birds recipes soup

Chicken soup for the virus-ridden body

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.

birds dinner recipes

Summer stew of chicken, zucchini and fennel seed

I still don’t cook many meat dishes, and when I make stews they tend to be of the extremely slow-cooked variety. So I was somewhat surprised when I made this stew up, because I had a craving for several of the ingredients, and it worked out exactly as I hoped. It was also super easy and quick. I’m sure I’ll want to revisit this soon so I’m noting it down.

500 g chicken thigh fillets (get them from happy chickens, please)
olive oil
1 large onion, quartered and sliced
1 large or 3 small young carrots, cut into 7 mm cubes
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic
1 heaped teaspoon fennel seed
dry white vermouth
~600 ml home-made chicken stock
4 good sized zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2 cm batons
half a large bunch of English spinach, stemmed and chopped
flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped

Cut each fillet into about four pieces, each piece a bit more than an inch square. Heat a little slick of olive oil in a non-stick pan and add as many pieces of chicken as can fit without crowding. Cook until the chicken is lightly golden, then turn and repeat on the other side. Remove the chicken and set aside, and repeat with the rest of the pieces.

In a large saucepan, heat a little olive oil and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are lightly coloured and softening. Add the garlic and fennelseed, and cook a further two minutes. Deglaze the pan with a small glass of vermouth and let it simmer away.

Add the chicken stock, zucchini, and chicken pieces. The stock should come within a few cm of covering the vegetables and chicken. Bring to a simmer, partly cover, and let simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the zucchini has softened. Add the spinach, stir through, and simmer another minute until it is wilted. Remove from the heat, season, and stir the parsley through.

Serve over couscous, and with green beans or other vegetable on the side.

Serves 5-6.

birds dinner meat recipes

Easy but excellent chicken and corn soup

While I’m on a little bit of a roll, here’s a very good, very quick and easy chicken and corn soup, which relies for its excellence on a the deliciousness of home-made chicken stock. (I’m so smug that I had some in the freezer, and so sad that I’ve now used up the last of it – I must pick up some more necks and frames at the organic chicken stall at the markets this coming weekend). I made this tonight after we’d come home from work and spent two hours cleaning up the house in preparation for an inspection tomorrow. I hate cleaning and doing it in the evenings is very cross-making. But even though I only had about three molecules of energy left afterwards, that was sufficient to get this soup made. Life looks better now that we are full of good soup, and the house is clean and ready. Time to lie on the couch and read a novel.


1 onion, peeled, halved and finely sliced
olive oil
2 scallions, sliced, white and green parts kept separate
2 chicken thigh fillets, cut into 2 cm pieces
1 large thumb of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
chili flakes
2 – 3 cups of home-made chicken stock
1 large or 2 smallish cobs of corn, kernels sliced off
parsely or coriander leaves, chopped
sesame oil
salt and pepper

Saute the onion in olive oil until golden and soft. Add the white parts of the scallions and the chicken, and cook until the chicken is changing colour and getting slightly golden. Add the ginger, a big pinch of chili flakes, and most of the green parts of the scallions, and cook a further minute. Add the chicken stock and corn, and simmer for about ten minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the flavours have come together. Add the rest of the scallions, the parsley or coriander, and a drizzle of sesame oil, and season to taste.

Serves two.

birds mexican-ish recipes

Duck carnitas on NYE

I’m compelled to blog tonight’s dinner, not only because it was quite tasty, but primarily because if I do so I will have blogged at least one meal a year for 10 years and I hate breaking that kind of streak.  So let me tell you about how, after spending the afternoon in 35°C heat thinking that a salad for dinner would be perfect, I ended up eating at 11 pm after pot-roasting duck legs in half a kilo of lard for three hours.

A couple of years ago, when we were in Dublin, we had a fantastic dinner at Carolin and Dave’s place, of soft tacos with duck, black beans, feta and pomegranate seeds.  It was the kind of meal that sticks in your memory and I’ve always wanted to recreate it.  They made duck carnitas by cooking confit duck legs on the stovetop until they were falling apart, and although this involved slightly more cooking than the salad I’d initially been thinking about, I figured I could deal with it with the help of an electric fan and two or three cold margaritas.

That of course required me to be able to find duck confit in Toowong or New Farm at 4.30 pm on new year’s eve.  Not a chance.  Even Rayner’s butcher, with their cabinet full of a dozen different cuts of duck, couldn’t provide. In that insane state that I sometimes get into when food is concerned and the shops are on the verge of closing, I decided that I would just buy fresh duck legs and semi-confit the bastards myself before making the tacos.  Naturally!  After all, it was only 30°C by then.

Despite this somewhat snarly lead-up, it actually worked out pretty well.  Pot-roasting doesn’t require you to be in the same room as the oven, which is a big plus, and the long cooking time meant that we could sit on the couch drinking the aforementioned margaritas and chatting for a good chunk of time.   I modified a recipe for duck carnitas and roasted peach salsita from the book Mod Mex by Scott Linquist and Joanna Pruess, which I found on Google Books (bless them).

The carnitas were great – the flavours of the roasting liquid really permeated the meat, and it was very tender.  I changed a couple of things in the recipe: I only used a tablespoon of condensed milk rather than the cup called for, which struck me as a weird addition; I used half duck fat and half lard because I am moderately skint at the moment; I also cooked the meat for a bit over two hours and reckon it would be even better cooked for three, rather than the one and a half they say).  If I’d had the time and energy I would have cooked the mole they suggest to go with it, but since I had neither I just made the peach salsita, though using yellow-fleshed nectarines because I couldn’t find any ripe peaches.  When I make this again (and it will be when, not if, because it was great) I won’t add the orange juice and honey they call for at the end – it tasted superb before they were added, and was much too sweet (and too soupy) after they went in.

So, for future reference and tweaking, here’s the version I would start with next time:

Duck carnitas
Preheat the oven to 150°C . Take 4 duck legs, salt them liberally, and place in a bowl for 1 hour to remove excess moisture.  Pat them dry (and brush off any obvious salt clumps) and place them in a lidded ovenproof dish. Add 500 g of duck fat and/or lard, 12 black peppercorns, 6 bay leaves, 6 peeled cloves of garlic, 6 allspice berries, 2-3 arbol chillies, 1 stick of cinnamon, 1 cup fresh orange juice, 1 cup of light Mexican beer, and 1-2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk.  Heat on the stove until the fat has melted, then cover with the lid and place in the oven for about 3 hours, or until the flesh is very tender and almost falling off the bones.  Remove the duck legs, let them cool, then pull off the skin and throw it away, pull out the bones and put them in the stock bag of fowl bits in the freezer, and shred the meat.

They say to then cook the duck in a skillet with some oil for 2-3 minutes until it’s browning and crisping.  All I managed to do during this stage was make the duck stick horribly to the frypan – I really wish I had the faintest idea how to deal with meat – so I’m not sure I would do this part again.  The duck looked and tasted pretty damn good even before this step.

Peach salsita
Fry a finely chopped small onion in olive oil for about 8 minutes over low-medium heat, until translucent.  Add two finely chopped garlic cloves and half a finely chopped serrano chili (or to taste), and saute for 1 minute more.  Add 3 ripe peaches (or 6 ripe nectarines), pitted and chopped into medium dice.  Continue cooking for 5 minutes or so, until the fruit is soft but still holding its shape.  Remove from heat and let cool. Taste the salsa, and if it needs sweetening add a squeeze of orange juice and/or honey (it may well not need either if the fruit started off sweet).  Add a pinch of salt to taste. Fold in a good handfulof chopped coriander leaves.

Use small tortillas to make soft tacos with the carnitas and salsita, together with whatever other ingredients take your fancy.  I think you need something a little moist and sticky to hold it all together – we used guacamole but sour cream or mole sauce would also work.

Ta-da, made it by midnight!  Happy new year chaps!