Essentially, this is a chicken poached gently in water with added bits and bobs. The chicken and its meaty juices are the base upon which you can build all sorts of exciting concoctions. If you want a real savoury hit then add an onion, celery, parsley, carrot, tomato, peppercorns and a bay lef or two, just like a stock. You’ll end up with a lovely meaty clear soup.
But tonight, I wanted something different, more cleansing than heavily flavoured. I’ve been working hard these last couple of days and i needed something as a pick-me-up. A soup with a bit of zing, a bit of excitement, but one that also left me with the same relaxed feeling you get after a particularly long walk in the crisp air. So I put in lemongrass, lime and ginger for a bit of zing, chillis added some heat and coriander gave it a really fresh feel. Noodles and some of the poached chicken breast gave it body and made it a proper meal. The broth itself is not too heavy, certainly not as much as a flavourful as hearty stock, but it has a lovely light meaty taste, accentuated but not overwhelmed by the citrus, herb and chili notes.
For two or three
The beauty of this recipe is that it is very adaptable. And it uses my favourite method of measurement – a bit of this, a handfull of that. The amounts are totally up to you. You know how hot or herby you want your soup. Basil would be a great addition, especially if you can find yourself some of the Thai variety. You could also add greens, choi sum, pak choi, cabbage, sprout tops, spinach, morning glory – anything green that cooks well in water. The possibilities are endless. I went for a really simple version, and it hit the spot perfectly.
1 free range chicken
3 stalks of lemongrass
A large lump of ginger – cleaned and quatered, but not peeled
A bunch of coriander leaves
A couple of chillies
Half a lime
Dark rice vinegar (or balsamic)
Noodles – enough for two/three
Peel the outer layers from the lemongrass, cut each stalk into two and crush it a little by bashing it with the handle of your knife. Separate the coriander leaves from the stalks. Put the chicken in a large pot and tuck the lemongrass, coriander stalks and ginger around it. Cover with water and bring to a simmer, leave on the lowest heat for a couple of hours. You don’t want it boiling, just very, very gently bubbling. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface.
After the two hours are up and your kitchen is full of a gentle chickeny scent, remove the bird from the pot and fish out the lemongrass, ginger, stalks and any bits of chicken that have dropped off. Glug in some fish sauce and add a teaspoon or two of the dark sweet-sharp vinegar. Slip in the noodles – you can use rice or egg varieties here, they both work really well, slice the chilli and scatter over. If you are using bird’s eye (mouse shit) peppers, then don’t add them yet, you’ll end with something a little too explosive. I used long red chillies which impart a medium background heat that leaves your lips tingling and your throat warmed. This is the point to add any veg if you’re using it. Boil for two minutes and remove from the heat.
Divide the noodles between two or three bowls, scatter the coriander leaves over the top, shred some chicken and put that in too (and bird’s eye peppers if your using them) and squeeze over the lime. Pour over the piping hot broth and eat. If you don’t want your soup too cleansingly hot, remove the chili slices before eating. The end result should leave you feeling warm, cleansed and replete all at once.