Humble, delicious chicken soup

The Chicken Soup Manifesto author Jenn Louis. PHOTOS: ED ANDERSON
The Chicken Soup Manifesto author Jenn Louis. PHOTOS: ED ANDERSON

Chicken soup is a culinary connection shared around the world, American chef Jenn Louis says.

THE BOOK: The Chicken Soup Manifesto, by Jenn Louis, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $50.
THE BOOK: The Chicken Soup Manifesto, by Jenn Louis, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $50.
She has proved this in The Chicken Soup Manifesto an entire cookbook dedicated to the humble, delicious soup that has been interpreted in many ways, by many different cultures.

"Whether rich, hearty and chunky or light, fragrant and brothy, look at the world through the lens of a simple bowl of chicken soup reveals volumes about a society and its people — the ingredients within their reach, the techniques that mark their style of cooking and, often, a folkloric or family history too."

Louis, who has competed in the American television show Top Chef Masters, grew up in a Jewish home where chicken soup was a way of life and became one of the essentials of everyday life.

"A pot of chicken soup is the ultimate gesture of love," she says.

She describes the book as a holiday — a trip around the world with stops only for chicken soup in places as diverse as Algeria for chorba bayda, Columbia for sanchcho, Spain for sopa de picadillo and Thailand for khao tom gai.

The recipes come from her own travels, from research, from friends and family.

"As you work through this book you will see how region affects the recipes in the starch (rice, potatoes, noodles), types of vegetables and flavourings (curry, lemon, dill)."

She advocates making your own chicken stock and buying fresh, free-range chickens where possible.

"I call chicken stock liquid gold because the end result is worth the time and your home will smell amazing."

Louis also give tips on cooking soup, from the pots and equipment needed to make it to pantry necessities and how to handle a chicken and what to do with the innards.

 

Ye O choloni Ina Doro Shorba 

Variations of peanut soup are popular throughout East and West Africa. Ingredients will vary depending on the region, adding or subtracting collard greens (spring cabbage), chickpeas, tomatoes, spices and squash.

It is a hearty and flavourful soup, rich from the peanut butter and spicy from the berbere.

Serves 6

2 Tbsp rendered chicken fat or vegetable oil

2 yellow onions, cut into 2cm cubes

2 carrots, cut into 2.5cm rounds

1 sweet potato (about 450g), peeled and cut into 2cm cubes

2 Tbsp Berbere (see below), plus extra

to garnish

1 Tbsp salt

1.9 litres (8 cups) water or chicken stock

450g boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders

255g (1 cup) natural smooth peanut butter

65g (⅓ cup) basmati rice

30g chopped roasted peanuts, to garnish

Berbere spice
Makes 35g

6 green cardamom pods

8 cloves

1 tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp fenugreek seeds

1 Tbsp chili powder, such as ancho or New Mexico

1 Tbsp salt

1 tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

Method

Melt the chicken fat or oil in a large pot over a medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot and sweet potato and cook for 3-4 minutes until the onion becomes translucent.

Stir in the berbere and salt, then add the water or stock and bring to a very gentle simmer.

Place the chicken in the soup and cook gently until just cooked through, 2-3 minutes for the tenders and 6-8 minutes for the breasts.

Remove the chicken from the soup, then continue cooking at a gentle simmer for 8-10 minutes until all the vegetables are very tender. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside on a plate.

Using a blender or an immersion blender, puree the soup with the peanut butter until very smooth. If using a blender, take care to remove the centre piece on the blender cover as the hot soup will splatter without a vent.

Pour the soup back into the pot; it will be thin. Add the rice and cook at a very slow simmer, stirring with a whisk, for 10 minutes, or until the rice is tender.

Make sure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot, and the soup does not become too thick and burn. Thin the soup with a little water or stock as needed.

When the rice is cooked, season with salt and ladle into bowls. Garnish with the chicken pieces, a sprinkle of berbere and peanuts.

Berbere spice

Place the cardamom, cloves, coriander, allspice and fenugreek in a small pan and toast over a high heat, making sure not to burn the spices, until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

When cool, grind finely in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, transfer to a bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to six months.

Chikhirtma 

This soup is made for families as a comfort meal, to heal the sick or to cure a hangover. The creaminess is warming on a cold day, and the herbs add a bright note to this otherwise rich soup. Some versions of chikhirtma include potatoes, asparagus, corn or peas, and the Adjika adds bold heat.

Serves 4

1.35kg chicken, quartered

1.9 litres (8 cups) water or chicken stock

2 Tbsp salt

85g butter

3 yellow onions, cut into 5mm cubes

2 Tbsp all-purpose (plain) flour

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

80g cilantro (coriander), leaves and tender stems roughly chopped

6 large egg yolks

2 Tbsp lemon juice

To garnish

6 mint sprigs, leaves and tender stems roughly chopped

6 dill sprigs, leaves and tender stems roughly chopped

6 parsley sprigs, leaves and tender stems roughly chopped

6 basil sprigs, leaves and tender stems roughly chopped

adjika (see below)

Adjika

Makes 540g

1 Tbsp cilantro (coriander) stems

2 hot red chilies

8 garlic cloves

1½ sweet red peppers

100g walnuts

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp anise seeds

1 tsp dried red hot chilies

1 Tbsp khmeli suneli (Georgian spice blend)

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried thyme

1 Tbsp white wine vinegar

Method

Place the chicken and water or stock in a large pot with the salt. Weigh down the chicken under a few small plates to keep it submerged and simmer gently over a medium heat until the chicken pieces are cooked through, about 7-10 minutes for the breasts and 15-18 minutes for the legs and thighs.

The meat should separate from the end of the leg bone when cooked, a thermometer will read 74degC when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh or breast and the juices of the chicken will run clear.

When the chicken is cooked, remove from the pot and leave until cool enough to handle, then remove the chicken skin and discard. Using your hands, shred all the meat and discard the bones. Set the meat aside and reserve the broth.

Wipe out the pot, then add the butter and melt over a medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring constantly for 6 minutes, or until the onions are soft and slightly golden.

Add the flour, cinnamon and cilantro and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the reserved broth, then bring to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes, or until the broth thickens.

Place the egg yolks and lemon juice in a bowl and whisk until well combined. Add a spoonful of the hot broth to the yolk mixture and stir until combined. Repeat with more hot broth until the yolks have heated up. This will help the yolks to incorporate into the soup smoothly.

When the yolks have enough warm broth to warm up, turn off the heat and add the yolk mixture to the soup, stirring constantly. Stir in the reserved chicken, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with the herbs and adjika, added to taste.

Adjika

Adjika (ahh-jah-kah) is the super spicy condiment that graces every Georgian table. Varieties include dry and wet, depending on whether dried or fresh chillies are used, and green and red, depending on the colour chilli used.

Every home has their favourite blend of spices and balance of how much of each ingredient is used. Always taste a little before adding to your dish, as most are hot, hot, hot!

Method

Heat the oven to 180degC.

Puree the cilantro, chilies, garlic and red peppers in a food processor until finely combined. Place the pureed ingredients in a small pan over a medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes until the raw smell of garlic has dissipated.

Place the walnuts, in a single layer, on a baking tray and toast in the oven, stirring them occasionally to prevent them burning, until fragrant, then leave to cool. When cool, crush them into a fine powder using a knife or food processor.

Repeat the toasting process with the coriander seeds, anise seeds and dried chillies, watching carefully so they do not burn. Once they are toasted and fragrant, let them cool completely. Combine the remaining dried herbs/spices with the toasted spices and transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind into a fine blend.

Add the spice mix and walnuts to the cooked puree, season with salt and vinegar and stir to combine. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Note: Khmeli suneli is a mix of ground coriander seed, ground blue fenugreek, sweet paprika and ground marigold blossoms (if you cannot source marigolds use dill or majoram).

 

Stracciatella alla Romana

Similar to Chinese egg drop soup, stracciatella alla romana consists of swirls of whisked egg suspended in a rich, flavourful broth.

Stracciatella means long strands and it can be used to describe a string cheese, an ice cream with strands of chocolate or, in this case, the strands of egg in a soup.

Chicken meat can be added back to the soup, or left out, and often seasonal vegetables are added. The soup must be eaten fresh as the egg will lose its texture if frozen.

Serves 4-6

1 1.35kg chicken, quartered

2.4 litres (10 cups) water or chicken stock

2 Tbsp salt

4 large eggs

25g (4 Tbsp) dried breadcrumbs or semolina

30g (4 Tbsp) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

2 parsley sprigs (including stems), finely chopped, plus extra to garnish

150g (¾ cup) arborio rice or pastina, such as

acini de pepe or orzo

Method

Place the chicken and water or stock in a large pot with the salt. Weigh down the chicken under a few small plates to keep it submerged and simmer gently over a medium heat until the chicken pieces are cooked through, about 7-10 minutes for the breasts and 15-18 minutes for the legs and thighs.

The meat should separate from the end of the leg bone when cooked, a thermometer will read 74degC when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh or breast and the juices of the chicken will run clear.

When the chicken is cooked, remove from the pot and leave until cool enough to handle, then remove the chicken skin and discard. Using your hands, shred all the meat and discard the bones. Set the meat aside. Strain the broth and reserve.

Meanwhile, mix the eggs, breadcrumbs or semolina, cheese and parsley together in a bowl. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Rinse the pot and pour in the strained broth. Add the rice or pastina and cook for 7-10 minutes until tender. This will cloud the broth. If a clear broth is preferred, cook the rice or pasta in a separate pot, then add to the soup when cooked. When the rice or pasta is tender, add the reserved chicken to the soup and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Remove the pot from the heat and immediately and slowly pour the eggs into the soup. Make sure to pour around the pot, not in the same place. The residual heat will cook the eggs and the heat from the stove will create a very tender cooked egg.

Gently ladle the soup into bowls without damaging the soft curds of cooked egg. Season with freshly ground black pepper and garnish with chopped parsley.

 

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