This morning you woke up with an ever so slight irritation in your throat. You assumed it was the dry air from the heater mixed with the feather pollution from your down comforter. Maybe you turned on your laptop in an attempt to order a humidifier from Amazon.com but stopped short when you could only find a cheapy one for $23.99 (hence excluding you from Free Shipping) and a very expensive one you could probably live without. You had a glass of room temperature lemon water (as you do every morning, right?!) and that still didn’t make the raw feeling go away. The thought flashed across the back of your mind, “Am I sick?” The coffee and milk you drank a few minutes later didn’t taste very good and for some reason you have no appetite. At work, your brain fog is slightly more intense than the usual Monday morning malaise. The 2 cups of coffee and peppermint tea don’t even help the discomfort in your throat which is now officially sore. Give up the denial, you’re sick. The sensible thing to do would be to email your boss and say “Coming down with something bad, will work from home,” but it’s Monday and you have about 30 urgent and as-yet unread emails. So you power through till lunch when food seems like too much of an effort. You order chicken noodle soup that costs as much as the cheese steak you’d rather be eating and you’re pretty sure is just watered-down Campbell’s with twice as much salt. You power through for a few more minutes and wait until your head is pounding so hard that actually slamming your head against the desk brings relief. Then you ride the dreadful subway back to your more affordable borough. Luckily there’s a small, stress-free grocery store on your block so it’s easy to pick up some chicken and vegetables to make a soup that will put you on the bullet train to recovery.
Every culture has a version of chicken soup that is not only comforting and delicious but actually may have medicinal healing powers. According to Science Daily, it was Maimonodies who origianlly prescribed chicken soup as a cure for respiratory problems. You can read the article here or seek more credible sources, but this gist is that the good stuff from chicken and vegetables comes out in a nice way when you boil it. My mom gave me a version of this recipe long ago and I think I’ve got it tailored so it’s just right. Try following my proportions exactly the first time you make it, then start messing with the recipe to make it your own.
One of my favorite Chinese Restaurant dishes is Sizzling Rice soup. It’s basically just a warm chicken broth with a deep fried rice cake thrown in at the last minute for dramatic effect. Instead of using steamed rice or noodles, I use fried sizzling rice squares for a crunchy treat. You can make these squares by baking freshly cooked rice, but that’s a bit of a production. Hong Kong supermarket in Chinatown definitely has them. For a complete list of my favorite ethnic grocery stores in New York, click here.
Grandma will say you need the nasty bits (gizzards) of the chicken for flavor, but after my experience with black chicken flesh, I only deal in drawn and quartered chickens. For this recipe I used 1 split breast, two drum sticks and two thighs and got a rich, chickeny flavor.
Why so little salt?
You may have experienced that unpleasant, harsh feeling when canned soup touches your chapped lips in the winter. That’s from all the salt and sodium you’re eating. By making the soup yourself you are virtually cutting out the salt all together. Of course you can add salt and pepper to your bowl at the end, but I find it masks the rich chicken flavor. When you are sick you feel dried out, hence the need to constantly hydrate. I also find that showering often and re-moisturizing my body with a natural oil really helps me feel rejuvenated. I’m currently using plain old coconut oil from Trader Joe’s on my limbs as a moisturizer and Aesop’s Sage and Zinc Facial Hydrating Cream on my face during the day.
Will soup really cure me?
No, not exactly.
There are about 1000 different remedies, both natural and chemical that will help you fight your cold. My stomach is unfortunately very sensitive, so a lot of the natural remedies may work but leave me feeling incredibly nauseous. Over the years, I’ve heard about a lot of miracle products but I’m not really convinced by any of them. Most involve taking some sort of tabled or liquid every 4 hours. I’m sure lots of people have had great results but I really hate being nauseous so I try to avoid these “miracle remedies.” Obviously, you should drink tons of fluid and take vitamins. I find that fresh squeezed fruit and vegetables juices have a calming quality. When I’m sick, I only want to eat plain buttered toast and broth but I usually feel healthier and “cleaner” if I down a vegetable juice once or twice a day.
Perfect Chicken Soup (with sizzling rice squares)
Makes 4 portions
You will need:
1 split chicken breast (bone in- should be about 3/4 lb.)
2 chicken drumsticks (skin on)
2 chicken thighs (skin on)
6 cups water
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves
3 celery stalks, peeled (just peel off the outer fibrous edge) and chopped into 3-inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into 3-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into 4 chunks
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into small medallions
4 dried sizzling rice squares*
1/4 cup canola oil
salt and pepper
1. In a large pot or dutch oven, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat. Cook 1 garlic glove for 2 minutes. Add the chicken pieces, skin side down and cook without disturbing for 3 minutes.
2. Add 6 cups of room-temperature water and turn the heat to high. Bring the chicken and water to a boil. This should take about 15 minutes. Then turn the heat down to a low simmer and cook for exactly 45 minutes. Using a spoon, skim off some of the foamy fat on top. Remove the chicken breasts and set aside.
3. Add the cut celery, carrots, parsnip, onion and garlic and return to a boil. Add a dash of salt (like 3 shakes or 1/4 teaspoon). The soup should boil in about 10 minutes. Once again, turn down the flame to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes.
4. Using a fork or your fingers, separate the reserved white breast meat into small edible pieces.
5. Optional: In a small non-stick frying pan, heat 1/4 cup of canola oil over a medium-high flame. Add 4 sizzling rice squares to the hot oil and fry for 2 minutes on each side or until just browned. Drain on a paper towel.
6. When the soup has finished simmering, remove the other chicken parts and either save for another use or discard. Add the reserved white meat pieces back to the soup and serve. If you serve the soup boiling hot with the rice squares fresh out of the pan, they will make a very exciting hissing and crackling sound when served.
*You can make sizzling rice yourself if you don’t want to venture to Chinatown. Here is a recipe for that. Basically, you want to make white rice, dry it out on a baking sheet in a 300 degree oven for an hour then fry according to my directions above.