it into a glass measuring cup and chilled it, so I could show you how thick this stuff is when it’s not heated. See? It’s as thick as the undiluted soup right out of the can and works just as well in any recipe.
Condensed Cream of Something Soup Substitute
(makes the equivalent of one 10.75 oz can)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt, if desired
- 1 cup liquid of choice (See Notes after directions)
- seasonings of choice (See Notes)
Have all ingredients measured and handy before beginning.
Put the butter and salt in a small saucepan with a heavy bottom, and melt over low heat. Using a whisk, blend in the flour until the mixture is bubbly. Congratulations! You’ve just made a roux.
Add a couple of tablespoons of the liquid to the roux, whisking as you add it. Don’t panic after the first addition – the roux may suddenly look all doughy. Just keep whisking and add a bit more liquid, and it will smooth out. After you’ve added about half the liquid in this manner, you may add the rest all at once, whisking it thoroughly as you do.
Continue cooking and stirring over low heat until smooth and thickened. Makes more than 1 cup, but not quite 1 ¼ cups, of a condensed creamy soup. You may use it as such in a recipe, or add an equivalent amount of liquid to serve as a creamy soup.
Notes: What liquids and seasonings to use?
Tomato soup: use tomato juice. Leave out the salt, unless you use no-salt juice. You may wish to add a dash of onion powder or a teaspoon or so of very finely minced onion (sautée the onion in the melted butter before adding the flour). Some like a tiny pinch of sugar or brown sugar to counteract acidity in the tomato.
Mushroom soup: use a combination of milk and mushroom stock, made by simmering mushrooms in water just to cover. I like to use half of each. Sautee a few tablespoons of the mushrooms, chopped, and half a teaspoon of finely minced onion in the melted butter, before you begin to stir in the flour. (If you prefer, you can forego the mushroom stock and use all milk, but in my opinion, it really does make the Best. Mushroom soup. Ever.)
Cream of Celery Soup: Saute ½ cup chopped celery and 1 tablespoon chopped onion in the melted butter, until vegetables are tender. Use all milk for the liquid.
Cream of Chicken soup: use half milk, half good quality chicken stock, homemade if you have it. Add a fat pinch of sage or poultry seasoning and a dash of onion powder, or sautee a teaspoon of onion in the butter before adding flour. A few tablespoons of finely chopped cooked chicken is a nice touch if you have any on hand. If you decide to use broth made from bouillon cubes (I don’t want to know) please leave out the salt. You may also want to reduce or omit the herbs.
Can you make this ahead and freeze it? According to Hazel Meyer’s Freezer Cookbook – yes, you can freeze homemade creamy sauces and soups. When you take it out of the freezer, it may look a little funky. Let the condensed soup thaw in the refrigerator, or put the frozen soup in the top of a double boiler over very hot (not boiling) water, and whisk it thoroughly, it’ll be fine. If milk was used in the preparation, heating it too rapidly can cause coagulation of the milk proteins. For this reason, thawing it with the microwave may give unsatisfactory results. So, when you make up some condensed cream soup substitute, make a double batch. Cool the part you’re not using, and transfer it to a freezer-safe container. I’ve used a zipper-close freezer bag for this type of item – carefully squeeze out the air, zip closed, and label. Lay flat to freeze – this thinner shape thaws more quickly than a traditional freezer container.
*My daughter managed to get a job as the pastry chef at a local upscale bakery, just after turning 18, without any formal schooling in the subject. She did not get this ability from me, obviously.
**That’s a recipe called “Red Robin” – it’s from my first cookbook, a gift from my mom on my 10th birthday. It calls for condensed tomato soup and American cheese. My kids loved it when they were little, and they made it for themselves when they were bigger. This time I used the homemade condensed tomato soup and sharp cheddar….and it was awesome! (I passed the book down to my daughter on her 11th birthday because I couldn’t find it on her 10th. Another reason to be organized!)
Bobbie Laughman is an elder caregiver, freelance writer, and seller of things. She lives and cooks and Does Not Bake Much in Gettysburg, PA. Have a question you’d like Bobbie to answer? Just want to say howdy? Send it to Bobbie@Home-Ec101.com