My Chicken Soup

My chicken soup is somewhat of a medium between your typical Caucasian-style chicken soup, where a lot of the flavour comes from the sweetness of onions and carrots, however is also quite Asian-influenced from my addition of shiitake mushrooms and shallots (or spring onions, if you want to be pedantic about it).

This is such a ramshackle recipe and I’ve never taken notes on the quantities of what I put in until after the numerous requests I’ve had by friends to post up the recipe. So last weekend in the late afternoon, I painstakingly measured out each of the ingredients. This is a pot of chicken soup I make about once a fortnight, and it will feed me for roughly three to four dinners. I have it with half a vacuum-sealed pack of udon noodles and half a big bunch of Chinese broccoli (gai lan) and will eat it straight out of a small saucepan – fast, flavoursome, soothing and healthy. Sometimes, if I’ve finished the carcass (the cats adore the stock-sweetened chicken meat) but still have soup remaining, I will drain the soup and make a risotto another day.

I admit I’ve cheated a little by adding a cup of chicken consomme to the soup. I’m short on time nowadays, and I don’t have the time nor can I be bothered to fiddle with flavour-enhancing techniques like solely using chicken wings (which I don’t like anyway – I’m a breast fan ;) ) or roasting bones that have been tossed in skim milk powder before starting the stock (said to enhance the Maillard reaction – it’s a Heston technique, look it up). I only add a cup, but it’s enough to make a considerable difference and save you from monitoring the pot on the stove for half the afternoon. This soup is ready to go in under two hours.

To make the basic soup, you will need:

  • Half a medium-large free-range chicken;
  • A kettleful of boiling water;
  • 1 cup of chicken consomme;
  • 72g small tin of extra sweet corn kernels;
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks;
  • 1 large spring onion, shallot; roots cut off
  • 1 large brown onion, peeled and cut into halves;
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed;
  • 2 bay leaves;
  • 6 dried shiitake mushrooms (available from Asian supermarkets);
  • 2 teaspoons of black peppercorns;
  • Salt, for seasoning;
  • 1 extra spring onion, finely chopped, for serving.

Place the half chicken in a medium-large saucepan or stockpot (about five litres). Pour about one cup of the boiling water over the chicken to clean it, then drain off the water.

In a small heat-proof bowl, rehydrate the mushrooms until they are deliciously plump and full. To speed up the process, put a plate over the top to allow the heat to re-circulate. Retain the water as it has a lot of the mushroom flavour.

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Into the stockpot, put in all of the ingredients except for the salt. The chicken will release a lot of its natural salt while cooking, so you don’t want to season it at the start and have it too salty at the end. Pour in enough hot water to cover the chicken. Add the mushrooms and their soaking water, and then placing the lid on the stockpot, put it on the stovetop at a medium heat and allow it to come to the boil.

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Once it comes to the boil, reduce the heat to the lowest and allow it to simmer away for about two hours or so. When it’s almost done, taste and add some salt if desired.

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What I do is when it’s about fifteen minutes off, I boil another small saucepan of water beside it to cook the udon noodles and blanch the Chinese broccoli. I drain this, and once the soup is ready I simply spoon it into the small saucepan and add whatever I feel like having that evening – chunks of tender, chicken-infused carrot, a spoonful of sweetly popping corn kernels, or the mellowed garlic clove if I’m feeling sniffly. Top with a scatter of finely chopped shallots.

Last week I was terrified when I started developing a sore throat and so sat myself down with a big bowl of this with three garlic cloves and topped it with fresh chilli – I’m healthy as a horse now ;)

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2 responses to “My Chicken Soup

  1. A lovely soup! I grew up in a Chinese household that had soup like this most days as a starter to dinner. It really gives you great nourishment and warms you in a gentle way. You’ve reminded me that I should start a soup this week. It’s winter here in New Zealand and the house is so cold. I’d love to have a big pot of soup that I could sneak small bowls from. I never use a half chicken though, usually just buying a kilo or two chicken bones as they are super cheap here. Half a chicken would be lovely :)

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