my cure-all chicken soup

This soup was cobbled together from many places. Some of the soup tricks came from Julia Turshen’s chicken soup recipe (namely fishing out the breasts first and leaving the rest of the chicken in); the flavoring elements from the Elizabeth Street Cafe cookbook. And I learned to char aromatics from my friend, chef Soulayphet Schwader, of the excellent Khe-yo in Tribeca. If you cook the soup properly and give it the proper amount of time, it should solidify to a gelatinous block the following day; this is how you know you’re in soup heaven. A quick note on rice: certainly use whatever rice you prefer and have on hand, but I really like glutinous white rice here. It lends a chewy, comforting note.

One (4 lb/1.8 kg) chicken
1 large yellow onion, unpeeled and halved
1 (3-inch/3½ cm) piece ginger, peeled, halved lengthwise, and smashed
5 cloves
3 whole star anise
1 (4-inch/10 cm) cinnamon stick
1 (4-inch/10 cm) square kombu
Fresh cilantro sprigs, tied together, plus more for garnish
1 cup (195 g) glutinous white rice, or rice of your choice
Fish sauce
Mung beans sprouts, for serving
Asian basil leaves or regular basil leaves, for serving
Slivers of white onion, for serving
Sambal oelek, for serving
Sriracha, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving

Cut the chicken into 8 pieces: 2 breasts, 2 wings, 2 thighs, and 2 legs; reserve the backbone for another use (like making stock). Heat a clean dry pan over high heat (I prefer a cast iron) until smoky. Add the onion, and ginger, flat side-down for both, dry roast until blackened on one side, about 7 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the largest pot you have.

In a separate, small pan set over medium heat, toast the cloves, star anise, and cinnamon, until fragrant, about 4 minutes. Transfer the toasted spices to the pot with the onion and ginger.

Add the chicken pieces, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook, skimming off and discarding any foam that rises to the top, until the chicken breasts are firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.

Using tongs, remove the chicken breasts from the pot and set them aside in a bowl. Continue gently simmering the stock, stirring from time to time, and skimming any foam that rises to the top, until the vegetables look completely beyond saving and the chicken seems like it’s seen better days—a sign of flavorful broth that will propel your soup to greatness), 2 to 3 hours. The stock should a rich dark-golden color. If you find yourself wanting to add a bit more liquid to the stock, do so a little at a time—you don’t want to dilute the flavor, but I understand if you don’t want to lose too much liquid to evaporation.

While the stock is simmering, cool the chicken breasts until they can be handled by hand, then discard the skin, remove the meat from the bones (discard the bones), and shred the meat. Transfer the meat to a container with a lid and set aside. You can even refrigerate the meat, but just be sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.

Also, while the stock is simmering, make your rice according to the instructions on the package, or in a rice cooker. If you have a fancy Japanese rice cooker (they are totally worth the cost), it will keep your rice warm for you (for days!)

Ladle the stock through two fine-mesh sieves (this ensures a super clear stock and no need for cheese cloth!) into a clean pot or a large bowl. Rinse out your original pot and return the stock to the pot. Discard the contents of the sieve.

Bring the stock back to a boil and season to taste with fish sauce (I like an aggressively seasoned stock, so I season generously). Add the reserved chicken breast meat to the soup and let it warm up for 1 to 2 minutes.

Ladle the soup into bowls, add some rice to it, and garnish with cilantro, sprouts, basil, onion, sambal oelek, sriracha, and a squeeze of lime. Serve immediately.

serves 6 to 8

© 2024 Olga Massov