Sunday, 31 January 2016

Chicken, Barley and Vegetable Soup

Recently, after spending a few weeks in the beautiful London, I returned with a souvenir for myself; a nasty cold. Or maybe it was the flu. I couldn't tell but either way it wasn't an ideal situation to have it paired with my jet lag. I spent a lot of time in my bed for the next few days questioning my life: how many hours can one actually sleep? will this headache ever leave? has my nose turned into a tap? are there enough tissues for this tap? and why hasn't anyone made me soup yet?!

As I've got older my demands for soup have become pickier.  Previously, I was happy for someone to boil a few vegetables together until they get as mushy as they can be, throw in a few herbs and spices and puree into a soup that resembles baby food. Now, I ask for more out of my soup, I want my soup to be more than just baby food. I want my soup to be filling, to have texture and flavour, to be good for my soul and be the food form of a warm hug, and most of all, I want to look forward to my soup, and not just when I'm sick. Don't get me wrong, in my state of sickness mixed with jet lag I would have taken the boiled veg and probably asked for more, because if I'm sick and someone has made me something, I will love it and love them. But it got me thinking of having a my favourite chicken soup, which fits all the requirements I look for in a soup, was developed over time and is as flexible as can be; but I wanted to make it better. I am never organised enough to have my own stock ready in the freezer to be used, usually using stock cubes, and wanted to use real homemade flavourful stock, and use the chicken from that stock for my soup. Only problem was I didn't want to be waiting for 6-12 hours for the stock to be ready. (did i mention impatience alongside my lack of organisation?)

So I got to looking at different recipes, and managed to cut the stock time to 2 hours, for when I need that quick soup fix with the goodness of the stock. I use ingredients that I generally have in the fridge, and I bet you do too. But should you not, don't fret because this is the most flexible soup. If you're organised and prepared enough to have your own stash of stock in the freezer, use that, or even stock cubes when you're really rushed. Have leftover chicken from your roast? Great! use that. Want to make it vegetarian? Skip the chicken and swap the chicken stock for vegetable stock. Don't have some of the vegetables on hand? That's fine, use whatever you have. I think parsnips would work well here. Potatoes too. I love barley for the chew it gives, but want to make it gluten free? Substitute it for some quinoa, rice or even gluten free pasta, adjusting timings for the substitutions. And when you're sick, send this recipe to your other half, so that they will have no excuse to not make it for you - I know I will. No longer will I have to question my sick self "why hasn't anyone made me soup?!". Well, I hope so at least.

Chicken, Barley and Vegetable Soup

(serves 4 as a filling meal, or more served in smaller portions as a starter)

For the stock
1 kg chicken pieces
2.5 litres water
1 onion, peeled and cut into quarters
1 carrot, scrubbed and roughly sliced into 2 inch pieces
1 celery, roughly sliced into 2 inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
around 5 whole black peppercorns
half a lemon
a small bunch of parsley

For the soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
2 celery sticks, chopped into small pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
100 grams pearled barley
1.5 litres of chicken stock (if making stock, using the stock above)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
cooked shredded chicken (if making the stock, using the chicken from that. If not, I would guess around 500 grams of cooked shredded chicken)
a handful of chopped parsley
lemon slices, to serve

To make the stock: Place a large saucepan on medium high heat. Once hot, put the chicken pieces in a single layer and brown for around 5 minutes, without moving them, then flip them over and brown the other side (if you can't fit all the pieces in one layer, then brown them in batches). It's ok if bits of chicken get stuck to the pan, they won't be going anywhere. Once brown, move the chicken pieces onto a plate. Pour out the chicken fat from the saucepan and return to the heat. Add some of the water, and scrape the brown bits until no longer stuck to the bottom of the pan and mixed into the water. Return the chicken back to the pan, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns and parsley. Add the rest of the water so that the chicken in completely covered. If not, add more water. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, and throw the squeezed half in too. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce heat to a very low simmer, uncovered. Skim any fat and scum from the surface using a ladle or large spoon.

After 45 minutes, the chicken should be cooked (if not, leave and check again in 15 minutes). Remove the chicken from the stock and leave on a plate until it is cool enough to handle. Using your hands (or a fork, whatever you prefer), discard the skin and shred the cooked chicken and leave on the side to use later. Return the bones back to the stock and continue to simmer for another hour, uncovered.

Remove the bones and large pieces of vegetables and discard. This will make it easier to strain the stock. Using a large sieve with a dampened cheesecloth, or dampened paper towel, strain the stock into a large bowl, if using immediately, or a container if using later. As the stock cools you may want to skim off  the fat from the surface, which I do, or leave it if that's what you prefer. Now your stock is ready to be used!

To make the soup: In the same saucepan (if you don't like cleaning dishes, in a new saucepan if you do) heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Once hot, add the onion and gently soften for 5-8 minutes. Then add the chopped carrots and celery and continue to soften for another 8-10 minutes. Throw in the garlic and barley and mix for a minute or two. Add the stock (If you have more than you need from the stock above, save it for another time. If not, add more water until you have 1.5 litres), soy sauce and season generously with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for around 30 minutes, covered. After 30 minutes the barley should be nearly tender. Throw in the shredded chicken and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes until the barley is tender and the chicken is warmed through. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve into bowls, topped with chopped parsley and a slice of lemon to squeeze over.

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