Wednesday, 26 November 2008


I have decided that my blog seems to be all chicken chicken cake cake chicken cake chicken chicken cake. I love chicken, and I do love cake, but frankly I feel I need to give some more attention to the other food. I do eat other food. So I hereby announce that I shall be cooking, eating and writing about non-chicken and non-cake foods. However, I just need to get this out of my system first...

I made a chicken soup the other day which would be simply rude to ignore. I was flicking through my new cookbooks, or more specifically Leon, when I landed on 'Good Soup for a Bad Day'. If the title caught my eye initially, the subtitle had me pulling my soup pot out of the cupboard - 'Chicken, Pearl Barley, Mushroom and Tarragon' - or yes, yes, yes and yes if you're me. The plan was to make a couple of huge batches of soup to freeze in portions, the idea being that they would keep me going for a good couple of weeks. Needless to say this soup only lasted a couple of days before we had eaten it all.

(Incidentally, I also made another huge pot of black bean soup, but this time substituted a great big couple of dollops of harrisa for the chorizo - on Rowan's suggestion I must add - along with a few crushed cloves of garlic. I also bulked up the onion a little and doubled the amount of chilli to make up for the missing chorizo. Anyway, it was delicious, a good vegetarian dish and lower in fat than the original, so thank you Rowan for the idea).

Anyway, chicken soup. Yes, this is definitely a good soup for a bad day. It's aromatic and comforting and the pearl barley makes it quite substantial so it's perfect with a wee bit of nice bread for dinner on those evenings when you don't want anything too heavy. Obviously the best free range organic chicken you can find will give the best flavour. Actually, while we're on the topic of free range organic chicken, I'm going to pause to have a wee rant at this point if you don't mind.

I cannot help but notice when I'm at the supermarket that there are still a depressingly massive number of people buying the rank foul battery farmed uber cheap chicken. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE? The conditions these birds are kept in are deplorable. And to add insult to their pitiful lives and cruel deaths, these chickens taste like crap. Why don't people take an interest in where their food comes from? And some responsibility while they're at it. I cannot bear to listen to the ludicrous argument that free range organic chicken is too expensive to eat every week. Here's an idea: don't bloody buy it every week then. Eat something else instead, eat free range organic chicken less frequently but pay a premium for it when you do. And when you've paid your 15 quid for your free range organic chicken, get every little shred of meat off the carcass and you'll have enough for at least two meals. Then use the carcass to make stock. If you can't be bothered, chuck the carcass in a bag and freeze it until you can. Better still, freeze a few carcasses and make a more intense stock using all of them. Use the stock (and leftover chicken) to make soup or (and) risotto. This is not rocket science.

Ok, where were we? Yes, soup. I've typed up the recipe in full as it appears in the book because it's so nicely written. I used thighs and legs (and actually more than just 2 as is stated in the reciped), and I choped the onion rather than sliced it for the soup and used chestnut mushrooms instead of closed cup, but you're all big and bright enough to adapt it for your own ends.


This soup may not be the quickest of makes, but as long as you follow the method you're guaranteed to feel better at the end of the day.


2 free range chicken legs
2 large carrots - 1 left whole, 1 chopped into 1cm dice
2 sticks of celery
2 medium onions, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 bay leaves
a handful of parsley, with stalks
300g large closed-cup mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
160g pearl barley
1 heaped teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon tarragon leaves, chopped
salt and pepper, plus a few whole peppercorns

Put the chicken legs into your favourite winter stock-making pot, with the whole carrot, celery, half the sliced onion, half the garlic, two of the bay leaves, the parsley and the peppercorns. Prise the stalks from the mushrooms and throw them in too.

Cover with 1.5 litres of water and bring to a simmer, then skim and turn the heat down until the stock is just steaming. Leave to cook like this until the chicken meat is coming away from the bone - about an hour.

Go and sit down for half an hour with a nice glass of wine and the papers, and put your feet up.

In a different saucepan when you're ready, fry the remaining onions in the oil with the rest of the garlic, chopped, and a bit of salt and pepper for a very gentle half hour or so until softened (meanwhile, do a bit more damage to your bottle while stirring your gently goldening onions, smelling the calming aromatherapy of simmering chicken stock and gazing into the middle distance).

Add the pearl barley, diced carrot and bay leaves to the onions, then pour in the stock through a strainer and bring to a simmer. Throw the veg away (or puree for another day's soup base) and put the chicken aside to cool down.

After an hour (i.e. your luxurious bath), get the butter to the edge of brown in a frying pan and fry the mushroom through golden until just coming up to crispy, chuck the tarragon in, give it a quick toss and then swirl it all into the soup. Anywhere around about now your barley should be tender.

Amuse yourself by picking the meat off the chicken bones, chopping it into little pieces and adding to the soup.

When you are comfortable with your barley, have a long, hard moment with the salt and pepper and if it seems a bit thick for a soup let it down with a bit of hot water.

Eat with crusty bread and a sense of well-being, then sleep the sleep you deserve.

*Plus leftovers for tomorrow, wihch will be a better day.


Manuel said...

now soup I can do and do well......I will do this for sure....

Matthew said...

Whoo! I was just searching for this recipe to share with a friend and found your blog. Its a great book isnt it! :-)

I'm going to try making this Saturday hopefully - cant wait!

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