Valentine’s Day foods usually revolve around those such as chocolate, sparkling wine, and a bevy of pink and red eats (salmon, shrimp, raspberries, strawberries, and so on). Hardy February Fourteeners celebrate the 14th of the month — and stain plates — with beets.
Much attention, too, is paid to the edible aphrodisiacs such as oysters, figs, pomegranates and avocados.
But here’s something to give, receive, and eat for Valentine’s Day (and beyond) that’s not so much about being sensual or even being visually teasing. It’s the ultimate food that cares: chicken soup. It’s for showing your love in a bowl when that would be the best love to give.
If you travel a lot, you’ll find that most every country or cuisine has its take on chicken soup. While, for us, it may be chicken noodle or chicken with rice, it’s tom kha gai (hot and sour chicken coconut soup) for the Thai, avgolemono (chicken lemon egg soup) in Greece, and ajiaco (chicken soup and potatoes) in Colombia. And so on.
Here are five ways to show your love with chicken soup, inspired by some other countries’ recipes for the ultimate comfort food.
The main recipe is my own, a full-flavored and nicely gelatinous stock that is doubled in intensity in a manner that I learned from James Beard. First, make a stock from a couple of carcasses of roast chicken (say, two rotisseries chickens from the grocer’s, the meat from which you’ve already used in other dishes). Then, simmer another, whole raw chicken in that broth in order to boost the stock’s flavor as well as render gently-cooked meat for use in your own versions of chicken soup.
Stock of Roast Chicken Carcass, Doubled
Makes 2-3 quarts
2 carcasses from roast (not raw) chickens
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced in halves along their “equators”
3 stalks celery (leaves OK), cut in halves
2 medium carrots, scrubbed but unpeeled, cut in halves
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled but smashed
6 parsley stems
2 sprigs fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 whole raw chicken, cut up at its joints, breasts quartered, and including ribs and backbone, skin on
Break apart or cut the roast chicken carcasses into pieces, especially at the joints, the more pieces the better. Sear the 4 onion halves over medium-low heat in the pot you will use to make the stock until the cut sides are very nicely browned.
Add the remaining ingredients, except the whole raw chicken, and cover everything with cold or room temperature water by a good inch. Bring to a soft boil, then simmer, just, partially covered, for 3-4 hours, skimming fat or foam that might rise and replenishing with boiling water, if necessary, to keep everything submerged.
Strain the stock of its solids, and return to the pot with the whole raw chicken portions. Bring that to a boil, then simmer the lot, partially covered, skimming of fat and foam, for 1/2 hour. Remove the 4 pieces of breast, set aside, and continue simmering for another hour.
Strain the doubled stock, through cheesecloth if you wish it clearer, then remove the meat from the bones, including the reserved breast meat, to use for other preparations.
With vegetables: Be precise about cooking times for perfectly cooked, just-slightly chewy vegetables. Gently boil the following vegetable pieces for the stated times in the double stock: 20 minutes (1/2-inch chunked carrot, celery root, parsnip, waxy potato, or sweet potato; very thin slices of onion or leek); 10 minutes (1/2 inch chunked red bell pepper, butternut squash, or zucchini; 1-inch segments green bean or cabbage leaf); 5 minutes (corn kernel, frozen pea, thin slices chard leaf, or brussels sprout leaf). Add chicken meat pieces to your liking.
With rice, in an Asian way: Boil 1 cup uncooked jasmine rice, 1 1-inch piece peeled and small-diced ginger, and 1 teaspoon minced garlic with 8 cups doubled chicken stock, for 20 minutes. Toward the end of the simmering, add 1 cup chopped raw mushroom and 4 teaspoons soy sauce (and a splash of dark sesame oil if you wish), cooking the mushrooms until just done and adding chicken meat pieces to your liking to heat through. Serve topped with sliced scallion.
With “prizes” of cheese rind: Italian mothers often award good behavior in their children with a rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the bottom of the kids’ bowls of chicken soup. Keep rinds of the cheese in the freezer and, when the time comes, drop one in before ladling in the soup (being sure it is super hot). Or, reward yourself similarly. Add chicken meat pieces to your liking.
Thai tom kha gai: To 4 cups stock, add 1 14-ounce can coconut milk, 6 “coins” peeled sliced ginger, 1 stalk lemongrass cut into 1-inch pieces, 1/2 cup sliced raw dark mushrooms, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla), 1 teaspoon brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon chili paste. Simmer for 10 minutes, stir in as much pieces of chicken as you wish, 8 torn up leaves basil and 1/4 cup leaves cilantro and serve, first removing pieces of lemongrass if desired.
Reach Bill St John at email@example.com