I hope nobody you know is sick right now. I hope it’s, at worst, a common cold, common boredom bred by self-quarantine, or a stubbed toe because you tried some ridiculous workout video you found online. Or, if you’re me, last week, after yet another thing fell out of my chaotic freezer onto my foot (I don’t even get to blame “fitness”) I decided to, what’s that word, it feels so unnatural totype… organize? Right, that. I decided to sift through the freezer and see what was taking up so much space and I realized that Deb Of A Few Months (let’s be honest: probably longer) Ago did a very cool thing and made an excess of chicken stock and froze it in one-quart bags which meant that “wohoo! dinner is sorted!”
I’ve published a few chicken noodle soups recipes to date. I’ve got a quite rushed one and a leisurely one for when you want absolute perfection; there’s a grandma-style cozy on in Smitten Kitchen Every Day, my second cookbook, but one thing I’ve not yet covered is the simplest: a chicken soup you make with already-made stock.*
Once you have it, things are incredibly easy: quick-cooking but never dry chicken thighs, any rice you have around, and this one leans heavily on leeks, as well. I adore leeks because I love onions and I love green vegetables and they’re halfway between, which means that they do double duty. Here, just a little garlic, sometimes a carrot stick or rib of celery (whatever I have to use up), and a couple big leeks perfume an entire pot of chicken broth that we simmer boneless, skinless chicken thighs in. Pull them out, cook the rice, shred the chicken, add it back and I mean, that’s it, You’re done. You just made soup. You’re pretty amazing, not that I have ever doubted it.
Three absolutely key things, however, convert this from “uh, you just boiled chicken, leeks, and rice together” into something more dynamic. 1. Salt and pepper (listen to Oprah, guys) — when you’re trying to get simple ingredients to wake up, it matters. Season each addition, each layer of the soup, well and you’ll build a pot with really robust flavor. 2. A finishing trifecta of an herb or herbs of your choice (I show parsley but also like chives and dill, or all three), some hot pepper flakes, lemon zest, and if you wish, juice too. I also love it with a nice dollop of harissa. 3. Considering this a bit of a springboard recipe, with built-in flexibility. If you’re thinkingthat “a chicken soup without [any ingredient you’re shocked not to see here] just isn’t chicken soup” don’t skip it. It needs to taste like rustic coziness to you above all — I hope it does the trick.
* Let’s talk about chicken stock: I find store bought chicken stock very uneven; some of it is so excessively chicken-y but not in a way that tastes natural; many are tinny-tasting too. They’re find, to me, in blended soups or soups with a lot of ingredients (although bouillon paste has always been my favorite, for both space and taste considerations) but I think the broth in chicken noodle soup should taste very real because there’s almost nothing hiding the taste and the only way to do that is to start by making your own.
I, of course, have a recipe for that. But even if you don’t have, say, 3 pounds of chicken wings lying around, I can promise you that if you simmer a chicken carcass from leftover rotisserie with chopped onion, garlic, a bay leaf, a carrot, celery, peppercorns — whatever you’ve got — for 45 minutes and strain it, you’ll need up with something far more delicious than you can get in a box. And you’ll have cleaned out the fridge.
Six months ago: Stuffed Eggplant Parmesan
One year ago: Extra-Flaky Pie Crust
Two year ago: Luxe Butterscotch Pudding
Three years ago: Butterscotch Pie
Four years ago: Everyday Meatballs and Roasted Yams and Chickpeas with Yogurt
Five years ago: The ‘I Want Chocolate Cake’ Cake and Cornmeal-Fried Pork Chops with Goat Cheese Smashed Potatoes
Six years ago: Kale and Quinoa Salad with Ricotta Salata
Seven years ago: French Onion Tart
Eight years ago: Multigrain Apple Crisps
Nine years ago: Pina Colada Cake and Whole Wheat Goldfish Crackers
Ten years ago: Monkey Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze and Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Tart
Eleven years ago: Devil’s Chicken Thighs with Braised Leeks and Red Kidney Bean Curry
Twelve years ago: Greens, Orzo and Meatball Soup and Big Crumb Coffee Cake
Thirteen years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Pecan Loaf
Chicken, Leek, and Rice Soup
Use any kind of rice you have, but adjust the cooking time as directed on the package for stovetop cooking.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter
- 2 large or 3 medium leeks, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 celery rib, thinly sliced
- 1 carrot stick, thinly sliced (optional)
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 4 cups chicken stock or broth, preferably homemade
- 2 cups water
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1/2 cup long-grain white rice (I used jasmine)
- Big handful chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives, and dill are favorites here)
- Lemon zest and juice
- Red pepper flakes (I’m using Aleppo, which is milder) or harissa
Heat olive oil or butter over medium-high heat in a 4- to 5-quart pot. Add leeks, celery, and carrot (if using), salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, until leeks have softened a bit, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Add broth, water, and chicken plus salt (I use 2 to 3 teaspoons of additional kosher salt for barely-salted stock) and many grinds of black pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover, simmering for 15 minutes, until chicken is very tender and cooked through. Remove chicken with tongs and set on a cutting board. Add rice and return the heat to a low simmer, cover with lid, and cook for 15 minutes, until rice is tender. Use two forks to shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and return to the soup to rewarm. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Ladle soup into bowls and finish with some herbs, lemon zest, red pepper flakes (or harissa), and serve with lemon wedges on the side.
Note: Rice continues to expand in soup so the longer you have the soup sitting, the more porridge-y it will seem.
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