I had quite the adventure with volume cooking this past weekend. I made a lot of navy bean soup. And, when I say a lot, I really mean a LOT. I made 36 gallons of the stuff and I’m happy to say that it fed 208 people.
(Note: I’m about to ramble on a bit about the experience. If you’re just here for the recipe, scroll to the bottom.)
Let’s rewind a bit. I volunteer with Silverbackks, a local grass-roots organization that helps Topeka-area residents in need. In addition to the baking and graphical work I do for them, I also try to do a Sunday meal or something significant sometime around my birthday every year. Last year I made 16 Gooey Butter Cakes. This year, since the weather is just turning, I decided to make soup. Lots and lots of soup. Navy bean, to be exact.
I did Google around a bit for recipes and came across the famous Senate Navy Bean Soup recipe, on the Senate’s website. I have made the smaller recipe in the past and it turned out very well. I was intrigued that the 5 gallon version was so different, especially since it used mashed potatoes to thicken it up. I did a smaller-scale test of the 5 Gallon version a few weeks beforehand and it was a good soup. So no worries there.
Moving on, the kitchen that I had available to me at the Silverbackks facility is small and it is not a commercial kitchen. They do, however, have many large roaster ovens, most being 16-18 quarts. Perfect for my Sunday soup agenda. And what is better, I didn’t have to make all the soup at home and haul it all to the facility.
I prepped the mirepoix–chopped celery, carrots and onion–ahead at home and packaged it up in gallon zip lock bags. Well, if I’m being perfectly honest, my mother chopped it all for me. I was working 12 hour shifts all weekend and she’s just straight up awesome. So THANKS, MOM!
Now… I would LOVE to tell you that I lovingly simmered soup bones, made stock from scratch, and had loads of delicious ham chopped up to add to the soup. I had some budget restraints AND I also managed to double-book myself this past weekend by agreeing to cover 2 shifts at work. I did want to add a nice, meaty flavor to the soup so I bought several containers of ham soup base. And it did not disappoint! It added a savory, smokey quality to the soup.
Thankfully, my office is just a few blocks away from the Silverbackks facility so I was able to hop back and forth on my breaks to check on things. The good news is that the soup just did its own thing and minded its own business the whole time. Once the prep and assembly was done, it was a fairly low-maintenance affair.
Since I was at work, I wasn’t able to be there and help serve. I was ecstatic to get reports from friends there who relayed info that the folks dining that day gave the soup major thumbs-up reviews. And that made my day!
- 4 lbs dried navy beans, soaked overnight and then rinsed
- 5 cups mirepoix (chopped celery, carrots and onion)
- 1 container ham soup base
- 4 bay leaves
- 10 oz instant mashed potato flakes
- Add soaked beans, bay leaves and mirepoix to roaster oven (or other cooking vessel). Add sufficient water to nearly fill the roaster but leave a little room in case the soup boils. Turn roaster oven on to around 350 degrees and let the soup come up to temperature.
- Once the soup has warmed up a bit, add the ham base. Stir well to allow it to dissolve and mix in with the liquid.
- Allow the soup to come up to a simmer, adjusting the temperature setting if necessary. Simmer it long enough for the beans to cook. You want them to retain their shape and be firm while having a smooth texture. Time varies based on the temp you've set, but plan on a few hours at least.
- Add the instant mashed potato flakes to the soup and stir well, making sure to break up any lumps that might form. Stir a few minutes, until the potatoes have reconstituted and are nicely incorporated into the soup.
- Turn the temperature on the roaster oven down to keep the soup warm until you are ready to serve. Adjust seasoning, if desired. I did find that the soup base is sufficiently salty and seasoned but feel free to go in with salt, pepper, hot sauce, or whatever else you think would work.