The weather is changing, 2020 chaos is going strong and now we’re heading into flu season. Our family has already been hit by the sniffles, high temperatures and cough. COVID-19 tests have been taken — and returned negative. This is the new norm.
I’m ready for a bit of the old “norm.” I’m ready for something comforting, simple and homey — and without any of the drama 2020 seems to bring to previously innocuous things.
I’m ready for chicken soup.
A declaration that folks of all walks and political leanings can get behind, “The Chicken Soup Manifesto” is the perfect salve for our needs. Written by Jenn Louis, Portland, Oregon, chef and James Beard Foundation Award nominee for Best Chef: Northwest, the cookbook is a collection chicken soup recipes from around the world. Louis arranges recipes by regions — Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe — then further into countries ranging from Libya to Taiwan to Haiti and Romania. It’s a compendium of comfort soups, and absolutely what I’m in need of this season.
Louis’ inspiration for creating her manifesto isn’t far off from what led me to her cookbook: an autumn day, a bad cold and a need for a large pot of hot chicken soup. Louis’ interest lies in the way culture shapes cuisine, locality dictates ingredients and how food connects people and places — like, the entirety of the globe through a bowl of chicken soup.
Granted, the complex ajiaco bogotano from Colombia topped with a fresh and spicy aji picante (salsa) is a far cry from the black chicken soup from China or chicken paired with plantain and tomato from Tanzania. But these recipes all center around simple, lovely ingredients and, of course, a bird.
I decide to go for the creamy Norweigian “hunsekjuttsuppe” — chicken soup with apples. It’s apple season in the Northwest, and apples paired with leeks and parsnips in a creamy soup is the perfect cure for a grouchy, sniffly and downright blah feeling — especially if I add biscuits.
I won’t wax on about how this chicken soup fed my soul or how nourishing it was to eat — especially with buttered biscuits. Nor will I overstate how it changed my attitude from grouchy mom to serene goddess of the house. But I will say, this soup was darn good. Exactly what we needed, and a cure for what ails.
If you’re in a particularly frazzled mood, and you have a pressure cooker or crock pot, do yourself a favor and shove an entire bird with some water and a little salt into the device — this way you won’t have to quarter the bird unless you’re in need of a workout or some cathartic knife work. Set it and forget it. Take a nap and leave time for a cocktail. My favorite part of this soup is the practicality of cooking the bird while making the broth at the same time.
1 3-pound chicken, quartered
8 cups water or chicken stock
2 tablespoons salt
4 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
2 carrots, cut into ¼-inch cubes
2 parsnips, cut into ¼-inch cubes
4 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup all-purpose flour
Place the chicken and water or stock in a large pot with the salt. Weigh down the chicken under a few small plates to keep it submerged and simmer gently over a medium heat until the chicken pieces are cooked through, about 7-10 minutes for the breasts and 15-18 minutes for the legs and thighs. The meat should separate from the end of the leg bone when cooked, a thermometer will read 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh or breast and the juices of the chicken will run clear.
When the chicken is cooked, remove from the pot and leave until cool enough to handle, then remove the chicken skin and discard. Using your hands, shred all the meat and discard the bones. Set the meat aside. Reserve the broth.
Wipe out the pot, then add the butter and melt over medium heat. Add the leeks, carrots, parsnips and apples and cook slowly, stirring for 6 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the flour and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the reserved broth, then, stirring constantly, bring to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes, or until the broth thickens. Stir in the reserved chicken and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Supu ya kuku
The flavors in this soup are an unexpected treat. Traditionally, the soup features plantains. If you can’t find plantains, substitute bananas. Bananas have more residual sugar, bring a softer texture and perfume the broth for a tropical feel. The coconut adds a little sweetness and the curry is a wonderful addition of sharpness. There’s a certain earthiness and warmth to this soup that is surprising and different.
2 tablespoons rendered chicken fat or peanut oil
1 yellow onion, cut into ½-inch cubes
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon chili flakes
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces (1¼ cups) unsweetened shredded (desiccated) coconut
8 cups chicken stock
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast or tenders
1 tablespoon salt
4 roma or plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 ripe plantains, sliced into 1-inch rounds
Melt the chicken fat or oil over a medium-high heat in a large pot. Add the onion and garlic, then stir in the curry powder, chili flakes and pepper and cook for 3-4 minutes until the onion becomes tender and translucent. If the onion starts to brown, reduce the heat. Add the coconut and stir for 1 minute to toast.
Add the stock and chicken and bring to a very gentle simmer. Season the broth with the salt, then add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes, or just until the chicken is cooked through.
When the chicken is cooked, remove from the pot and leave to cool, then cut into bite-sized chunks. Stir the chicken into the soup with the plantain pieces and season with salt and pepper.
— Recipes excerpted with permission “The Chicken Soup Manifesto” by Jenn Louis, published by Hardie Grant Books September 2020.
“The Chicken Soup Manifesto”
By Jenn Louis
Hardie Grant Books. 240 pages. $29.99.
Who should buy this? Grouchy moms. Those in need of comfort. Anyone struggling with 2020.