Cuisine – Winner winner, chicken dinner

Here’s something comforting and restorative to lighten up with just as the season of flu lurks, along with another suspected wave of the dreaded coronavirus. My sister called this week to say she had just tested positive, so being a happy cook and family-minded person, I immediately rummaged in my fridge to see just how I could help. In the freezer, a chicken!

With that whole chicken, I managed to feed us that evening and set up preparation for a very easy comforting soup to feed her through the worst of the virus. I hear from other friends that something nourishing and soupy is very tempting.

First, to our easy chicken dinner. I cut the chicken in half. The essential part of this task is to have a very sharp knife, sit the chicken on its back bone on a dry board and slice down to divide it into two along the middle of the breast. Then flip it over and cut along the backbone which should be easy, as chicken bones are very soft.

Pat both halves dry with kitchen paper towels and pop one into a roasting dish with chopped and peeled potatoes, kumara and pumpkin. Slather this with nice oil such as olive or sunflower seed, plenty of salt and pepper, some lemon peel and parsley or sage and roast at 180C for an hour. Serve with a green veggie or salad and be sure to drizzle the pan juices over everything. So simple and so delicious.

Now to the very comforting soup – (recipe below.) The basis of all good flavoursome soups is to have plenty of flavour and preferably this will be guaranteed by making your own homemade stock. So while the chicken is roasting, cover the remaining half of the chicken in cold water to cover (about 1.5 litres) in a large saucepan and bring the water to a gentle boil. You can add some fresh herbs, a bay leaf, a chopped onion and a couple of sticks of celery. Allow this to simmer for no more than twenty minutes, remove from the heat and allow to cool with the chicken in the broth.

Once cooled, or the next day (refrigerate the whole pan overnight,) remove the chicken and carefully take all the meat from the bones. Put this meat into a bowl with a couple of spoonfuls of the liquid to keep it moist and refrigerate until needed. Throw the bones and the skin back into the liquid, along with any leftover roast chicken from your dinner, and set the saucepan back over gentle heat. Allow this broth to simmer very gently for about 2 to 3 hours to make a delicious savoury stock. Remove from the heat and strain the liquid carefully into a clean container, discarding all the bones and flavouring vegetables and herbs. Now you have delicious homemade stock to add to soups, casseroles and anything else you’re making. You won’t ever want to go back to those stock cubes again.

Here’s a simple recipe for my comforting chicken noodle soup. This really is a basic recipe that invites the cook to add or change out some ingredients. The essential part is the poached chicken (about 1½ large cups meat), the tasty chicken stock and the restorative ginger. You could change carrot for another root vegetable like parsnip or kumara and add little sprigs of broccoli or shredded cabbage. In place of rice stick noodles you could use any other noodles you like, such as Japanese udon, somen or soba, or even thin spaghetti or linguine. Add extra flavour with chopped herbs like parsley, tarragon or dill, and a little chilli paste or sprinkles if you like a touch of extra heat.

Ultimate Comfort Chicken Soup

1.5 litres chicken stock
1 large carrot
1 small fennel bulb (or an onion)
1 poached half chicken (see notes above) or one large chicken breast and thigh, poached.
6 cm fresh ginger, peeled
100g rice stick noodles
Salt to taste
Sprigs of fennel fronds to decorate

Put the chicken stock into a large clean saucepan and bring to a simmer. Peel the carrot and with a sharp knife, cut into very thin matchstick slices. Remove the hard core of the fennel and slice this as thinly as you can. If using onion slice very thinly. Shred the chicken into small bite sized pieces. Peel the ginger and cut into very thin match sticks.

Add the carrot, fennel and ginger to the stock and bring to a simmer for five minutes. Meanwhile cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, rinse under cold water and drain.

Add the chicken pieces and bring to a gentle simmer to heat through. Add the cooked drained noodles and continue to simmer for one minute.

Most importantly, taste the soup and add plenty of salt and pepper as you like it.

Finally, ladle into deep bowls and decorate with sprigs of the fennel fronds or another fragrant herb.

Make 1.5 litres and keeps for a few days if refrigerated.