What is Garbure?

Mary McMahon

Garbure is a soup native to the southwest regions of France. It is particularly associated with Basque and Gascon cuisine. The finished product is so thick that it is closer to a stew than a soup, and is part of a family of hearty dishes designed to be filling and complete meals for French peasants. Known as potage, such dishes are made with seasonally available ingredients and they are stewed over an extended period of time to soften the ingredients and allow the flavors to blend together.

Chard is often part of garbure.
Chard is often part of garbure.

Preparation methods for garbure vary. The soup should ideally be prepared in a heavy stock pot to prevent burning. Some cooks start by browning bacon or another cured meat, cooking onions and garlic until they soften, and then adding vegetables and stock to stew. Confit, a type of preserved meat, is a popular addition to garbure and ham may be added as well. Other cooks forgo the browning process, simply adding their base ingredients and liquid, bringing them to a boil, and then bringing the soup back down to a simmer to finish cooking.

Duck confit is often added to garbure.
Duck confit is often added to garbure.

Garbure can be made with water or stock, and it is typically seasoned with ingredients like celery and parsley. The vegetables included vary, depending traditionally on what is available, but can include carrots, green beans, broad beans, potatoes, cabbage, dark leafy greens like chard, and onions. This soup was originally designed to be cooked in a pot over a wood fire and it benefits from slow, long cooking, which will mellow the flavors and allow them to fully develop.

Once garbure is fully cooked, it is traditionally served with a thick, crusty bread. Some cooks may toast or fry the bread first. At the end of the meal, traditionalists dilute the remainder of the stock in the bowl with a splash of red wine, in a tradition known as chabrot. The rich, flavorful stock and the wine blend well together and can be sopped up with bread to clean the bowl.

This thick soup is very suitable for winter menus and it is cheap to make. Like other soups and stews, it can be stored in the fridge or freezer and consumed in the future, making it possible to cook a large batch and consume it at leisure. It is also easy to scale the recipe up and down to satisfy crowds ranging from a single diner to a large group.

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