Calling this beauty a soup is a bit of a stretch. Sure, it fits on a spoon, and slides down the throat like a cure, but it’s really meant to be just that – a tonic, with some occasional added chewability.
I met her at Frank and Michelle’s house last week. We gathered there for a Saturday night feast, with a Wooly Pigs Berkshire pork shoulder and a few bottles of St. Joseph, to hear about their trip to India. (We never did talk about India, did we?)
Before dinner, Michelle pulled a pot off the back of the stove. “It’s a quick little consommé,” she murmured nonchalantly. Like we all make consommé on Saturday nights.
The kitchen showed no signs of the true consommé process, a (probably, once you’ve done it more than twice, not all that) tenuous procedure that involves adding ground meat and finely chopped vegetables and egg white to an intensely flavorful stock. (The choppy bits gather up all the impurities in the stock (read: the fat), and eventually float to the top of the liquid, to form what’s ridiculously (in my opinion) called a “raft.” You take the raft off, and serve a perfectly clear, delicious liquid. Here’s a great Cookthink post on making pho from scratch with good pictures of how the raft works. The final product is gorgeous, but I’m only convinced it’s worth it when I’m not the one cooking.)
Michelle’s consommé was a well-dressed, low-maintenance version. She started with a rotisserie chicken and a box of store-bough chicken broth, and let the two simmer together with ginger and lemongrass, and enough spice to really get the nose running. We chopped basil and cilantro and mint up good and fine, stirred it into the strained liquid, and served it in big mugs, along with lime juice and thin hot pepper slices.
It was as convincing as chicken soup, but bright, and fiery, and somehow quite springlike, with the soft, sweet herbs floating on top. The night got cold more quickly than any of us expected, and when we went outside to wait for the pork to cook, the consommé was a necessary companion. I almost didn’t want dinner to come.
Then the pork came out, with silk stockings around each and every string of muscle, and we ate it with Frank’s lemon gnocchi, and we were ohso happy we hadn’t stopped at soup.
I made Michelle’s soup again a couple nights ago, only for dinner, with shredded chicken, to feed the cold Jim contracted in Boise. (Last weekend, he and my brother had another adventure. They rode Bogus Basin Road, 16 miles and 3,000 feet up. At the top, they got caught in a thunderstorm. Jim stuffed his jacket, Tour-style, with the first 100 pages of a phone book, to stay warmer on the way down. Even so, the next day, he was sick sick sick. We thought perhaps it was consumption. Or SARS.)
I left the herbs whole this time, simply because they seemed more fortifying that way.
Sure enough, when Jim left for Finland this weekend (I do hope we’ll hear from him here, but no promises), he seemed stronger.
Maybe it’s just a cold. Or maybe it’s The Soup that Cures Everything.
I certainly feel better.
Chicken Soup for the Road Biker’s Cold (PDF)
When your immune system gets caught in the undertow, you need a soup that sasses back. Here’s a spicy Asian-inspired broth for spring, whose bright spice and fragrant whole herbs make eating chicken soup out of “soup season” an actual pleasure. This shortcut version, based on one my friend Michelle makes, is spicy enough to warm you up, but if you’re really under the weather, load up on the chilies (or use a spicier variety) and smoke the bad stuff right out.
For a more filling soup, turn it into a version of pho, with vermicelli and bean sprouts, or stir in chopped spring vegetables, like asparagus, chard, peas, and green garlic.
TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings
3 1/2 to 4 pound rotisserie chicken (look for a plain flavor)
2 carrots, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2” piece ginger (about 1” in diameter), peeled and thinly sliced
3 stalks lemongrass, cut into 1” chunks (white and light green parts only)
5 cilantro stems
2 red jalapeno peppers, very thinly sliced (seeds included)
Juice of 2 medium limes
2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce (or to taste)
4 big stalks Thai basil
4 big stalks mint
1 cup cilantro
If your chicken has any sort of wacky seasoning on it, remove the skin. (Your dog will be happy to help, if it’s not crisp and delicious enough for your standards.) Remove much of the chicken’s breast and thigh meat and shred it. (You should have 4 loosely packed cups of meat, and enough meat left on the bones to flavor the broth.) Set aside.
Place the chicken carcass in a large soup pot, and add the next 7 ingredients, along with about 10 cups cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a strong simmer and cook for 1 hour.
Add one jalapeno’s worth of pepper slices, and simmer for 5 minutes longer. Strain the broth carefully through a fine-mesh sieve, and return to a clean pot. Add the lime juice, and season with salt and fish sauce, to taste.
Divide the chicken and remaining jalapeno slices between 4 large bowls. Add broth to each bowl and top with herbs. Serve immediately.