If you have a cold or think you’re getting one, or you just want something soothing that will lift your spirits and fill you up, make chicken soup.
I’m not talking about chicken noodle soup. I’m talking about a Thai-style chicken soup rich with fresh ginger and other palate-awakening ingredients, such as garlic-flavoured oil and soy sauce.
Chicken soup is great when your body needs a boost because its broth hydrates you, the steam and an amino acid found in chicken called cysteine can help clear sinuses and the meat’s protein gives you strength.
The ginger in my soup provides a range of health benefits, with several sources suggesting it can help relieve nausea, reduce pain and inflammation and even improve brain function. It can also bolster one’s appetite, which is not surprising, given the wonderful flavour it adds to a dish.
My soup is designed to be a meal in a bowl, which is why I stocked it with a generous amount of jasmine rice. Jasmine rice is sold at most supermarkets and has an alluring flower-like scent.
The base for the soup is Thai-style chicken stock, which you’ll find a recipe for below. Chicken bones are simmered in water for two hours with such ingredients as lemongrass, onion, cilantro stems and white pepper, before being strained.
When making stock, don’t cover the pot. Steam needs to escape, allowing the stock to reduce and concentrate in flavour, which is what you want. If you cover the pot tightly, steam will hit the lid, drip back into the pot and cause your stock to be watery.
Before declaring your stock ready, ladle some into a small bowl, season it with a bit of salt, then taste it. If it has a rich taste, it’s ready. If not, let it simmer a while longer.
My Thai-style chicken soup yields four servings. If that’s too many, don’t worry — any leftovers, once cooled to room temperature, can be frozen and enjoyed another time.
Thai-style Chicken Soup with Rice and Ginger
This meal in a bowl features rich-tasting stock, aromatic jasmine rice, loads of ginger and a filling amount of sliced chicken.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: About 30 minutes
Makes: Four servings
1 cup white jasmine rice
1 1/2 cups cold water
2 Tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 inch long (about 1-inch wide) piece fresh ginger, peeled
5 cups Thai-style chicken stock (see recipe below and Eric’s options)
4 boneless skinless, chicken thighs (about 1 lb), trimmed of excess fat, then cut into thin slices
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp granulated sugar
• pinch or 2 ground white pepper
2 green onions, thinly sliced
• cilantro leaves, to taste
Place rice and water in a small pot (mine was 15 centimetres wide and 13 centimetres tall). Bring rice to a boil over high heat, then turn heat to its lowest setting. Cover and steam rice until tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer rice to a plate, cool to temperature, cover and refrigerate until needed (rice can be cooked a day or two before needed).
Place oil and garlic in a small skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. Cook garlic until light golden and aromatic, about one to two minutes (don’t burn it). Spoon this garlic-flavoured oil into a small bowl and set aside until needed.
Cut the ginger into very thin slices. Stack those slices in two or three piles, then cut each pile of sliced ginger into very thin strips. Put the strips of ginger in a small bowl and set aside until needed.
Place the stock, sliced chicken and rice in a medium to large pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. When simmering, mix in the ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and white pepper.
Return soup to a simmer and cook one minute, or until chicken is cooked through.
Divide the soup among four large soup bowls. Sprinkle each soup with sliced green onion and cilantro leaves, drizzle with some of the garlic-flavoured oil, then serve.
Eric’s options: For more brothy soup, use six cups of the stock, rather than five. If you don’t have time to make Thai-style chicken stock, you could replace it with store-bought chicken broth. The soup won’t be quite as flavourful, but it will still be good.
Thai-style Chicken Stock
Use this stock, flavoured with such ingredients as lemongrass, cilantro stems and white pepper, as a base for Thai-style soups, such as today’s chicken and rice soup.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: About two hours
Makes: About 9 to 10 cups
1 stalk lemongrass (see Note 1)
2 lbs. chicken neck and backs or other chicken bones (see Note 2)
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
6 medium to large garlic cloves, sliced
10 fresh cilantro stems
1/2 tsp white peppercorns, or pinch or two ground white pepper
12 cups cold water
Cut the lemongrass, widthwise, in half. Discard or compost the tough top half of the stalk. Cut the bottom half of the stalk, lengthwise, into four pieces. Cut these strip-like pieces of lemongrass, widthwise, into two-inch pieces.
Place the lemongrass and all other ingredients in a tall pot (mine was 20 centimetres wide and 18 centimetres tall).
Set pot over medium, medium-high heat and bring water to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Adjust the heat, as needed, to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer uncovered for two hours or until a flavourful stock is created.
Strain the stock into another pot. Let stock sit a few minutes, to allow the fat in it to rise to the surface. Unless you like the added richness it provides, skim off any melted chicken fat on the surface of the stock.
The stock is now ready to use. The leftover stock you don’t need for today’s soup recipe can be frozen.
Note 1: Lemongrass is sold in the produce section of many supermarkets and at Asian food stores.
Note 2: Chicken necks and backs are sold in the meat departments of some supermarkets and butcher shops. Before heading out to buy them, call to ask if they have them or any other chicken bones you can make stock with.
Eric’s options: You can make the stock a day or two before using it. Once it’s strained, cool it to room temperature, cover and »refrigerate. Unless you like the added richness chicken fat adds, remove any solidified fat on the top of stock before using it.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.