Friday, October 24, 2014

Cat Soup for Cat Week

by Sheila Connolly


I’ve had a cat in one way or another since I was seven. The first one (actually, three at once) entered my life when we moved into a new house and found the prior owners had left their cats locked in the garage (my mother had a few choice words for them). We kept two of them for a long time.

When I moved into my first apartment after college, I got a cat before I got furniture. That was Victoria, and I had her for more than twenty years. Since then there has been a steady succession, mostly rescue cats or “found” cats. Right now I have three: siblings Dexter and Lila and newcomer Oliver, who showed up at our back door looking skinny and meowing piteously for food—hence the name Oliver (“please, may I have some more?”). Three months later he’s still inhaling food at record speed, and he's put on a wee bit of weight.

Only one of my fictional characters has a pet: when Meg Corey in the Orchard Mysteries moved to rural Granford, she adopted Lavinia, AKA Lollie (named for Emily Dickinson’s sister’s cat), who had been abandoned. Her fiance Seth Chapin acquired Golden Retriever Max along the way. The animals get along just fine, and neither one is a picky eater. [Note: cozy writers, make sure to remember to feed fictional pets now and then!] As for my other heroines? Well, their lives are a little unsettled, but maybe someday soon…

Now for the recipe. No, I am not making soup out of cats.

Recently pet food maker Fancy Feast® (Purina®) released a new product called Broths. I first saw this in a television commercial, which opened with an image of a bowl of soup which set me drooling. It was gorgeous. I seriously though it was people food.

So I had to go looking for it, and what I found was interesting. The broths come as clear and creamy (both broths are described as “decadent.”). They promise on the back of the pouch that the contents feature “Real recognizable ingredients” (their italics), and no by-products or fillers. Made with real fish. All good.

The pouch weighs 1.4 ounces. It is labeled a “gourmet cat complement,” which is to say (according to the fine print) “intended for supplemental feeding only … may be fed daily along with a complete and balanced cat good diet.” It costs $1.25 for a single-serving pouch  Uh-huh.

But it sure is pretty! And I wanted it (good advertising works!). So I decided to make the human version.

First, I read the ingredients: Broths contains fish broth, wild (!) salmon, fish extract, whitefish, milk, tapioca starch, potato starch, wheat starch, added color, sugar, salt, soy protein, vegetable oil, guar gum, xanthan gum, Vitamin E supplement, egg whites, spice and coloring. Most of these I have in my pantry, and all in all it sounds pretty good (although I wonder why they need so many thickening agents).

(For comparison, a can of Friskies® Classic Paté, the standard food for our three cats (and Oliver eats for two easily), the ingredients are: ocean whitefish, poultry by-products, meat by-products, liver (I thought this was a fish paté?), crude fiber, ash, taurine—this is only the first two lines of ingredients, and the list goes on. I am not going to be making this any time soon!)

So this is the two-legged version. I have endeavored to replicate the spirit of the original (cat) soup, although I don’t think cats really care about onions or fresh thyme. Also, most fish soup recipes call from cream, but I substituted whole milk (per Broths) and a bit of cornstarch for thickening:

Potage au poisson a la crème

3/4 lb wild salmon filet

3/4 lb white fish (I used cod)

4 cups of fish stock
1 Tblsp butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 or more sprigs of fresh thyme, stripped 
     from the woody stems
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup whole milk
2-3 Tblsp cornstarch

Bring the fish stock to a simmer in a skillet and lay the fish in it.  Cover and simmer until the fish is cooked through, about ten minutes (don't overcook it!).  Remove the fish to a plate and set aside.  When cool, flake the fish into bite-size pieces.  Reserve the stock.

In a heavy pot, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the chopped onions, thyme and bay leaf to the pot and sauté on medium heat until the onions are soft but not browned.

Season generously with kosher or sea salt and pepper.

Add the flaked fish to the pot and heat over low heat, for about five minutes.  Pour in the milk and heat until the soup is warmed through.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

To thicken the mixture, put the cornstarch in a small bowl and add a small amount of the warm liquid from the soup (do not just dump the cornstarch into the soup—you’ll get lots of lumps!) and stir until well blended. Add gradually to the soup, stirring, and simmer over low heat until you reach the consistency you want.

Serve. In the interest of full disclosure: when offered the two bowls at the same time, Dexter chose the Broths version first and finished it; he ignored my version. At least my husband liked it. (Addendum: I finally persuaded Oliver to finish off a bowl of mine--after he'd eaten the canned cat food.)

Purina's (left) and mine (right)

Oops, almost forgot the bonus picture! My sister and I saw this truck on the street in New York last spring, and she insisted I include it here. Happy Cat Week!

And now Max has demanded a token dog appearance. He earned his place on the cover for Picked to Die through his heroics in the last book, Golden Malicious. (Lolly made her debut on the cover of Bitter Harvest, but she had to share it with Meg's goats, Dorcas and Isabel.)


  1. Oliver has such a fascinating pattern on his coat. He's a beautiful guy. I'm so glad he found the right house. He's big! What a sweet face.

    I'm guessing that your cats weren't thrilled about your version because of the onion. I know onions are bad for dogs (makes them anemic), but of course, most dogs are little piggies who will eat anything. Cats practice "sniff and refuse" to keep us in line. Sometimes I think mine are playing a game to see just how many cans I'll open. I'm sure they're stifling giggles.

    At least your husband liked it. I think your soup sounds great!

    1. You're probably right about the onion. If I'm chopping something Oliver thinks smells tasty, all I have to do is cut an onion and he's gone. But raw, they can be pretty pungent. He did finally condescend to try "my" soup.

    2. Cats are like toddlers! You turn yourself inside out to please them gastronomically because you're terrified they'll starve which they would never intentionally do!

  2. I think serving your soup, for you & hubby, AND Purina's version, for kitties, would be a great family dinner! :)

  3. Sheila, how innovative. Cat soup. Love it. And love the pictures! Oliver is quite handsome!

    Hugs to all, including four-footed pals,
    Daryl / Avery

  4. What a great post, Sheila! I love the cat history. I once had a wonderful cat who looked a lot like Oliver (also found half-starved). I thought he was the smartest cat in the world and I still miss him thirty years later.

    Thanks for the lovely recipe too.



  5. This looks really delicious, Sheila. Reminds me I haven't had a good fish chowder in ages.

  6. Look so good, cats, dogs, people would love it!

  7. Wait. You fed that to your cat?! I love my cats, but they re not getting any of this!