Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Frugality of Chicken: Two Soups and a Pot Pie...and the pleasure of friendship

Chicken soup really does help in healing from colds.  Among other properties, its abundance of the amino acid cysteine clears congestion.  When a kid, I would be given canned chicken soup consisting of soggy noodles, tiny pieces of rehydrated chicken, and a broth spiked with MSG.  I was fairly content with fare like this until my early twenties when a Jewish boyfriend taught me how to make his aunt's hallowed version.

This recipe which has evolved through time is a culinary workhorse as I am able to make several different meals from its broth, carrots, and meat--a hearty chicken soup, velouté de carottes, and chicken pot pie.  As both The Calm One and I had colds recently, it was a boon to have several quarts of the soup in our freezer.

First the stock is made by barely covering two medium-sized chickens with water--if you can find a capon then both the soup and chicken pot pie will be even better.  While the water is coming to the boil, add 4 large, peeled, whole carrots, 3-4 medium onions, a few stalks of celery or a smaller amount of lovage, a few sage leaves, a small handful of peppercorns, one or two bay leaves, a couple sprigs of thyme, and several sprigs of parsley.  Do not add salt now because it may be necessary to reduce the broth, and it would then become too salty.  It is easier to skim off the foam before adding the herbs.

I skim off most of the foam without becoming obsessive about it

After an hour, check to see if the drumsticks move easily, but not so freely that they fall off the jointThe aim is not to overcook the breast meat as nothing is more disappointing than dry chicken.  Carefully remove each chicken onto a platter by inserting a large wooden spoon in its cavity while supporting its bottom with another wooden spoonRemove the carrots which will have soaked up the broth beautifully and will be soft and flavoursome.  Though crisp veggies are often regarded as desirable, sometimes savoury succulence wins as in this case.

Let the chickens cool enough for handling and bone them completely, putting everything, that is, the skin and bones, back into the stockpot while reserving the meat.  Simmer for another four hours to extract all the goodness.

Dayo stays in his box on his end of the long food-preparation table as I trained him as a kitten when cats are somewhat receptive to being told what to do.  He did make interesting faces though when I boned the chickens!

After removing as much of the bones and skin I can with a slotted spoon, the cooled stock is then strained through a mesh strainer.  I reserve about two quarts of stock and half the meat for the chicken soup.  Skim any fat off the surface of the broth.  Pour the broth into a suitable sized pot and add a cup of brown rice, simmering for about twenty minutes until the rice is very tender.  Meanwhile, chop the carrots and the chicken.

When the rice is soft, add the chopped carrots and chicken.  Voiladelectable chicken soup with a rich broth, chicken and carrot chunks, and brown rice!

When I first served this to my mum-in-law, she said I put too many solid bits into her soup-plate as she is used to thin soups served as a first course.  When I told her that is all she is going to eat, she then guided the ladle of solid bits I was removing from her bowl back into itEverybody at the table had a good chuckle.

Another quart of the broth is reserved for velouté de carottes.

The remaining half quart and the rest of the chicken is reserved for a pot pie.

Look for the recipe soon!

Feisal Kamil is a Malaysian friend I had the good fortune to meet on G+.  He recently came across a book that reminded him of me without knowing that said book is a classic often gifted to gardeners:  The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.   Being the affectionate and generous person he is, he sent it off to me with a note apologising for it being second hand.  I countered his apology with my insisting its aged cream pages coupled with an enticing old-book smell only increased his gift's charm.

It is a book impossible to review in the ordinary manner as one only can experience it personally in all its enchanting uniqueness.  Edith Holden supplemented her neat, cautious calligraphy with her own watercolour illustrations of flowers, birds, and trees she saw on her country walks.

Her book, as far as I can see, only makes sense if it is read like a diary which means since it came into my life in November I started my reading at that point.   Her November entry has this poem by Burns:

Sing on sweet thrush, upon the leafless bough,
Sing on sweet bird, I listen to thy strain,
And aged Winter, mid his early reign,
At thy blythe carol, clears his furrowed brow.

Her own 1906 observations made in England during November overlap with those I am experiencing presently in France:  foraging for mushrooms, noting plants gone to seed--cow-parsnip and dock for her, fennel and broccoli for me--and her describing...the scanty foliage on the half bare Oak trees which brings to mind I soon will be going to the small Oak copse nearby to bag up all those precious leaves to make the superlative treat for any garden, leaf mould. 

There are still a few flowers brightening up our garden.

Japanese anemones

Sweet Alyssum

The lavender are still putting out a bud here and there

But mostly, there are fallen leaves.

Rose of Sharon beginning its dormancy

Soon there will be sedge after sedge of loudly honking cranes flying overhead with their necks gracefully outstretched as they wend their way to North Africa.  Their migration heralds the beginning of our cold but short winter and a chance for Dayo to transfix his gaze at the grey sky.

À la prochaine!


Chicken Pot Pie