If you ask the Frenchman, he’ll tell you I only ever order one dish when we go out to dinner: chicken. This isn’t true of course, but I will admit that chicken is my backup dish, my reliable mainstay amongst the flotsam and jetsam of an uninspiring menu. (It doesn’t hurt that chicken dishes typically arrive with some kind of saucy vegetable and potato arrangement, but that is neither here nor there.)
Last week we had friends visiting from France, and so I used the opportunity to knock a restaurant or two off my Must Try list. (It’s a long list, alas.) One evening, we dined in a restaurant where every hostess was certainly a model. I’d read an article about the owner; he raised chickens (well, not he, but people he employed) on a devastatingly bucolic farm somewhere upstate in order to supply the restaurant with high-quality poultry. This kind of information is like catnip to me; of course, I had to try it.
There was one small hiccup, though: the chicken was for two people. Woe of woes!
Mr. French Fry long ago learned to tune me out when I say things like, “But this artichoke was grown in the organic soil of the gods, so we must worship it at the small alter I’ve built in its honor!” Still, he acquiesced in the end, most likely because giving in to my chicken demands was preferable to having to listen to me blather on all night about the provenance of said chicken.
It arrived in a piping hot cast-iron pan, and was lovely and juicy and grand, but it was also a whole chicken. Monsieur French Toast and I could put away the whole chicken.
Although the French do not believe in the American art of “le doggy bag,” I assured my dining companions that it was a perfectly acceptable practice here; and so it was that I found myself with half a chicken in my refrigerator.
My chicken leftovers happened to coincide with a cold the Frenchman couldn’t seem to shake, so I thought chicken soup would be just the ticket. While I used leftover restaurant chicken, you could easily use rotisserie leftovers, if that is what you happen to have. I encourage you to use mirepoix vegetables (carrot, celery and onion) as a base, but after that feel free add whatever vegetables you like.
Makes about 6 bowls of soup
- ½ a rotisserie or leftover chicken, skin removed as much as possible
- 3 leeks, divided
- 2 carrots, divided
- 2 onions, divided
- 1½ heads of celery, divided
- 4 sprigs of thyme, divided
- 2 bay leaves, divided
- a few peppercorns
- 6 slices of bacon, cut into lardons
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced, plus 2 for the toast
- 1 potato
- 1 14-ounce can of chickpeas
- 1 bunch of basil
- a few slice of good, hearty bread
- about 2 tablespoons of salted butter
- pecorino cheese
- freshly ground black pepper
Make the stock:
1. Start by separating the meat from the chicken bones; wrap the meat in plastic and move it to the refrigerator for later use. Put the bones (and other leftover tid bits) into a large pot or Dutch oven.
2. Wash and chop: 2 leeks, 1 carrot, 1 onion and 1 head of celery; it is totally unimportant how prettily they are chopped. Add everything to the pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the bones and the vegetables, and then toss in 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 bay leaf and the peppercorns.
3. Bring the stock to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. Let it go for 3-4 hours, or until the veg are looking used up and the broth is tasty.
4. Run the stock through a sieve; reserve the liquid, and throw away all the solids. At this point, you could refrigerate the stock for later use, or make the soup right away.
Make the soup:
1. Clean out and dry the pot. Over medium heat, crisp up the bacon. When it looks crispy, remove it to a paper towel-lined plate, and save it for later.
2. Mince the remaining onion and 5 cloves of the garlic. Add the garlic to the pot, and mix it into the rendered bacon fat for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the onion next, and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.
3. Wash, dry and chop the remaining: leek, carrot and celery. Try to cut everything into uniform-ish pieces, so all the veg will cook at an even rate.
4. Add the carrot and the celery to the pot, and sauté for about 10 minutes. Add the leek, and sauté another 5 minutes or so.
5. Meanwhile, peel and slice the potato. After the leek has been added, toss the potato slices into the pot, along with the can of (rinsed) chickpeas. (Don’t worry about how thinly the potato is sliced; it should break down a bit during cooking, and will thicken the soup.)
6. Add the chicken stock to the pot, as well as the remaining thyme and bay leaf. Bring the soup to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer; let the soup cook gently for about 2 hours.
7. When you think its done, remove the soup from the heat. Throw away the thyme sprig and the bay leaf.
8. Take the chicken meat from the refrigerator and shred it into bite-sized pieces. Stir the chicken into the soup, and then cover the pot with a lid. Let the soup sit for about an hour.
9. Just before serving, heat it gently, and stir in the basil.
10. Just before you are read to eat, toast however much bread you like. Rub each slice down with the remaining garlic, and then butter generously.
11. Cut each piece of toast into batons, for dipping into the soup. Top each bowl of soup with the crispy bacon and a crack of black pepper. Serve with toast and a hunk of pecorino cheese.