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PUBLISHED: 2:34 PM on Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Find comfort in super chicken soups

Photo by Abby LaForce
  Spanish chicken soup with tomatoes, garlic and poached eggs is comfort food at its best.
After the past few months of cold weather, winter chill permeates every bone in our body. A perfect dinner to prepare on dark nights is soup. Not only is soup healthy and satisfying-it's a one-pot meal often including protein, vegetable and carbohydrate.

Countries around the world encompass soup as part of their signature dishes. Vietnam serves a delicious rice noodle soup called Pho (pronounced "fuh") that is brimming with fresh herbs and generously spiced broth. Tuscany offers an interesting soup, Ribollita, which uses leftover bread and vegetables and white cannelini beans. Another soup is Thailand's surprisingly tart and spicy Tom Yum, laced with exotic flavors of galangal root, kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass.

America's most well-known liquid entrée is chicken noodle, a soup that is nourishing in every sense from the savory golden broth to the soft egg pasta.

While chicken noodle soup is great, it can get mundane. Sampling chicken soups from different cultures is a fun approach to jazz up dinner and introduce something old yet new to the table. Because soup is a comfort dish, most people welcome a change quite easily.

Preparing good chicken soup takes a few steps that are worth the time and effort. Apply the following techniques, and soup will turn out superbly each time.

Make a broth base from dark meat with the bone-in such as chicken thighs; the flavor is more intense and the meat doesn't dry out over long cooking time. Lightly browning the chicken pieces before adding liquid will result in a richer-tasting broth.

In a little oil sauté the vegetables and infusions (garlic, chili flakes, ginger, etc.) before adding liquid, which brings out the sugars and oils of contents and intensifies flavor.

Add salt over the cooking period instead of waiting until the end to salt the soup, the flavor tends to be too sharp and somewhat bitter. For example, salt and pepper the vegetables at the beginning of cooking time as well as after adding liquid to the pot.

Chop root vegetables in the same size, so they cook evenly and soup is finished all on-time.

Lastly, use fresh herbs to finish soup versus dried, the flavor of fresh parsley or thyme is considerably noticeable and adds incredible flavor to soup.

Included are two recipes for my favorite chicken soups that are relatively simple to prepare and also inexpensive. My mother made her Philippino soup, Tinola, when I was feeling under the weather or it was a rainy night. It's deeply flavored broth bursting with spicy ginger, bright green bok choy leaves and tender spring onions always had me asking for a second helping. A take on Spanish-garlic soup is a winner and its rustic simplicity is ideal for easy entertaining. The poached egg adds a creamy and pleasing richness to the tomato-infused broth. Add a glass of light red wine, salad and crusty bread and dinner is served without any stress.

Spanish Chicken, Tomato & Garlic Soup with Poached Eggs

Serves 4

8 Chicken Thighs, bone-in and skinless

1 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 yellow onion, peeled and diced

1/2 tsp. red chili flakes

Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh Thyme

1 fresh or dried Bay Leaf

1 1/2 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika

1/2 cup white wine

Water

4 large carrots, peeled and cubed

1 box of Strained Pom? tomatoes or large can crushed tomatoes

1 Tbs. fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped or 2 Tbs. finely sliced green onions

4 large eggs

Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a heavy 6 qt. soup pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Lightly salt and pepper chicken thighs before adding to pot. Brown chicken thighs until lightly golden, and then remove from pot to a holding dish. Add in garlic, onions, chili flakes and carrots to pot and sauté until onions begin to wilt and carrots start to caramelize. Add thyme leaves, bay leaf and Spanish paprika. Pour in white wine, deglazing the pot, and stir with spoon to blend in any caramelized bits adhered to bottom of pot. Place the chicken thighs back into pot, add the tomatoes, and then enough water to fill pot (leaving 2-inches from brim). Sprinkle in another pinch of salt and pepper to soup pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a low simmer, and cook for 15 minutes before removing bay leaf (if left in the flavor becomes overpowering).

Continue cooking for one hour, before removing chicken pieces, taste and adjust seasonings. Let thigh meat cool, and then pick meat from bone and place back into pot. If liquid has evaporated significantly, add more water to the pot, and bring seasoning back up to taste with salt and pepper. Bring soup to a low simmer, and gently crack eggs into soup pot. Cover with lid, and poach eggs for 3-5 minutes, or until just done. Portion soup into bowl, and place poached egg on top. Garnish with a sprinkling of Italian parsley or green onions. Serve favorite baguette-style bread on the side.

*Note: Placing a spoonful of white rice in the bottom of each bowl before ladling over soup is a hearty addition.

Phillipino Tinola-Chicken Soup with Ginger and Bok Choy

Serves 4

1 whole chicken, cut into fryer pieces, skin removed or 8 chicken thighs, bone-in and skinless (broth becomes to oily if skin is left on)

1 1/2 tbs. canola or vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion, peeled, halved and sliced

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tbs. freshly grated ginger

1 tsp. chili flakes, or more to taste

1 tbs. soy sauce

Hot Water

Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 medium head bok choy, cleaned

4 green onions, sliced on the bias

Steamed Jasmine rice

In a heavy 6 qt. soup pot or Dutch oven, heat canola or vegetable oil on medium heat. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper, and then add into pot; lightly brown. Remove chicken pieces to a holding dish. Add in sliced onions, ginger and chili flakes to soup pot, and sauté until onions begin to wilt. Add in minced garlic and sauté for another minute. Place chicken pieces back into the pot. Pour in hot water, leaving two inches from the brim of soup pot. Season with a hefty pinch of salt and pepper; add soy sauce. Bring to a boil, and then lower soup to a gentle simmer. Cook for one hour or until chicken is fork tender. Taste and adjust seasonings.

For bok choy: Cut green leaves into large slices and cut white part into 2-inch sticks.

Add bok choy and sliced green onions to soup pot. Cover with lid, and steam until vegetables are bright green and leaves are tender. Serve in deep soup bowls with steamed Jasmine rice on the side.


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