No, this isn't a holiday-themed post. But I'm choosing to use that familiar expression as a metaphor for...soup. Yes, that's right, soup. Because in the same way that a good gift continues to bring happiness long after it is given, a good pot of soup continues to nourish for days or even weeks after it is cooked. Sometime last week I decided I wanted to make soup. It was cold, and I wanted to be warmed, and I wanted to have a big pot of something tasty waiting in my fridge for me to partake of whenever I wanted. Also, I had a frozen chicken carcass lying around, and it was high time to convert it into some homemade broth.
So that's where I started. Making chicken broth is easy and you can basically do it however you want to, adding whatever seasonings or aromatics that you happen to have on hand. What I did was place the frozen chicken carcass in the biggest, tallest pot that I own, filled it almost to the top with about 10 cups of cold water, added half an onion, a bunch of fresh parsley, and a small handful of black peppercorns. I covered the pot and turned on the heat, and when the water came to a boil I uncovered the pot, turned it down to a simmer, and left it alone for about 3 hours, or until the broth had reduced to about 8 cups of liquid. At that point I turned the heat off, skimmed the top of the broth of any foam or excess fat, then seasoned it with a good amount of salt and a little bit of black pepper. Then I reserved the 6 cups I needed for my soup and transferred the rest to containers to let it cool.
Then I did something I don't often do--I followed a recipe. Doing so was, in fact, kind of counterintuitive, because making soup is so simple that you can usually just wing it. But I felt like making a bright, flavorful soup, not your run-of-the-mill chicken noodle variety. So I found a recipe at epicurious.com for Thai Chicken-Coconut Soup, made of a base of chicken broth and coconut milk and featuring lively additions such as lime juice and zest, chilies, cilantro and fish sauce. The soup turned out just as I wanted it to: spicy, complex-tasting, and filling. And the pot lasted me about six or seven meals--I just ate it continually for a few days in a row, never tiring of its flavors, which intensified as it sat in the fridge. The best part? There's still one serving left, sitting in my freezer waiting for a day when, lazy and hungry, I'll still be able to enjoy a complete meal in about 5 minutes. That's a lot of payoff for not a lot of work.
Thai Chicken-Coconut Soup
Makes 6-8 servings
4 oz. cellophane noodles
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1–2 red Thai (or jalapeño) peppers, seeded and finely chopped (plus slices for garnish)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon (or lime) juice
4 tablespoons Thai fish sauce, divided
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, sliced (3 cups)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 5 ounces each), cut into 2 1/2-inch-long by 1/4-inch-wide strips
1 cup light coconut milk
2 cups baby spinach
2 tablespoon chopped cilantro (plus sprigs for garnish)
Place noodles in a bowl; add enough warm water to cover and let sit until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain. Combine broth, pepper, garlic, ginger, lemon zest, lime zest, lemon juice and 3 tablespoon fish sauce in a medium saucepan. Season with salt. Bring to a simmer, add noodles and cook 3 minutes more. Using tongs, transfer noodles to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm. Add mushrooms to broth; season with salt, if desired; simmer 3 minutes more. Add chicken and coconut milk and simmer, stirring, until chicken is just cooked, about 3 minutes. Stir in spinach until it begins to wilt, about 1 minute. Add chopped cilantro and season with remaining 1 tablespoon fish sauce. Using tongs, divide noodles among 4 bowls. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of pepper.