Monday, January 17, 2011
Chicken Almond Soup
Over the weekend one of my Facebook foodie friends posed the question: What is your absolutely favorite homemade soup? I love far too many to single out just one, but this is a recipe I've made (and tweaked) many times over the years - a warm and satisfying meal in a bowl, brightened with lemon juice, tarragon, and thyme. Just add some bread and maybe a fresh salad to round out your meal.
It originated at a great little soup restaurant in Knoxville called The Silver Spoon, which is either out of business or no longer under the same management. But my mom found the recipe in the local paper, and she and I have been making it ever since. You'll find my tips at the bottom of this post.
10 T. butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup flour 1/4 cup scant chicken base (use at your own risk!)
7-1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. tarragon
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1-1/2 cups half and half
1 cup diced cooked chicken
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup toasted almonds
Melt butter in large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and saute 3-5 minutes until tender and translucent. Add flour. Stir constantly 4-5 minutes to cook flour and form a roux. Add chicken base (if you dare) and stir to blend. Slowly add chicken stock, stirring well to incorporate and remove any lumps. Increase heat and bring soup just to the boiling point. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, tarragon, and thyme. Do not boil. Remove pot from heat and stir in half half. Add chicken, mushrooms, and almonds.
I actually made this soup pretty much according to the directions recently (a rarity for me), and I was reminded why I usually skip, or drastically reduce, the called-for chicken soup base (basically, granulated bouillon cubes). I used it conjunction with canned chicken broth and the result was way too salty. I've made this soup with homemade chicken stock and various canned or packaged chicken broth products over the years, but the bottom line is: you really want to control the salt level yourself rather than following any recipe too rigidly. Restaurants tend to salt their food more aggressively than many home cooks do (sometimes I think we fail to salt enough to bring out the flavors). And I presume this recipe was cut down from the restaurant-size quantities in which it was originally prepared. Salt is one of many factors that can get a little off-kilter when reducing a mass-quantity dish to home-size proportions according to simple math.
If you're making your own chicken stock, once it's nearly finished, you'll want to add salt to bring up the chicken flavor, taking into account what you'll be using it in. Beware salting your stock too early in the cooking process or it can result in an overly salty product as it reduces.
As for the cooked chicken, use whatever you like, including leftovers from a whole cooked chicken. A short-cut that works in this soup is to microwave boneless, skinless chicken breasts until just done.
Although the recipe calls for adding the 1/2 and 1/2 half off heat, then adding the chicken, I usually keep the soup pot on the stove at a low temp to warm everything through. (I hate tepid soup.) But do your best to keep from letting the pot come to a boil after you add the 1/2 and 1/2 or it can make the texture go hinky.
A splash of sherry or brandy adds extra depth of flavor; just make sure the alcohol has a chance to cook off.
Although the recipe doesn't call for it, I usually saute the mushrooms lightly before adding to the soup pot - especially when, as this time, I use portobellos.
You can add all manner of other veggies to this soup, depending on what strikes your fancy and what you have on hand or need to use before it goes bad. Cooked carrots are great, and I've thrown spinach in as well.
The almonds definitely benefit from toasting, but wait to add them until your soup is in a bowl and ready to serve. You can toast a batch of almonds ahead, then add them at the last minute or to leftovers.
Sorry I don't seem to have an official yield quantity to for this recipe, but it makes a big batch, as you can guess from the quantity of liquid. It's easy to cut down, however, and also makes great leftovers.
This recipe is also a good make-ahead. I think my mom's technique is to warm up the creamy base, then add the chicken and mushrooms before serving. An extra squeeze of lemon juice perks up the flavor, especially if you're reheating.
So . . . once again, I take a seemingly easy-sounding dish and, in trying to share my tips, may have made it sound far more complicated than it really is. But this is kind of how I roll in the "Intuitive" Eggplant Kitchen. I hope some of these suggestions are of help if you decide to make this soup . . . or maybe they'll come to mind when you're cooking up something else.
Meanwhile, for the Top Chef fans in the house, stop by my "other" blog for a Restaurant Wars Trivia Game!