Well now, here’s a thing:
Words I Never Thought I’d Hear Tony Utter! And they were….?
Well, the script reads thus: star of the show Tony, forty-something (ahem!) male, gives a masculine-yet-feverish grunt; grudgingly stirring himself awake to accept the lovingly-proffered steaming mug of morning ‘WAKE UP!!’ coffee….he’s evidently Not Feeling Well.
And as for me….? Same sore throat, same ‘under-the-weatherness’….but have already been awake, up-&-about & busy, for more than three hours (it’s now past 9am). I’m briskly preparing toast for Tony’s breakfast by the time he eventually totters downstairs, at around 10.30am (well it IS a Sunday – & he does do his utmost, to avoid the ‘Archers Omnibus’ programme on Radio Four….) & as ever, it is Raining. In fact, it’s pouring, outside; & shows no sign of stopping.
Tony gropes in the drawer where all the lotions, potions & herbs are kept, in search of a cold remedy to ease his sore throat.
“This really is ‘Chicken Soup’ weather. Any chance you can make us some for supper?”
You could have knocked me down with a feather (preferably capon). Under normal circumstances enticing Tony to eat anything with chicken in it, is akin to feeding a foie gras goose – you virtually have to ram it down his throat. Today, however, appears to be the exception….& I wasn’t going to disagree (apart from worrying that he must really be ill to make such a suggestion; or else had been abducted by the faery folk on the Frenni Fawr mountain & replaced with a changeling).
It’s not just chicken soup he abhors, but chicken itself: regardless of how it’s carved, cooked & concocted into myriad meals. Nightmare. A well-tended, plump bird is a gift to those of omnivorous persuasion. For those on a frugal budget, a chicken can feed a whole family for several meals: a roast dinner; a hearty stew; a delicious, nutritious soup. In fact it would appear that generations of Jewish grandmothers aren’t wrong – apparently there’s something in the stock of a ‘proper’ chicken soup which genuinely does counteract cold symptoms. So with that in mind, & given this (ahem) ‘lovely’ weather, here’s a recipe or two….
POULTRY RECIPES: CHICKEN SOUP THROUGH THE AGES
With my background in Ancient History I like to dabble in traditional recipes; & there are a couple of lovely, simple variations for chicken broth. The first & most basic hails from fifth-century Rome, from the cookery book (De Re Coquinaria) of the culinary genius of his day, Apicius:
1stewing chicken, cut into pieces; 10 peppercorns; ½ cup of reduced vegetable stock; ½ cup of boiled white wine; water to cover.
Grind the peppercorns in a mortar. Mix them with the reduced stock, boiled white wine & sufficient water to cover the chicken pieces. Cook gently over a low heat until the fowl is tender & falling from the bone.
This second recipe is a full thousand years younger than that of Apicius’, with its origins rooted in Medieval Tuscan cuisine; & although more involved than the earlier dish, is no less delicious. Rather than adding a pre-prepared vegetable stock, the fowl is simmered in a mixture of vegetables & water, creating its own fantastic flavour. Well worth the modest extra effort!
1 stewing chicken & its giblets, but not the liver; water (to cover the fowl); 3 or 4 carrots; 2 or 3 small turnips; 4 or 5 small, or 2 large, leeks; 1 medium-large whole onion, peeled & studded with 4 cloves; 1 tsp whole black peppercorns; 2 bay leaves; salt (to taste).
Clean & truss the chicken, & place it in a large pot along with the giblets. Cover generously with cold water. Cover the pot & slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat. As soon as the water comes to the boil, reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer. Monitor & skim carefully as impurities rise to the surface.
Peel & wash the vegetables, & add them to the pot. Add a very little salt, the peppercorns & the bay leaves. Simmer for 90 minutes – 2 hours.
Remove the chicken from the pot & set aside.
DIGRESSION – AGLIATA (GARLIC SAUCE)
This type of cooked chicken is delicious when eaten with medieval garlic sauce, which was commonly served with boiled meat & poached fish; & especially with young roast kid & boiled capon. Indeed in medieval Tuscany ‘agliata’ was often served at aristocratic banquets, so long as it was moderated through careful preparation – as the odour signified “peasant”! The garlic sauce detailed below is simple yet has a vivid flavour & can be served equally well with heartier meats such as venison & beef.
20 cloves of garlic; ½ cup dry breadcrumbs; 1 cup broth; ¼ tsp ground ginger; ¼ tsp ground cinnamon; 1 pinch ground cloves; salt (to taste).
Preheat oven to 200°C. Wrap 18 of the garlic cloves, unpeeled, in aluminium foil & bake for 30 minutes (you can do this in the embers of your fireplace, if they are aglow). Soak the breadcrumbs in about one-third of the broth until softened. Peel all the garlic, cooked & raw. In a mortar or blender, purée the garlic, add the soaked breadcrumbs, & add the spices & enough broth to create a creamy sauce. Pour into a small saucepan, add salt to taste & bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes, thinning with additional broth if necessary. Serve hot.
Oops, diversion over – back to the broth!
Strain the broth, & let it cool. Refrigerate until cold, preferably overnight. The fat will solidify on the surface of the broth & can be easily removed with a spoon.
This can easily be transformed into ‘Cock-a-Leekie’ soup (although more traditionally made with beef & veal stock) by adding additional (chopped) leeks to the broth & simmering for 15 minutes before throwing in around 6oz of prunes & continuing to simmer for a further 3 minutes until the leeks are tender. If you want to serve the cooked chicken in the cock-a-leekie, cut it into useable pieces while the prunes & leeks simmer, remove any bones which might fall off into the broth, & warm them up in said broth for a short while before serving. It’s up to you whether or not you discard the prunes!
Admittedly if I want to make more of a chunky, standard soup, whilst making my broth I boil up some potatoes & fresh veggies; & rather than discarding the stock vegetables once the broth is ready I fish out the cloves, bay leaves & giblets & purée the remainder along with some of the boiled potato chunks to give a bit more body to the liquid. I then shred some of the cooked chicken meat & add it to the mixture along with the rest of the potato, veggies & perhaps some pulses depending on how the mood takes me.
Regardless, these resultant combinations create a wonderfully heartwarming meal – whatever the weather.