If self-care had a physical form, it would be in the shape of chicken soup. You might be thinking that you self-cared yourself enough this Christmas – eating all that cheese would be anyone’s ideal form of self-care (besides anyone with lactose intolerance that is), all smug and warm like dipping into a bath of baked Camembert. But when I say self-care, it’s not just the act of soothing yourself, as yes, we can all do that with cheese, but I believe it’s about giving ourselves both what we want and need in one and that is, most of the time, chicken soup.
This is how we should all start the year. New Year’s Day would be renamed Chicken Soup Day – soothe the soul and eat brothy soup with shredded chicken. But, no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, that’s not always how it goes, is it?
If there’s anything that can be said for me and my friend Suzie, it’s that we have good intentions. Ignoring that old proverb about the path to hell and paving, a lot can be said about intending to be good, and I will stand on my soapbox and declare we all need to forgive ourselves once in a while if those good intentions don’t come to fruition. Take New Year’s Day. There was a lot of chat on WhatsApp about a pub lunch and hey what about a nice walk in Regent’s Park first, and Tony will be there too, how nice and bright and companionable, look at us at 30 going out for walks and Yorkshire puddings on New Year’s Day.
Alas, what did we really expect to happen?
Didn’t we plan a night of dancing to an Abba-tribute act? Didn’t we foresee the bottles of prosecco, the shot of Baileys, the smell of clove cigarettes from a woman in the smoking area and her advice to buy in East London? Didn’t we anticipate the men in silk shirts with the handlebar moustaches at the female-heavy Abba night, followed by the epic journey across London, hobbling home in toe-pinching shoes, then sleep finally arriving at around 7am? Didn’t we expect to see a bottle of brandy on the kitchen table when we groggily rose the next day, New Year’s Day in fact, the day of walks and roasts, and wonder when that happened?
Suffice to say, the New Year’s Day intentions did not happen. Neither did chicken soup incidentally, instead McDonald’s happened. Their mozzarella bites are wonderful, and here’s to cheese self-care again.
Suzie and I did manage to see Tony and I’m very proud of us for that, but maybe next year we should set the more realistic goal of not leaving the flat and simply eating a bowl of warm, cosy chicken soup (although Suzie’s a vegetarian so maybe miso soup for Suze, chicken soup for me) with it’s all important hit of salty goodness to rouse us from the fug of the last night of the previous year.
Soothing chicken soup
This particular chicken soup made an appearance a couple of weeks after New Year’s Day. It might as well have been New Year’s Day because I was still wearing pyjamas at 1pm, my hair needed a good wash, and I was gently starving through a self-inflicted state of misery (not a hangover, rather this was thanks to my miserable anti-inflammatory diet – they say the first week is the hardest and they weren’t wrong. I’ve been craving brownies all day).
This was both the best and worst day for me to be eating self-care chicken soup – little did I know in my light-headed hunger that it would take at least an hour and a half for the soup to be served so it was cooked in a kind of desperate haze, Gaylord helping me to cut off the chicken’s legs and wings as his stupid cooking scissors are for left-handed people only, then bunging this limbless meaty carcass into the stock to be simmered into submission. Evidently I needed soothing.
The broth is truly excellent, I’ll tell you that now, as its base is shallot, fresh ginger and garlic – three of the best ingredients – which is simmered in a stock of water, soy sauce, honey, rice wine vinegar, and fish sauce. It is salty and sweet and fragrant, and all it needed was a couple of halved carrots for earthy depth. Chicken submerged, the lid went on and heat reduced to a mere bubble breaking the surface, so I ate a snack and showered. The soothing had already started.
After an hour, I fished out the chicken to find the meat practically fell off the bone – I started out quite dignified with a knife and fork, yet soon they were slowing me down and I was tearing at soft meaty chunks of chicken breast, sucking my fingers and doing a little dance when my fingers burned.
The carrot was also removed and sliced, and then I set about adding rice and pak choi to be cooked in that delicious broth, now full of chicken juice which sparkled on the surface. Finally, the rice almost cooked, the last ingredient – a couple of spoonfuls of miso because soothing requires umami and salt – was stirred in. The chicken and carrot returned to the pot, it was all scooped into bowls, garnished with sesame seeds and a lovely soft jammy egg.
We ate this soothing miso chicken soup in front of the TV, and the whole meal filled me with as much comfort as that New Year’s Day McDonald’s, no, much much more because not only did I feel cleansed from the inside out rather than mildly guilty, but I’d eaten a bowl of warm self-care. It felt good.
Chicken soup with miso and rice
- 1 shallot
- 2 cm fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1100 ml water
- 50 ml soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- ½ tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tsp honey
- 2 carrots
- 1 1.3-1.4 kg free-range chicken legs and wings removed
- 1 pak choi
- 40 g basmati rice
- 2 tbsp white miso and equal parts water
- Softly cooked boiled eggs, sesame seeds, sliced spring onion and coriander to serve
- First, finely dice the shallot. Warm the sesame oil in a roomy stockpot or saucepan – one that could fit a wingless, legless chicken – over medium heat. Grate in the ginger and the garlic and add the diced shallot. Fry for a minute then remove from the heat as you make the broth.
- In a large jug, combine the water, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce and honey. Pour it all into the stock pot and stir it all together to ensure there is no garlic or ginger stuck to the bottom. Return the pan to the heat.
- Wash and peel the carrots then chop them in half so they become big chunks. Add them to the stock. Taste the stock and adjust seasoning as you wish.
- Now gently lower the chicken into the stock, make sure the liquid fills the cavity otherwise it will float. Turn the heat up to high and bring the stock to the boil. Once it is bubbling, reduce the heat to low again and put the lid on. Leave it to simmer for 1 hour.
- While waiting, you can prepare the soft boiled eggs for the garnish. Slice the pak choi in half to be poached in the broth later. Weigh the rice. Prepare your garnishes. Wash up! Keep checking on the soup to make sure it is still simmering very gently.
- When the hour is up, gently remove the chicken with some tongs. Set it and the carrot chunks on a chopping board, and using a knife and fork – try to avoid burning your fingers – slice off some chicken. If it falls off the bone, it is ready.
- Bring the broth to the boil and add the rice which will cook for 10 minutes. Shred the chicken and slice the carrot.
- After the rice has cooked for 5 minutes, add the pak choi to the stock and cook for another 5 minutes. Once the rooty base is soft, remove them from the saucepan.
- Dilute the miso with equal parts cold water. Stir it all together in a ramekin then pour it into the soup.
- Return the chicken and carrot to the soup and stir everything together. Remove the pan from the heat and serve the soup in bowls, scooping out rice and shredded chicken into each bowl. Top with the pak choi halves, half a soft boiled egg, sesame seeds, sliced spring onion and coriander.
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