CHICKEN SOUP - GOOD FOR THE SOUL
“In my village, when a poor man eats a chicken, we know that one of them is sick”,
Jewish, Italian, Chinese proverb.
Surely, chicken broth, in all its manifestations, is the world’s most comforting food. Why is this so, do you think?
Photo credit: Chinese Egg Drop Soup, Serious Eats.
In my family, any calamity – from a failed exam paper to news of a sudden death, and everything in between – was soothed, if not solved, by “brodo”. This means that there is always a frozen chicken carcass in the freezer in case the phone rings with dark news.
The finer principles of science were often lost on my dear mother; it made perfect sense to her that the smaller the bird, the more concentrated the nutrition. It was nothing for her to catch a bus into the Central Market to buy a pigeon or a handful of quails to make her delicious brodo if one of her precious grandchildren had a fever, a broken heart, or a dilemma that hugs and sage advice could not solve.
Recently, I made a saucepanful of the clearest chicken broth for a friend in the wars. The colour was a rich, polished gold, tiny speckles of fat danced on the surface. In a separate container, I took the shredded chicken meat and I included a packet of pastina – the smallest of pasta shapes for her to boil and add, if she felt up to it.
When I arrived, the sitting room was a mass of perfumed flowers. I was shocked that it had not even occurred to me that a bunch of peonies could help in this situation. “What’s wrong with me?” I thought.
I untied the tea towel, lifted the lid of the saucepan to reveal the medicinal potion – a pungent aroma filled the air, the ‘patient’ swooned with anticipation. I was vindicated.
How to Make Brodo di Gallina
Makes 2 lt
1 chicken carcass
1 each onion, carrot and celery stalk, roughly chopped
1- 2 garlic cloves
12 stems parsley
2-3 bay leaves
Place the carcass in a medium heavy saucepan, cover with 2-3 litres cold water. Gently bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. I find it easier to skim off any impurities at this stage without the vegetables bobbing around and getting in the way of my skimming spoon.
When cooked bits of protein are no longer coming to the surface of your broth, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and stalks. Simmer, without ever allowing to boil for 1.5 hours to 2 hours maximum. Do not cover and do not add salt.
Strain well, and discard the bones and vegetables, but first take off any meat from the bones. Skim off excess fat from the surface, but leave a little for flavour and goodness. When ready to serve, taste for seasoning and adjust.
If you want a more concentrated flavour, reduce the broth by volume after straining, do not simmer it any longer than 1.5 to 2 hours as this starts to break down the bones and implants a metallic flavour to the broth as well as making it cloudy. Bone broth? Take a deep breath and wait: the fad will pass and we will go back to making proper stock again.
If you want a deeper colour, roast the bones and vegetables to golden brown and then continue with the cold water.
You now have “brodo”, Jewish penicillin, restorative goodness. When I am Minister for Health, I will list it on the PBS, along with digestivi. (see an earlier post, Bitter Sweet)
Add cooked pasta, blanched vegetables, the shredded chicken meat from the carcass, tiny meatballs, gnocchi or matzo balls. This below was my delicious brunch on a crisp, early autumn morning when I was feeling a bit 'flat'. All good now.
Photo Credit: Chicken Broth with Matzo Balls. Flying Fig Deli, Jeffcott Street, North Adelaide.
In the Italian tradition, pastina, tiny tortellini made especially for soup, or other small pasta is boiled separately and added to the brodo at the last minute. Don't cook the pasta in the broth, it makes your soup cloudy.
In a Chinese restaurant, Paul Simon, was intrigued with a menu item – Mother and Child Reunion. It was chicken broth with eggs. That line stayed with him, of course.
Italians too, beat eggs, parmesan and a little chopped parsley into boiling broth. As it cooks, it looks like shreds of clothing tossed about in the wind – stracciatella they call it. I think the Chinese have the naming rights on this one.
Photo credit: Stracciatella on pininterest, photographer not acknowledged.
Recently for SALife, I took the notion one step further and enriched the chicken broth with fresh vegetables and herbs and then separately cooked some ricotta and spinach gnocchi. A great success.
So, make a rich chicken broth as above, then just before serving, add:
8 mushrooms caps, sliced
1 cup peas, podded
1 cup broad beans, podded and peeled
leaves of basil, shredded
freshly grated parmesan
Meanwhile, make the gnocchi below:
Gnocchi with Ricotta and Spinach (makes 35 pieces)
500 g low fat ricotta, well drained (it is important to use low fat ricotta as it is drier than regular)
1 cup cooked spinach (about 1 small bunch), squeezed very tightly to remove all liquid then sliced very finely
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Mix the ricotta with the finely chopped spinach in a large bowl. Add the 1/2 cup parmesan, 1/2 cup flour, egg and seasoning and mix thoroughly with a fork. Take a small amount of mixture, about the size of a walnut and roll into uniform shapes. Roll the balls in the extra flour, dusting off any excess. Meanwhile, bring to the boil about 5 litres of salted water. When all the mixture has been shaped (you will get around 35 pieces) drop them in batches of 8 into the water. When the gnocchi rise to the surface skim them off and put them onto a greased oven tray. Cover tightly with plastic until ready to serve, then heat them gently in the broth. Serve with extra parmesan.
And there it is - alla vostra salute. To your good health.