Chicken soup season has arrived.
With November rains and stormy weather, even in Israel, it’s time for the magical concoction of chicken broth dotted with soft discs of carrots, slices of celery and fronds of dill.
Then again, who says chicken soup has to include carrots? Or celery.
For Portland, Oregon chef and cookbook author Jenn Louis, there are hundreds of chicken soup options out there, with more than 100 of them included in her latest cookbook, “The Chicken Soup Manifesto” (Hardie Grant Publishing, 2020).
“Jewish chicken soup? It’s a thing,” said Louis. “But everyone around the world thinks their chicken soup is ‘the’ chicken soup. All these different ethnicities have their version of chicken soup.”
“The Chicken Soup Manifesto” includes recipes from the Africas, the Americas, all parts of Europe and Asia.
First, however, Louis explains how to select and handle chicken, how to strain, skim and shred chicken, and how to cook with homemade chicken stock. She points out the differences between stock, consommé, broth, bouillon, brodo (Italian broth) and bone broth.
She recommends making chicken soup from leftover roasted chicken, and explains what to do with chicken innards (simmer and serve with soup), as well as the skin and fat of the chicken.
And that’s all before the chicken soup recipes, some of which are more like a stew than a soup.
There’s African chicken soup made with egg yolks, butter and rice; a familiar Harira chicken soup often served during Ramadan, with lentils, chickpeas and rice; and Chicken Mafe, made with ginger, eggplant, tomato paste, peanut butter and okra.
From the Americas, Louis brings Chicken and Slicks, Appalachian fare with biscuits that melt into the broth, and Bott Boi from central and southeastern Pennsylvania, made with homemade noodles.
It’s an exhaustive list of chicken soups, with enough options for every wintry day of the season.
There’s South American chicken soup with root vegetables, pearl barley and corn, while a Korean version has rice porridge and a Filipino chicken soup always includes unripe papaya.
It was the kind of cookbook challenge that Louis, a veteran Northwest chef and food writer who has competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” was named one of Food & Wine’s “Best New Chefs,” and was nominated twice for the James Beard Foundation Award of Best Chef: Northwest, loves to embrace.
She also appreciates the approachability of chicken soup.
“Most people can eat chicken, it’s accessible and cheap, and can stretch it pretty far,” said Louis. “It’s a book about something that binds us together globally, and it’s important right now because we need healing.”
She also wanted it to show respect for cultures that don’t often get highlighted in Western cookbooks.
For Louis, it’s all part of the rabbit hole of research that she loves.
“What is this thing and how deep does it go,” said Louis, reflecting on the use of dumplings, potatoes, noodles or beans in chicken soups, or the options of thickening agents such as yogurt or egg in a chicken soup.
One of the soups, “Hanan’s Mom’s Palestinian Chicken Soup,” came to Louis by way of a plane ride to Israel, when her seat neighbor told her about her mother’s chicken soup. Louis took mental notes and then stayed friends with Hanan, who now lives in San Jose, California.
The Ashkenazi chicken soup that Louis grew up with was not forgotten: she included her mother’s recipe — “everyone always thinks their mom’s chicken soup is best, it’s sweet,” said Louis.
(Louis’s mother’s matzo ball recipe was perfected when she turned off the heat and left them in the poaching liquid while at synagogue, thus changing their chicken soup cooking method forever. Louis now recommends poaching the matzo balls for 30 minutes, followed by a 30-minute rest in the poaching liquid.)
This winter, Louis plans to light her fire pit and serve pots of chicken soup to her friends in the backyard as the coronavirus rages on.
As for which chicken soup she’ll make, it will depend on her mood, said Louis.
“It’s what do I have and what country do I want to go to today,” she said.
The leftover chicken soup sitting in the fridge the next day will be served over pasta or polenta.
The idea for the “manifesto” began when Louis was in San Diego cooking for a fundraiser and felt a flu coming on just as she was heading to the airport.
“I texted my sister,” said Louis. “She’s not a huge cook, but three hours later, I walked up to my front door and there was a pot of chicken soup, still warm. It made me feel so much better.”
Hanan’s Mom’s Palestinian Chicken Soup
60 ml chicken fat or olive oil
1 onion, cut into cubes
2 celery ribs, cut into 1 cm cubes
120 grams parsley, leaves and stems roughly chopped
80 grams cilantro, leaves and stems roughly chopped
1.9 liters water or chicken stock
670 grams boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2.5 cm piece
100 grams basmati rice
Heat the chicken fat or oil in pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring frequently for 3 to 4 minutes until onion is translucent and slightly golden. Add 80 grams of the parsley and all the cilantro and stir to combine, then add the water or stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, add the chicken, stir and cook for 15 minutes. Add the rice, stir and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the chicken and rice are tender. Season with salt and garnish with remaining parsley.
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