Improv Chicken Noodle

Today, I had to take a personal day. Some people may call is playing hookie from class or taking a sick day, but I wasn’t sick. Yeah, I was tired, bordering on the exhausted, and yeah, I took a 2 hour nap within an hour of waking up, but if I had really been the strong warrior who made it through 3 years of law school and a summer of studying for the Virginia Bar Exam–not to mention taking it after a day of spending my time next to the toilet–I would have been able to muster up the strength to make it to class. But I just couldn’t do it. Not today.

I had recently read an article in Best Food Writing of 2008 about making a chicken for two with the flu, and I knew what I wanted to do. Rather than sending Jay out for ingredients, I would scour the kitchen for whatever we had and push it all in a pot. I knew we had some baby carrots, baby spinach, and some kind of noodles purchased at the oriental food store back in Little Rock, and frozen chicken breasts, so I knew I had the essential ingredients. Everything else would be sort of an improv.

I loosely based my soup on a few recipes I found on epicurious.com, one of them an old-school type recipe, the other more of a chinese inspired type. Rather than giving a formal recipe here, I’m just going to outline my steps as best as I can remember.

You might be skeptical. You might be thinking, there’s no way this can be good, some overly-tired girl’s improvisation of a classic. You might especially think this when you read some of the ingredients I used (i.e. turkey broth concentrate). Nevertheless, trust me, the flavors in this soup were deep, complex, and really friggin good. I greedly slurped up two bowls of it, not caring that the temparture of the soup was burning the inside of my mouth the day before an extravegant birthday dinner. At one point I looked at my husband, noodles hanging off of my chin and sauce all over my shirt and face. We both smiled. This was really good.

First I cut the chicken into small bite-size chunks and salted and peppered them. At the bottom of my pot that I cook spaghetti in, I poured a little olive oil and heated it over a high flame. When I could start to smell the olive oil and there was a nice sheen. Then I browned the chicken a few minutes on each side, using a large slotted spoon (NOT THONGS as I learned from Anthony Bourdain) to flip and then remove the chicken.

For stock (which we didn’t have), I poured 16 cups of water into the pot I cooked the chicken in. (After the first 4 cups, I used a wooden spatula to scrape off all of the chicken bits.) We had some turkey stock concentrate left over from Thanksgiving, and I poured the remaining 8  small bags into the pot, which I followed by 2 cubes of chicken boullion.

After bringing the stock mixture up to a boil, I added the chicken back into the pot along with a couple of cups of diced baby carrots (really just cut into small pieces) and about 4 or 5 cloves of diced and sliced garlic. Remembering that we had some frozen edemame in the freezer, I threw in a couple of handfulls of that as well, and then added a turkish bayleaf.

I let all of this simmer for about 15 minutes maybe while I trimmed the stems off of baby spinach and sliced a small package of button mushrooms. Rather than just dumping the mushrooms into the soup, I melted two tablespoons of butter in a medium sized pan, then sauteed the mushrooms for about 5 minutes. I didn’t have any lemon juice like the old school recipe called for, so I poured a couple of teaspoons of apple cider vinegar into the pan with the mushrooms. After a quick stir, the mushrooms went into the soup pot.

I followed up the mushrooms with most of the package of some clear, thin rice noodles. I covered the pot and let the noodles soften for about 8 minutes. Then I stirred in the spinach, maybe about 4 cups, and covered the pot again for about 3 minutes. After everything had simmered together, I added a generous amount of salt and pepper, a few shakes of of red pepper flakes, and a good squirt of hot pepper sauce.

The heat from the red pepper flakes and sauce was unexpected and initially somewhat abrasive, especially with the hot temperature of the broth itself, but after more and more spoonfulls, the heat was comforting and welcoming. If you don’t like spicy food, I would leave out the chili sauce.

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