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Bookbinder's Snapper Soup Gets a Makeover at the Olde Bar

Chef de cuisine MIke Siegel shows off how he prepares the new dish, rooted in the classic recipe.

As landmark seafood house Old Original Bookbinder's has come back to life as the Olde Bar, it's brought along with it a new version of a Philly icon: snapper soup. The hearty and humble soup laced with snapping turtle meat is now a rare sight, though still found at a handful of private clubs and a few other restaurants. (But be alert: as noted in a recent review of The Pub in Pennsauken, that may turn out to be turkey you're eating, not turtle.) As the new Garces Group-led reboot opened earlier this month, snapper soup fans were anxious to see exactly what an updated version of the dish would look like, and how far it would stray from tradition.

The soup prep itself, as demonstrated here by Olde Bar chef de cuisine Mike Siegel, is straightforward and rooted in the recipe from Bookbinder's old recipe book. A basic mirepoix is sauteed in duck fat before flour is added to yield a blond roux, which will thicken the soup. Snapper stock — prepared from roasted snapping turtles and seasoned with oregano, thyme, garlic, bay leaves, cloves, juniper, and black pepper — and veal demiglace form the base of the soup, which gets extra flavor from pureed tomatoes and worcestershire. The turtle meat itself, pulled from the carcasses after the stock is made, is added to order.

But the updating is in the details. While snapper soup purists typically refer to an ideal snapper soup texture as being similar to "wallpaper paste," the modernized version cuts way back on the grease and flour found in the old recipe and is relatively thin. Instead, it relies on a different sort of richness, provided by a significant amount of veal demiglace.

Traditional garnishes of chopped hard-boiled egg and a shaker of sherry are here replaced by a halved, hard-boiled quail egg and — by far the most obvious marker of modernization to be found here — a dish of sherry espuma, or foam, to be added to taste. Despite the very different look and added body, the foam is not so far removed from tradition when it comes to flavor. The contents of that whipped cream canister are still just sherry, some water and a foaming agent, and a bit of salt. In its final presentation, the Olde Bar's snapper soup retains much of the simple character and peppery seasoning of the classic, despite its lighter texture.