Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Chicken Noodle Soup, "Comme Chez Nous"
I guess one knows that one does not approach cooking in the typical American way when one delights in dealing with lamb tongue and kidney, yet is flummoxed in the face of a boneless, skinless chicken breast....
I had bought a whole chicken to make stock. Boned it out, saving the thighs and breasts. The wings and drumsticks were sacrificed to the stock (but the dogs got the meat from those later). The thighs are our favorite part of the bird. We use them to make Nicoise chicken, chicken in vinegar,etc.; bone them out to make "kung pao chicken" (gong bao ji ding), or any other Sichuan stir-fried dish. But what to do with the breasts, devoid of fat and almost all flavor? Anything is good when it's swimming in a spicy, tangy, savory broth. Let's make chicken noodle soup, sort of southeast Asian style.
I don't know if this is from Vietnamese pho, or some Indonesian soup I read about--you start by searing some shallots and ginger (a couple small shallots, halved, four or five slices of ginger, no need to peel) in just a film of oil until they are really quite dark, nearly black. Add a dried red chili or two towards the end, letting them get dark and fragrant, too--ahh-ahh-ahh-choooo! Like that.
You've got some stock simmering. You want a couple cups of stock per person. I soaked four or five dried shitake mushrooms in boiling water for at least 20 minutes. So my stock consisted of: 2 cups chicken stock; 1 cup of shitake soaking water; 1 cup water. You could use more stock for the water if you want it richer, but it's full of flavor this way, too.
Put the seared shallots, ginger, and chili into the simmering broth. Slice the soaked mushrooms, and add those to the broth, too.
The searing continues, though more moderately, through the rest of this dish. That's a large part of the distinctive flavor of the soup--that said, if the vegetables get too dark, it can make the broth bitter, so you have to be a little careful.
Other than the mushrooms and the ginger, everything is local:
--Sweet dumpling squash from our garden, about half a squash, peeled and sliced about 1/3-inch thick.
--Frozen sweet corn from the market, a generous cup of kernels, thawed.
--Red onion (1/2 large) from market, sliced.
--Kadejean chicken breast (one), sliced crosswise, 1/3-inch thick.
Heat a large skillet and add a bit of oil. Lay in the squash slices and cook over medium high heat for a couple of minutes, until the one side is getting a nice charred appearance; turn over, do the same on the other side. Check for doneness, and if the squash isn't done to your taste at this point, add a little water, cover, and steam for a couple of minutes. Remove lid and turn heat to high until all the water is boiled away (this is the "potsticker method" of steam-searing vegetables).
Set the squash aside, add a little more oil to the pan, and add the sliced onions. Cook over high until the onions start to brown, then add the sweet corn and sauté until the corn starts to color, as well.
Remove the corn and onions from the pan. Add a little more oil, and when it's hot lay in the chicken slices. Cook over high heat for about a minute and a half, until the chicken is getting charred on one side. When the hot side is nice and brown, and the top still looks raw, add the chicken to the broth--do not sear the other side. This way the chicken has some slight chance of not being overcooked.
Add all the other vegetables to the broth. Let it simmer together for a couple of minutes.
Now put it together: Cook your noodles; we used thin Chinese noodles, the dry ones that come in plastic packages of eight bundles, and we used three bundles for two people.
Flavor your broth: I added several glugs of fish sauce, a couple teaspoons of soy sauce, a drizzle of sesame oil, a little sugar. Taste for salt and general depth of flavor. Add more of above as desired. Place a portion of noodles in a wide bowl. Divide the meat and veg between the bowls, bathe it all in hot, wonderful broth. Garnish with lime slices, if you like.
Thank the chicken for all its parts, and the great wide world for its splendid spectrum of flavors. Slurping is not only permitted, but encouraged.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw