Chicken Noodle Soup (or, Notes from the Pandemic)

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Chicken Noodle Soup is always good for whatever ails you.

I recently learned that the Beaford Archive, in North Devon, is asking for help to document the day-to-day life of people’s experiences during the pandemic. They are looking for photographs which answer the question:  “What are you experiencing right now?”

Everyone’s setting will be different. You may be at home with children, or with your parents, or caring for someone. You may be a key worker, or helping the  neighbourhood, or working the land. All our lives are changing in ways great and small, and whatever you’re experiencing is worth saving and sharing with future generations.

I’m so pleased that they are doing this. The quotidian life is the one that we rarely see in history, but to me it is what makes history come alive. How people manage their day-to-day existence can be fascinating when you realise just how different it can be from town to town, country to country, century to century. Or in this case, month to month.

In our little corner of South Devon, we are more or less into our fourth week of lockdown (the kids, The Author, and I all started on different days), and we have been able to stay isolated and safe very easily. We are very lucky to be living in this beautiful, rural area, but the enforced seclusion has taken its toll on all of us in various ways. Noteworthy events from last week include:

  1. Our previously mellow cat, Mr Bumble, has started chasing and attacking Earl, our two year-old cat. This is especially surprising because Mr Bumble has known and accepted the younger cat for at least a year and a half, which is when we first brought Earl home. We can’t figure out what has precipitated this change, other than two things: a) Earl has stopped bringing so many mice in the house, which means that Mr Bumble (truly the laziest hunter ever but also the most voracious eater) now has no suply of fresh meat and is feeling pretty peeved, or; b) with all of us home, the quarantine is disturbing the natural order of things and Mr Bumble needs to reassert his authority in the pecking order. We are all trying to intervene on Earl’s behalf and also show Mr Bumble that, no matter what, he is stil the ‘first cat’. I’m not sure how well we are getting this point across, but I can say that both cats are the recipients of many cuddles and gentle talkings-to.
  2. Kimble O’Hara, aka our dog Kim, is as happy as we’ve ever seen him, because not only does he now have his entire pack with him at all times, he is also being taken on long romps pretty much every day. His only sorrow is that when the five of us humans sit on the couch to watch a movie, there is no room for him. Because we can rarely find a movie that all five of us want to watch, this does not happen very often. Suffice it to say that Kim is probably living his best life right now.
    Kimble
  3. Home schooling was on hold for 2 weeks while we indulged the kids in their spring break. This effectively meant that we did not make them get up before 1:00. Now ‘school’ is back in session, and we are all learning a lot about Google Classrooms. I think what I’m mainly learning is that our ancient computers do not easily support the many platforms that are required for remote learning. I’m also learning that I am one of the most proficient users of our ancient technology, a fact that I am unironically proud of and keep trying to impress my children with. I’ll let you know how I get on with that.
  4. The Author and I seem to have arrived at an unspoken agreement (subconcious, perhaps) to take turns having a good night’s sleep. While one of us has drifted off, the other will be tossing about, letting the undercurrent of anxiety that is now always in our being come to the fore. The next night, exhausted, the unlucky sleeper will be able to crash out immediately upon hitting the pillow, and the other will take up the vigil. Wake up, and repeat.
  5. In more exciting news, the electric company turned off the power for the day, which led us all to feel that the pandemic had worsened, even though we had been warned over a week before that this would happen due to essential services needing to be updated. The lack of electricity also had the effect of turfing the kids out of the house, because there was no longer anything of interest (read: internet) to keep them occupied. The Poppet dabbled in some water painting, The Son took a machete and a saw into the field across the road to work on a pine tree project (is it remiss of me not to investigate this?), and The Oldest worked on some ukelele compositions in the deck chair. The Author and I pruned some overgrown beech trees near the house, trimming the branches back and stacking them in preparation for a bonfire at some point.After a while the Oldest decided to help us with the clearing, and picking up some branches I had tossed near the beehive, she noticed a bee hovering near her face. “Bee, why are you flying near my face?” she opened her mouth to say, but the sudden inhalation of air sucked the bee in, and it stung The Oldest on the tongue. It took a while for us to understand what had happened, and I kept thinking she had swallowed it. After some cold water, some ice, and some ibuprofen, she was well enough to sit back in the deck chair and make lisp-y pronouncements, reveling in her bizarrely swollen tongue and repeatedly sticking it out to show us how it was faring. I am pleased to report that she is now fine and able to speak — and more importantly, eat — properly.

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    Chicken Soup at the request of the Oldest

Chicken Noodle Soup

makes 6 large bowls

When you’re going through unknowable times, something familiar — like chicken soup — is very comforting. It also has the added benefit of being full of protein, collagen, amino acids, and minerals, all of which support your general health and may help keep you on an even keel. Additionally, if you are suffering from hay fever (the season has just started here), you could try some chicken soup to help with a stuffy nose.

This recipe is a very basic and easy recipe to get you started if you have never made chicken soup from scratch. It’s a good base to work from if you feel like having something with a little more punch. If that sounds more like your cup of soup, have a look at the notes at the end of the recipe.

Although the recipe is easy, making the stock takes a couple of hours. However, this is totally hands-off time, and it could be done in the morning while you get on with other things, or you could make it up to 3 days in advance and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to use it. You could also make a large batch of stock and freeze it in portions, so that you have easy access to homemade soup at all times.

  • 4 chicken leg quarters (this is the most econmical cut for the amount of meat you will end up with, but you could use other cuts)
  • 1 onion, peeled
  • 2 stalks celery (include the leaves if you have them)
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp salt plus more for seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 40g (2.5 TB) butter (you could use oil if you don’t have or don’t want butter)
  • 100g fine egg noodles
  • one half lemon or 1 TB white wine vinegar

Make the chicken stock first. Put the chicken leg quarters into a large pot and cover well with cold water (try for a ratio of 1 part chicken to 2 parts water). Do not be tempted to add salt to the water; as the liquid reduces, the salt ratio will increase, and you may end up with a very salty stock. We will add salt later. Also, why haven’t I specified vegetables, or vegetable peelings, in the stock? A couple of reasons. I wouldn’t put the peels of the carrots in the stock, for example, for the same reason I wouldn’t add them to the soup; they can be bitter. And for home cooking, I feel like most of the time it’s a waste of vegetable to use vegetables in stock where you will discard them after cooking. Better to use them as the base of the soup, in a mirepoix, and get the full flavour, nutrients, and fibre.

IMG_20200414_131403117_HDRBring to a boil, skimming off any foam or scum that rises to the surface, and then reduce to a simmer and cook for 2-3 hours. Keep an eye on the water level; you do not want it to dip below the surface of the chicken, but it will reduce as time goes by. If you put a lid slightly ajar on the pot, you should be okay. Taste the stock after 2 hours. When you feel it tastes chicken-y enough (remember, it will be a little bland becasue of the lack of seasoning), turn off the heat and take the chicken out and set it aside. Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer or colander into a container and reserve for use later. (Note: if you end up refrigerating the stock, you will see that once it is cold it will be gelatinous; this is the collagen from the bones, and it’s all good!) When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones (it should fall right off) and cut or rip it into bite sized pieces. If you like, you can finely chop the skin and add that in too, but my feeling is that it has done its job and you can discard it along with the bones and cartilage.

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To make the soup, make the mirepoix by dicing the onion, celery and carrot (approximately .75 cm or .25 inches). You can definitely do this in a food processor if you have one; cut the vegetables into sections and pulse them all together until they are a small, uniform size. If in doubt, err on the side of bigger rather than smaller; you want pieces of vegetable, not mush!

Melt the butter in a soup pot, and add the mirepoix, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Saute over medium/medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have reduced their volume by half and are starting to turn golden brown in spots. What you doing is caramelising the vegetables, bringing out the natural sugars and intensifying the flavours. Don’t worry if the onions brown a little too much, they will still taste great.

Measure your chicken stock and add enough water to it to make 2 litres of liquid. When the mirepoix has cooked, add the chicken stock and let it come to a boil. Taste for flavour; you will probably need to add some salt at this point. Then add the egg noodles and let them cook at a high simmer until they are almost done, about 4 minutes.

Manischewitz Egg Noodles, perfect for chicken noodle soup

Add in the chicken, and continue cooking until the chicken is piping hot. Turn off the heat and add the juice of half a lemon. Adjust seasoning. You could also add some chopped parsley at this point. I was going to, but I forgot!

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A couple of easy variations to get your creative juices flowing:

Add fresh ginger, chili and garlic to the mirepoix, then substitute ramen noodles for the egg noodles and throw in some blanched pak choy.

Add a teaspoon each of ground cumin, paprika, and oregano, plus 2 chopped cloves of garlic and a 1/4 – 1/2 tsp of chili flakes to the mirepoix. After you have added the stock, add 150g (3/4 cup) of rice and cook until rice is tender. When you add the chicken, add chopped coriander, some freshly chopped tomatoes, and the juice of a lime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Chicken Noodle Soup (or, Notes from the Pandemic)

  1. Rebecca Skillman

    Dear Tara, Such a delight to read you. If I wasn’t still swamped by my initial panic buy, which jammed up my freezer, followed by massive over-ordering from Riverford et al… I would be jumping on your enticing and pragmatic recipes. It will come! Much love, Rebecca (volunteer at Schumacher, 2016)

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    Reply

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