A few years ago we were invited to a dinner during Hanukkah at my friend Larisa’s house and she served the most exquisite chicken soup. The broth was pristine, the flavor was fantastic and the presentation was beautiful. It was so simple – just that practically crystal-clear broth with a single – what was it now? A dumpling? A matzo ball? And a narrow baby carrot. I knew she was good at chicken soup because she served it to her little daughter practically every day. This chicken soup though, it was a revelation. Something to aspire to, and indeed I’ve been thinking about chicken soup a lot since then. Well, this is not that soup, but it’s very good in its own right and I think my daughter even prefers it to Campbell’s which makes me very happy.
This soup is based on the chicken soup that’s served at Fiesta del Mar restaurant in Mountain View. Have you ever eaten there? Dwight and I have been going there ever since the Eat and Run restaurant moved out of the building and Fiesta del Mar moved in. The base of the soup they serve is simply a chicken broth with chicken and rice. They garnish it with chopped onion, tomato, avocado and cilantro and serve it with lemon and lime wedges and tortillas. It’s wonderful.
A couple of weeks ago, I was fighting a cold and I really wanted some of that soup, so I decided to try to make my own using a quick technique for broth that I learned from my mother-in-law, Darlene. What you do is add water and carrot, celery and onion to store-bought chicken broth and you cook your chicken in that. It tastes so much better than store-bought chicken broth alone and the store-bought broth gives the whole thing a needed kick start.
To make the soup, coarsely chop 2 carrots, 2-3 sticks of celery, and most of a white onion (save some for garnish). Saute those vegetables in a little olive oil in your soup pot for a couple of minutes. I have no idea if this is really useful, but I like to think it releases more flavor from the vegetables. Then add two bone-in, skin-on pieces of chicken breast to the pot with 32 ounces of store-bought chicken broth and about the same amount of water. You could also add bay leaf, peppercorns or things like that at this point, but I don’t bother. Bring the pot to boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes. Be sure to keep the chicken pieces covered with liquid. If you need to, add more water. Toward the end of your cooking time, skim the fat from the pot. When the 45 minutes have passed, remove the chicken pieces from the pot and set aside to cool a bit. Pour the soup through a strainer and put the strained soup back in the pot. Now you are ready for your rice.
I don’t like to have to cook rice separately, so I add about 3/4 cup uncooked rice to the pot and let it simmer on low until it tastes done which takes 15 to 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the pot, so the heat doesn’t get too high or else you might cook off more liquid than you want to. Of course, some of the liquid will be absorbed by the rice. This is where already cooked rice can come in handy or even minute-rice if you have it. While the rice is cooking, remove the skin and bone from your cooked chicken and shred it. Once your rice is cooked, skim the soup again, and then add the shredded chicken back to your soup pot. This is the way my daughter likes to eat the soup – no garnish, and that’s how she orders it at Fiesta del Mar too. Chop your remaining onion, some seeded tomato, avocado, cilantro, and whatever else you might fancy for those who do enjoy garnish.
And if you are a chicken soup with rice fan, by all means, be sure to include a copy of Maurice Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice in your home library. What a great little book – awesome illustrations and rhymes for each month of the year – all about chicken soup with rice.