It’s what I immediately turn to when I feel a cold coming on or just the mean reds. Chicken soup is dead easy to make – so dead easy that it seems a bit silly to even include it in a recipe blog. Then again, it’s also pretty easy to screw up as well, as a trip to a stolovaya or even some of the better restaurants around town can prove. I’m always baffled by this: chicken soup in Russia tends to be either delicate vermicelli in an overly salty broth or, frankly, the worst cuts of the chicken, grizzle and a half-hearted carrot or two floating in a grey broth that looks and tastes of dishwater.
The broth thing seems to me to be the number one reason why everyone goes without, or puts up with these sub-standard versions of this ultimate comfort food. But don’t let that stop you, If you’ve never made chicken stock or are afraid to try, check out this step-by-step recipe in the Moscovore’s Basics.
While there are endless variations on chicken noodle soup, there are also four hard and fast rules you absolutely must follow to produce a winner. These are:
- Always use egg noodles. In Moscow, you find these with the other kind of pasta, but have the Italian word “ouvo” on the package. You can use any shape you like, but I think the tubular penne group or the wider papperdelle flat noodles work the best.
- Poach the chicken separately from the soup and then add it at the very end – don’t stew it for a long time and above all, don’t add it in raw and expect it to be the right texture. To poach chicken breasts, bring 4 liters of water to a simmer, add a generous handful of salt, half a lemon, some thyme and a few cloves. Immerse the chicken, reduce heat and let it cook for about 20 minutes. Strain the breasts, allow to cool, then strip the chicken of its skin and from the bone carcass. If you are making stock, add these and the water to the stockpot. This is The Moscovore version of a virtuous cycle.
- Be sure to include a generous handful of fresh herbs such as thyme and parsley at the end.
- Add a generous squeeze of lemon juice just before serving.
This soup freezes very well so, as ever if you are going to the trouble of making some, do make a lot. You never know when a container of this stuff could be just what you need. If you’ve got a cold, or feel like one is coming on (when your eyelashes hurt and the back of your throat feels like you are on fire) heat up some chicken soup, then peel an entire head of garlic (yes, the entire head) and then slice each clove into thin strips. Float the garlic on top of the soup and let it infuse for about five minutes. Add a generous dash of Tabasco or hot sauce and then eat the whole thing. You’ll feel 400% better in the morning, though you may want to sleep alone…
- Visit the Salt and Pickle section of the market for pickled garlic, pickled scallions and other preserves. Add these to the soup to introduce a tangy, sour element that is particularly satisfying on a cold winter day.
- Substitute rice, barley, orzo or just more vegetables for the pasta.
- For an Italian twist, add slightly wilted spinach and beaten egg, and top the soup with freshly-grated parmesan!
Note: if you are making this in a slow cooker, sweat the leeks in the stoneware or a skillet, then add the diced vegetables and broth and set your cooker for 3 hours on High. Add the noodles and let simmer on Low for 4-5 hours. Steps 3-4 as above.
Serve, and enjoy!