Chicken soup for the virus-ridden body

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Tedster has a bad cold, and I’m still getting over one. So for lunch today I made a chicken, barley and vegetable soup, packed with all the things I crave when I’m feeling like this (garlic, ginger, a little chilli, green leaves, chicken stock). The soup is quite thick, densely flecked with green, and smells and tastes like comfort.

A good part of the deliciousness of this soup derives from the chicken stock. There is no way that I would have the energy to make my own chicken stock when I am snotty and streaming-eyed and feel like crap. But thanks to my smug devotion to making gigantic cauldrons of stock once every couple of months and freezing it, I don’t have to. I can just snuffle my way over to the freezer, extract as many ziplocks of stock as I need, and prop myself up against the counter while I chop vegetables and throw things in a saucepan.

The recipe for the soup is immediately below. For full smugness, see the recipe for cauldron-sized quantities of chicken stock further down.

Chicken, barley and vegetable soup

1/2 cup pearled barley
500 g chicken thigh fillets
olive oil
1 large golden shallot, chopped
1 leek, quartered and finely sliced
2 carrots, diced
1 stick of celery, diced
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 head of garlic, peeled and very finely minced (or put through a crusher)
glass of white wine
~3 cups of home-made chicken stock
zest of a lemon
a pinch of chili flakes
a smallish bunch of English spinach, stemmed and chopped
a bunch of parsley, stemmed and finely chopped
salt and pepper

Bring a couple of cups of water to the boil in a medium saucepan, and add the barley. Simmer until soft, skimming off any foam during cooking.

Unroll the thigh fillets and cut each into a couple of pieces. Heat a good glug of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, then add half the chicken pieces. Let them cook on one side until they’re becoming golden and they unstick themselves from the pan, then turn them and repeat. Remove them from the pan and set aside to cool. Repeat with the rest of the chicken. Don’t worry that the chicken isn’t cooked through; that’ll be taken care of later.

In the same large pan, add more olive oil if needed (I didn’t), then add the shallot, leek, carrot, celery, ginger and garlic. Sweat them all over a low-medium heat for 7-10 minutes, until they’re softened and starting to get a slight touch of colour.

While the vegetables are sweating, shred the cooled chicken with your fingers into bite-sized pieces.

Deglaze the large saucepan with the white wine (or use water if you’d prefer). Let the wine reduce, then add the chicken stock and a pinch of chili flakes. Zest a lemon into the pan. Add the shredded chicken, then bring it all to a simmer.

The barley should be tender by now. If there’s lots of water left in the barley pan, drain it then add the barley to the soup; if there’s only a cup or so of water left I just tip it all straight into the big pan.

Simmer the soup for 5-10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked, the carrot is tender, and all is well. Add a little more water if things get too thick for you. Stir through the spinach and parsley, and let them wilt. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Eat.

Serves 4-6.

Chicken stock

Depending on how much water you add, how long you simmer, etc, this makes about a couple of litres of stock.

1 kg chicken necks
1 kg chicken frames, hacked up with a cleaver to break the bones
Any chicken carcasses you’ve saved from roast chicken, also hacked up
3 large onions, peeled and roughy chopped
4 carrots, each cut into a few pieces
half a bunch of celery, roughly chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
a dozen black peppercorns
a good handful of parsley from the garden

Add everything to a very large pot, and cover with cold water. Slowly bring it to a low simmer. Keep it only just simmering for 4-5 hours, stirring every now and then.

Let the stock cool a little for ease of handling, then strain it through a colander into a large bowl. Discard the bones etc.

Line a sieve with cheesecloth like a normal person, or be like me and never think to buy cheesecloth and just use a linen handkerchief instead. Wet the handkerchief/cheesecloth with water, then use it to line a sieve. The handkerchief should stick up over the top of the sieve – you don’t want stock to sneak over the edges of it. Place the lined sieve over a clean large bowl, and slowly tip the stock through it. You may need to stop and rinse off the handkerchief halfway through the process if there’s a lot of sediment in your stock.

Once the stock is clear, leave it in a big bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a plate, and put it in the fridge overnight. The next day, the stock will have jellified and be covered with a layer of fat. Scrape the fat off, and then the stock is ready to be used or frozen.

I spoon 1-cup portions of stock into mini-sized ziplock bags, briefly submerge the bags of jellified stock in warm water to melt so they can flatten for easy storage, seal them after expelling as much air as possible, then freeze them flat.

I can pack a couple of litres of stock into a smallish section of the freezer and always have it on hand for soups, stews or risottos. I LOVE IT. Not that much effort, a billion units of satisfaction and enjoyment.

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