Confession time: I’m terrible at eating leftovers. I invite friends over and send them home with containers full of the remains of our dinner, because of course I made twice as much as we could eat and of course I want them to have easy food for the next day or two and of course if I keep it it’s going to sit in the fridge until Zeke tells me it looks gross and then I throw it away.
I had the best of intentions for so long, but I finally came to terms with my own habits: leftovers and I are not to be, like friendships that grow apart after too many years of trying. Our calendars just never line up anymore, or our mutual interests become singular interests, and before you know it, my attention has shifted to the leeks in the crisper or the new banh mi joint down the street. (Mm, banh mi.) I’m sorry, Leftovers, but maybe it’s time we come to terms with the slow and agonizing death of our relationship, precipitated by my recurring abusive neglect.
“But wait!” say Leftovers. “I have something for you.”
“Oh yes?” I say, halfway through buttoning up my jacket before I leave the house for tasty tasty sandwiches, hopeful for one last chance to soothe our chafed alliance.
“It’s that chicken soup.”
Ah, the chicken soup. The meditative, beautiful, spicy chicken soup that I’ve devoured wordlessly on so many occasions, laden with velvet rice, squeaky-clean cilantro, and enough fish sauce to keep me coming back. It’s the fish sauce, friends. It’s always the fish sauce. This soup has put me on a craving for Asian food that’s lasted weeks now. It’s made in the Asian style, which means no mirepoix saute, no deglaze — really, what it is, is chicken stock with all the stuff still in it. Yes, this means what you think it means: you will make this soup with water and it will be amazing. I was always pretty fanatic about using flavorful liquids to fill a soup pot and when I was told that this was the technique I raised my eyebrows but followed the directions, and it was a great exercise in blind trust.
I like to take a little time dicing the vegetables for this, having a little more intention than the usual whack-whack that soup veg takes for me. Opening up the peppers, sliding my knife through the carrot and daikon, making small even squares of everything — even the mushroom caps. You don’t have to do that, of course, but you may enjoy it. It makes a big fat pot of soup, so it’s a pretty good return on investment. Don’t get squeamish about the fish sauce, either. If you taste this and you feel like it needs a little extra something, the answer is another teaspoon of fish sauce.
Addictive Chicken Soup
makes a potful
1 3-4 pound chicken
1 red bell pepper, cleaned and diced
2 thin carrots, scrubbed or peeled and diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small daikon radish, scrubbed or peeled and diced
5-6 shiitake mushrooms, stems set aside, caps diced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 2″ piece ginger
1 stalk lemongrass
2 lime leaves
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 bunch cilantro
1/4 cup jasmine rice
sliced green onion, to garnish
Put everything but the cilantro, jasmine rice, and green onion in a pot big enough to hold them. Chop the stems off the cilantro bunch, wrap them in a cheesecloth packet with the mushroom stems, and add to the pot. Cover the whole shebang with water, pop a lid on it, and put it on high heat. When it’s just barely come to a boil, drop the heat down to a very calm simmer and let it go for at least an hour. Preferably two. Check for seasoning and add salt (or fish sauce!) and pepper to taste. Remove chicken from the pot and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Add the rice. In the time it takes for that to cook, the chicken will have cooled down enough for you to pick the meat off the bones and put it back in the pot. Discard skin and carcass. Discard the lemongrass and cheesecloth packet too, while you’re at it.
A note on the rice: it’s going to expand. A lot. And it will keep expanding after you’ve put the remaining soup in Tupperwares and put it in the fridge. And if you put too much in, the next day it will look like rice pudding. (I speak from experience.) If I know I’m making this soup to eat off of for a few days, I will ladle some out into a smaller saucepan and cook a tablespoon or two of raw rice in that individual batch.
Garnish with cilantro leaves and sliced green onion. This soup loves Sriracha.