In the words of my father, “Darlin’, you really went to town on lunch.” Well, not exactly. What he was referring to was our lunch today of mushroom barely and chicken soup with focaccia. The focaccia was made last night by Matt in a baking frenzy – or as much as rolling out pizza dough and topping it with rosemary and goat cheese and little slivers of onions can be considered a sudden impulse. Yet focaccia does lend itself to a certain spontaneity and resulting crusty satisfaction. And we had mom’s post fresh in our heads to fuel the fire. While the dough was being rolled I stuffed a chicken in a pot, covered it in water and made the fixings of a good stock. After an hour or so of ever so carefully simmering the contents – which on mom’s stove requires a ton of finagling of knobs and peeking under the cocked lid to make sure the bloop, bloop is constant – we took the chicken out. I had started to feel the kind of crappy where your head is stuffed with foam and your kidneys hurt and you just want to lay on the floor in the kitchen and moan. So I lay there, perfectly useless, while Matt pulled apart the steaming chicken with a fork and a thumb. I did emerge a few times to pull dark chicken meat from the bowl and pop it in my mouth. I think boiled chicken may still rival the roasted kind in my book. Then we threw the bones back in and continued to barely simmer the stock, for what was supposed to be two more hours. At this point you’re aiming to get all the gelatin out of the bones. Well, unsurprisingly, we fell asleep somewhere in there and woke up at 2am to find the stock had been going strong for three long hours. It was down to about 2 inches in the pot including bones and vegetables and such. Ooops. It smelled divine, but we effectively had the essence of chicken stock, boiled down to very little. Matt strained it while I wobbled around, brushing my teeth, thinking about stock and getting into bed.
Recently I have been reading up on Thomas Keller’s stock technique. Chicken stock, in its simplest form is where you take chicken – parts or whole and hopefully with feet! – and simmer it slowly in water, some salt, a splash of wine and some aromatics. The acidity in the wine helps break things down and extract the minerals and other nutrients. Ideally you want to leave the bones in until you remove all the gelatin. After 3-4 hours you have a delicious and aromatic stock that, once cooled, will be good and gelatinous.
Keller, and restaurant chefs like him, enjoy the word “refined” immensely. Keller calls for bringing chicken feet and backs to a simmer very slowly in a large pot, skimming, skimming, skimming to keep it all crystal clear. Then he asks you to dump in a ton of ice, skim the fat, bring it back up to a simmer and add in the aromatics (chopped vegetables – mirepoix – and herbs). Then skim, skim, skim and simmer for half an hour or so, turn off the heat and let things settle. Then he asks you to strain the stock, dump the residue and cool it quickly in an ice bath. And voila, you have stock so clean and clear you could take a bath in it. Needless to say, what we made was not a Keller-esque stock. However, when we opened it up today it jiggled like a schoolgirl and had a thick, creamy fat on top that I am most definitely rendering. So let’s just say there are different approaches to chicken stock.
And, so you’re not all holding your breath, I did not make the below soup with my concentrated stock. I used a stock we made a couple of weeks ago and stored in the fridge, which is a perfectly good thing to do. I hope I haven’t completely disappointed you. I promise to post the outcome of that escapade when it happens. However, making stock and feeling sh*tty was exaclty what inspired the mushroom barely soup. Let me say this: mushroom barely soup, especially with chicken, is probably my favorite soup. Which is probably my favorite category of food. But it doesn’t work with store bought stock. Let me repeat: it is a travesty of a soup with store bought stock. This is nothing against you or Swanson. It’s just plain simple: if you want to make a soup that’s nourishing and flavorful, you have to make your own stock. I wouldn’t be feeling as good as I am, 24 hours later, if it weren’t for that little 4lb bird we boiled yesterday.
Now let’s talk about mushroom barely soup. You take onions, garlic, carrots, celery and shiitake and you saute ‘em in olive oil. You sweat ‘em a little until they’re juices are running out into the pot. Things should be smelling good right about now. Then you grind in some pepper and splash in some marsala or wine to get things steamy and the perfume of it all wafts into your face. You add in some herb and drown everything in stock and water. Then in go the pearl barley like little shells, cooking until they plump up. In goes the shredded chicken – and this time some chopped kale. You simmer for 10 minutes more and then you serve it, piping hot, with a bit of focaccia. The soup seeps into your pours, fills your belly and leaves you feeling alive and whole again. At least that’s what happens when my bowl is clean.
So now that we’ve discussed the finer points of chicken stock and my favorite soup, why don’t we get on to making some, shall we? Or find out how to make your own stock. It requires little more than some kitchen scraps and a whole Organic/local chicken (which you can get for around $10-$15 at your local store.)
Mushroom Barley and Chicken Soup Makes 3 quarts
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, 1/2″ dice
3 cloves garlic, sliced
3 carrots, washed, peeled, sliced lengthwise and then into 1/2″ half moons on the bias
3 celery stalks, sliced
15 shiitake, wiped clean, stems removed and tops sliced
1/4 cup marsala wine (you can also use a dry, white wine)
1 tablespoon dried thyme, crushed
2 quarts homemade chicken stock, at room temp
8 cups water
1 1/2 cups pearled barley
About 2 teaspoons salt, depending on your stock
20 fresh grinds of black pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, pulled apart (from boiling a chicken and making stock)
1 bunch kale, washed, chiffonade and chopped (1″ pieces)
2 sprigs rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
Heat the oil in a soup pot on medium high. Once hot, add the onions, garlic, carrots, celery and shiitake. Saute until starting to soften, about 10 minutes. Add in the marsala or wine. Cook down for a couple minutes. Add in 1/2 of the thyme, some grinds of black pepper and cook 1 minute. Add the stock and water and bring up to a simmer. Salt. Add in the barley and cook 15 minutes, until softening. Add in the chicken, kale, oregano and rosemary. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cook 10 minutes more until the kale and barely are tender. If it’s too thick, add more water. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve!