From America's Test Kitchen Season 11: Grilled Steak and Gazpacho
In the States, the classic “liquid salsa” style of gazpacho reigns supreme. But in Spain, the birthplace of gazpacho, a variety of styles abound.
The most popular type by far comes from Andalusia, the southernmost region of the country. It starts with the same vegetables as its chunky cousin, but is blended with bread to give it some body. The result is a creamy, complex soup. But unless you have fresh, flavorful vegetables, in particular fresh, ripe tomatoes, this soup can be unremarkable and bland.
So how could we ensure a flavorful gazpacho if we had to rely on supermarket tomatoes? In a word, salt. Salting gave our tomatoes—even mid-winter specimens—a deep, full flavor. Figuring the same process could only improve the cucumbers, onions, and bell peppers, we salted them as well. To maximize the flavor of our soup even more, we soaked the bread in a portion of the vegetables’ exuded liquid, rather than water. With a garnish of chopped vegetables, fresh herbs, and drizzles of extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar, this Spanish classic can be enjoyed any time of the year.
Serves 4 to 6
For ideal flavor, allow the gazpacho to sit in the refrigerator overnight before serving. Red wine vinegar can be substituted for the sherry vinegar. Although we prefer to use kosher salt in this soup, half the amount of table salt can be used. Serve the soup with additional extra-virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, ground black pepper, and diced vegetables for diners to season and garnish their own bowls as desired.
1. Roughly chop 2 pounds of tomatoes, half of cucumber, half of bell pepper, and half of onion and place in large bowl. Add garlic, chile, and 1½ teaspoons salt; toss until well combined. Set aside.
2. Cut remaining tomatoes, cucumber, and pepper into ¼-inch dice; place vegetables in medium bowl. Mince remaining onion and add to diced vegetables. Toss with ½ teaspoon salt and transfer to fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Set aside 1 hour.
3. Transfer drained diced vegetables to medium bowl and set aside. Add bread pieces to exuded liquid (there should be about ¼ cup) and soak 1 minute. Add soaked bread and any remaining liquid to roughly chopped vegetables and toss thoroughly to combine.
4. Transfer half of vegetable-bread mixture to blender and process 30 seconds. With blender running, slowly drizzle in ¼ cup oil and continue to blend until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Strain soup through fine-mesh strainer into large bowl, using back of ladle or rubber spatula to press soup through strainer. Repeat with remaining vegetable-bread mixture and 1/4 cup olive oil.
5. Stir vinegar, minced herb, and half of diced vegetables into soup and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours to chill completely and develop flavors. Serve, passing remaining diced vegetables, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and black pepper separately.
The trick to smooth, fully blended texture is all in how you add the olive oil.
Adding all of the oil at once prevents it from blending properly with the vegetables, resulting in a greasy consistency.
Slowly drizzling in the oil helps the mixture emulsify, for a soup that is silky and rich—but not the least bit greasy.
Because of salt’s ability to dissolve in liquids and to draw moisture out of meat and vegetable cells, it often enhances dishes in ways that go beyond just making them taste saltier. Could the length of time we salted our vegetables affect the flavor of our soup?
We made two batches of gazpacho. For the first, we salted the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and green bell pepper in the recipe and let them sit for 1 hour before pureeing these ingredients with their accumulated juices in a blender. For the second batch, we skipped the salting step, but stirred in the equivalent amount of salt after we pureed the vegetables.
The vegetables that were salted for 1 hour before pureeing produced gazpacho with fuller, more complex flavor.
To experience any foodstuff’s flavors, our tastebuds must be exposed to its flavor molecules. But many of the flavor molecules in fruits and vegetables are not only trapped within their cell walls, they are tightly bound to proteins that also make them inaccessible to our tastebuds. Vigorously blending—and chewing—release some of the flavor molecules. But for maximum flavor extraction, salting the vegetables and letting them sit for an hour works best. With time, the salt draws flavor compounds out of the cell walls while simultaneously forcing the proteins to separate from these molecules, producing a more intensely flavored soup. Simply seasoning the soup before serving will not have the same effect.