Call of the mild

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 November, 2010, 12:00am

Chicken soup is popular the world over. The flavour of the soup is mild, which is one reason it's commonly recommended for those who are unwell. Indeed, scientists have proved it does help to alleviate cold and flu symptoms. Even if you're not ill, chicken soup is neutral on the palate and can be dressed up or down, according to your tastes.

Samgyetang (pictured)

This Korean ginseng soup is usually eaten on the hottest days of summer because it causes those who eat it to sweat, which then cools them down. It's good year- round and very easy to make. In restaur- ants that specialise in this soup, individual portions include a whole, small chicken. I use Cornish game hens. Fresh ginseng root and peeled ginkgo nuts can be found in the chilled vegetable section of shops such as Apita, Fresh Mart (in the basement of Sogo) and City'super.

This recipe is based on one in the book Eating Korean, by Cecilia Hae-jin Lee.

2 small Cornish hens, thawed, if frozen

About 150 grams glutinous rice

2 fresh ginseng roots about 10cm long

10 ginkgo nuts

6 dried red dates

6 garlic cloves

6 chestnuts, shell and skin removed

To serve:

Rough-flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Korean chilli flakes (optional)

White-radish kimchi (optional)

Rinse the Cornish hens inside and out, then drain. Lightly sprinkle salt over the bird and in the cavity. Wash the rice in several changes of water and rinse the gingko nuts, dates and chestnuts. In the cavity of each bird, put about half the rice, four ginkgo nuts, two dates, two garlic cloves and two chestnuts; don't stuff too much rice into the cavity because it expands as it cooks. Put the birds in a pot large enough to fit them in one layer then add enough water to almost cover them. Put the ginseng in the pan and add the remaining gingko nuts, dates, garlic and chestnuts. Bring the water to a simmer then lower the heat, cover the pan with the lid and simmer for 30 minutes. Carefully turn the birds over and simmer for 30 more minutes, or until they're cooked through and the rice is tender. Put the Cornish hens in individual bowls and ladle the broth on top. Let each diner season the meat and broth with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Serve with white-radish kimchi.

Chicken vegetable soup

When I roast a chicken, I almost always use the carcass to make broth, which I then freeze to use later. It has a lot of flavour and it's faster than having to make broth from raw chicken. You can make the broth from supermarket rotisserie chickens but buy one that's seasoned as simply as possible - no Thai or Indian ingredients. If you have the time, make the broth a day in advance so it can be chilled and the layer of fat on the surface can be removed. The fat is used in the soup.

This is the most versatile of soups. You can substitute many other types of vegetables for the ones called for in this recipe. If you use vegetables belonging to the cabbage family, don't overcook them or they'll release their strong, sulphurous compounds.

The carcass, skin and dark meat from a roast chicken (use the breast meat for another dish).

30 grams butter, if needed

1 large leek

1 celery stalk

1 medium-sized carrot

1 potato, about 200 grams

About 150 grams diced zucchini or yellow squash

About 50 grams finely shredded kale leaves

About 60 grams pasta of choice (I like macaroni or orzo), optional

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Strip as much meat as possible from the chicken carcass and refrigerate it until needed. Break the carcass into pieces and put it and the skin into a medium-sized pot. Trim off the dark green leaves from the top of the leek, rinse them and add them to the pan along with about a litre of water. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes. Strain the broth through a colander into a clean pan and discard the bones and leek tops. Cool the broth to room temperature, stirring occasionally, then refrigerate. Remove the layer of fat from the surface of the broth.

Cut off and discard the stem from the leek then cut it in half lengthwise. Rinse thoroughly between the leaves then cut it into 5mm-wide pieces. Cut the celery stalk in half lengthwise then slice on the diagonal into 5mm-wide pieces. Peel the carrot then dice it. Shred or cube the reserved chicken meat. Boil the pasta until al dente then rinse it.

Melt 30 grams of the chicken fat (or butter) in a medium-sized pan. Add the leek and cook for several minutes, stirring frequently. Add the celery, carrot and potato and stir to coat with the fat. Add the broth then bring to the simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the zucchini and chicken and simmer for a few more minutes. Add the kale and simmer for a minute then season lightly with salt (it might not need any) and pepper. Spoon the pasta into bowls, ladle the broth, meat and vegetables on top and serve immediately.

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