Monday, December 19, 2011

Thai Chicken Soup

I am on my first-ever paid winter break.  If you are feeling blood rush to your face in a fit of jealousy, take comfort in the fact that I am being punished for my brazen bragging with a terrible head cold.  Luckily, I have the time to take care of myself with good food, sleep, and daylong movie marathons.  Where I come from, chicken noodle soup is commonly known as “Jewish penicillin.”  The garlicky dish is said to have an anti-inflammatory effect.  In my case, I may require a course of actual penicillin, but I figure some chicken soup couldn’t hurt me.  The congestion has completely muted my sense of taste, so I decided to make it “Thai-style” to make it as flavorful as possible, and hoping that large quantities of ginger, chiles, and hot sauce would also provide some added health benefits.

Disclaimer: I doubt this soup can be considered authentic Thai food.  For one thing, I added about a cup of dry Italian white wine to the broth; I don’t think that is a common practice in Thai cooking.  I just happened to have it in the fridge, so it went in the pot.  I also happen to think fortifying soup with wine adds great flavor, but it is most definitely unauthentic and optional.  Nonetheless, I feel slightly justified in calling my soup “Thai” because I included the four tastes that give Thai food its distinctive flavor and balance: spicy (ginger and chiles), salty (fish sauce), sweet (sugar), and sour (fresh lime juice). 

To make this soup, I steeped canned chicken broth with garlic cloves, ginger, jalapeno, and fish sauce, while gently poaching chicken breasts in the simmering liquid.  You may want to eat around the garlic, etc. in the final product, or you may enjoy gnawing on a bit of ginger or garlic (maybe that’s just me).  I was a little disappointed by the spiciness that resulted from this process (or lack thereof), but a healthy dose of Sriracha quickly amended that problem.  I then removed the chicken to slice it up, and added carrots and scallions.  When the carrots were cooked through, I ladled the broth over rice noodles and chicken, and finished the bowl with limejuice and fresh cilantro. 

The soup was spicy enough to get through to my taste buds last night, but the flavor of it was so much more pronounced today.  And by pronounced, I mean heat, garlic, and ginger, ginger, ginger, tingling your tongue and throat, and the scent swirling around you. As is usually the case, this soup vastly matured and improved overnight. Today, I ate a huge mug of it without the noodles, and I preferred it noodle-free.  I want to make it again so I can taste the subtleties of the fish sauce and scallions, but overall this soup was a satisfying and restorative meal.   

Thai Chicken Noodle Soup (very loosely adapted from Jamie Oliver)

6 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
2 cups water
1 cup white wine (optional, or add an extra cup of water/stock)
5 garlic cloves, peeled
2-3 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 jalapeno, sliced in half, some ribs and seeds removed
3 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon Sriracha chili sauce (optional)
6 oz. rice stick noodles or to taste (this amount will give you generous portions for 4 bowls)
Fresh cilantro leaves
Lime wedges
Soy sauce or extra fish sauce to taste

-       In a large soup pot, add the broth, water, and wine (if using).  Turn the heat onto medium, and add the garlic cloves, ginger, jalapeno, and 2 tablespoons of fish sauce.  Once the mixture is simmering, add the chicken breasts.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally for 20-25 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
-       Remove the chicken from the pot, and add the carrots, scallions, a tablespoon of fish sauce, sugar, and ½ teaspoon of Sriracha.
-       While carrots are cooking, thinly slice the chicken and soak rice noodles in hot water according to package directions.
-       When the broth is ready, place a portion of noodles and chicken in a bowl and add broth.  Top with a squeeze of lime and fresh cilantro leaves.  You may need a spoon and a fork for the noodles.  Add extra fish sauce or soy sauce, if desired.

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