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Last week it seemed like every single person in the office was sick, which meant chicken soup was on the brain. While Ed loves his Jewish-style chicken noodle soup, we're also smack dab in the middle of Chinatown, which makes access to Southeast Asian ingredients like lemongrass, fish sauce, and Thai chili as easy as a walk down the block.
The end result is a soup that's as fortifying as the best chicken noodle, but with a bit of kick from its sour/sweet/pungent flavor profile. With nothing but a single burner, a chicken, and a few vegetables, you can pull together a good soup in about an hour. The first key is to make extracting flavor and gelatin from the chicken bones as easy as possible. This means chopping the carcass into very fine pieces.
I remove the breasts and legs, then take the body and chop it up into fine pieces with a heavy knife or cleaver (you can use kitchen shears or even a food processor for this if you'd like—the more finely chopped it is, the richer your broth will be). When chopped finely enough, you can get a strong, flavorful broth with just about 30 to 45 minutes of simmering. I tossed in a stalk of lemongrass (also chopped finely), a few scallion bottoms (I saved the top for garnish), some slices of ginger, some mint and cilantro stems (keep the leaves for garnish) and a small hunk of ham in along with the chopped chicken bones.
The next trick to great chicken soup is to make sure the meat is cooked right. That means that legs should go in at the beginning along with the chopped bones to make sure that they fully tenderize, while breasts should go in only for the last 10 minutes or so—any longer and they dry out. I like to shred the chicken meat by hand into nice bite-sized chunks.
With a good stock base and the chicken shredded, the rest of the soup comes together really quickly. I just simmered some carrots, onions, and cabbage, then flavored the broth with a few splashes of fish sauce, some chopped Thai chilis (you can use serrano or jalapeño), a bit of soy, and a good squeeze of lime. Ramen-style wheat noodles go well in the broth, but regular old egg noodles would do fine as well.
A handful of fresh herbs and scallion greens added to the hot broth release their aroma. This is good stuff. The kind of stuff that makes you long for winter even on a nice spring day.