A while ago, I posted my rather basic but pretty enthusiastic stock recipe, and I was fully intending to go on and post a few soup ideas straight away, this being the obvious next step once you have a pint or two of the good stuff in your fridge. However, to paraphrase Hyperbole and a Half, Life Events Happened and the post gradually slipped down the to-do list. To give you an idea of how long it has been in abeyance, the illustrative photo below was taken in the Slug House. There shall be no more procrastination, though: the draft post has now been staring at me for the best part of a month, and I’m now feeling so guilty about it that I have to do something. So, without further ado, here are two of my staple chicken soup recipes, with some ideas for variations.
Simple Chicken Soup
As Tolstoy might have written, if he had thought of it, every family makes chicken soup in its own way. A simple soup typically uses very few ingredients – stock, vegetables, seasoning, often some form of starch – but the combinations and variations are almost infinite. Some chicken soups involve dumplings, pasta, cream: if my mum was making soup for you, she would be likely to thicken it by throwing a handful of rice into the stock to cook along with the vegetables, whereas I would probably add a diced potato to the pot. Some people use celery as a base. If there is celery in my kitchen, I am generally to be seen running in the opposite direction at top speed. No two soups are the same, and this probably isn’t the way your grandmother used to make it. This, however, is what you’ll be likely to be eating if you have chicken soup at our house.
You will need:
- About 1.5 to 2 pints of chicken stock (around 1 litre).
- A large onion (yellow for preference: you want the stronger flavour here).
- Two large carrots.
- One or two leeks.
- One potato (the “old”, mashing kind).
- Salt and pepper to taste, and perhaps a bouquet garni.
Chop your vegetables and fry them in a little oil in a large pot, starting with the onion, and then adding the rest when the onion has softened a bit. Add your stock and a little seasoning (now is the time to throw in any dried herbs you might be using) and let the pot come up to the boil. Cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender. When the soup has cooked, blend it to a smooth consistency using a stick blender or a liquidiser (if you don’t have either of these, you can give the contents of the pot a good mashing with a potato masher, but the vegetables will be somewhat lumpy, and you’ll end up with more of a “rustic” texture, so to speak). If you’re anything like me, you’ll be congenitally incapable of eating this without dipping pieces of buttered bread or toast into it (in many ways, I still have the food habits of a five-year-old), but this is not obligatory.
Spicy Chicken and Coconut Soup
My slightly fancier staple is my take on a friend’s recipe, although I have made some changes: B’s version was made with chicken wings which were roasted after having been poached in the spicy stock, and she added fried aubergines to the finished soup. I found I tended to make the soup from a chicken carcass instead of buying chicken wings specially for the dish, and, having tried it both ways, I decided I preferred my soup aubergine-free, though I won’t judge you if you decide to throw them back in: just chop one aubergine into small chunks and fry it in a flavourless oil until tender, then add it to the finished soup. However you make it, this is an excellent soup to eat if you have a cold: it combines sinus-clearing spice with soothing creaminess, and generally makes you feel much more sanguine about life.
I should note that, although I have adapted B’s recipe, I don’t actually know where she got it from. I do apologise if this is actually a well-known dish whose origins I’m not able to acknowledge.
You will need:
- A chicken carcass, or a boiling fowl if you can get hold of one.
- “Lots” of light soy sauce (this is how B wrote the recipe down for me – I tend to use a couple of tablespoonsful).
- A pinch of sugar.
- One chilli, roughly chopped (I tend to use red, and remove the seeds if I want a milder soup).
- A “thumb” of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped.
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed.
- A large splash of chinese cooking wine (I tend to use about two parts wine to one part soy sauce. I have also used mirin in the past, which has worked fine).
- White pepper (I haven’t tried this, but I wonder if Japanese Sansho Pepper might also work well in this dish: it might be worth a go if you have some knocking around).
- A couple of shallots, finely diced.
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes: use good ones (I gravitate towards De Cecco), because they’ll remain somewhat chunky in the soup, and you don’t want to be eating lumps of bland, unappetising tomato.
- 1 tin coconut milk.
I have at times thrown in other ingredients: a handful of chopped fresh coriander is a great addition if you have it. I have also used lemongrass in the stock, which worked well, though I admit I don’t go out of my way to find it if I don’t have it.
Place the chicken carcass or boiling fowl in a large saucepan along with the various flavourings (all the ingredients up to and including the cooking wine). Add enough water to almost cover the ingredients (probably a litre or so, but use your common sense), bring to the boil then cover and simmer for at least half an hour. It won’t hurt to leave the stock to cook for longer, though, and if you are using a boiling fowl, you will want to simmer it for about an hour and a half so the meat cooks through.
Remove the carcass/cooked fowl from the stock, and strain out the various aromatics, which will have done their job by now. If you have used a boiling fowl, you may want to shred some of the cooked meat and reserve it so it can be added to the soup later, or you may just want to make sandwiches with it: it’s your call.
Using a large saucepan, fry your shallots in a little oil, then add the tomatoes, stock, coconut milk and a good pinch of pepper, and bring back to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes, then serve and dive in.