Chicken soup – it conjures up memories of childhood; a hearty, warming and sustaining bowl offered with doorstep chunks of bread for dunking.
There is a lot in the term ‘Jewish Penicillin’ – it does have healing properties, the onions are antiseptic; the chicken, nourishing yet easily digestible. We make it on a Monday with the leftovers from the Sunday roast, only if somebody’s very poorly do we specifically buy ‘chicken for soup’. No compromises, the chicken has to be free-range, if not organic, and the veg pesticide free. Chicken Soup is so wonderfully versatile, yet there can be no set recipe; as long the stock is good and rich (I rather like a little pool of yielding schmaltz on the top), the vegetable choices can be as simple as onion, carrot and potato to the more exotic squash, pak choi, chilli and coconut…and anything in between.
In medieval Britain chicken was a luxury, a fowl cost four days wages to a general labourer. They were only eaten by the rich or by those with an old hen from the flock who was past her egg bearing days. These, for the most, were stringy and tough and needed extreme cooking, the by-product being an exceptional stock.
Every farmhouse would have their own recipe, I enjoy adding leeks for flavour and lots of fresh parsley. In south-west France there are Poule au Pot competitions (Poule au Pot being a whole boiled fowl accompanied by vegetables and served as two courses, broth first, meat and veg second) where chefs compete for the title. Some of these recipes stem from the 16th century French King Henri IV who promised all his countrymen a chicken to put in the pot every Sunday.
Nowadays some of these once hearty peasant recipes are as far from poor as it’s possible to be, there are truffles, fine wines and even foie gras in some interpretations. But I think, in Wales, as the leaves cover the ground and the trees become, daily, more spindly and unwelcoming, my chicken soup will suit perfectly.
Welsh Farmhouse Chicken Soup
Take one chicken carcass, one large onion, finely diced and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Cover with water and bring to the boil.
Simmer for an hour and a half over a low heat, remove the carcass and pick off the meat still clinging to it.
Return the meat to the stock and add 2 finely chopped leeks, three large diced carrots, 3 tennis ball size peeled and diced potatoes and finally a good handful of chopped parsley.
Cook until the vegetables are tender and serve scattered with more parsley and some crusty bread.