Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Caldito para la Niña

I've mentioned it before: I'm the Jewish kid who didn't grow up eating chicken soup. I didn't understand the whole "Chicken Soup for the Soul" thing (although after I opened one of those books up, I really didn't want to), and the penicilin in our house was the liquid bubble-gum flavored kind. I loved (and still do love) my mom's vegetarian matzoh ball soup, but I wouldn't say we ever ascribed medicinal properties to it either.
Then I moved to another continent and started living in sin with someone whose idea of meal planning was to buy a whole chicken on the weekend, hack it up with a big kitchen knife, and, meal by meal, consume the chicken parts over the course of the week, braising the legs one day, then shredding the breast to use in pasta, then making chicken soup with the innards and wings and whatever else was left over. Not bad meal planning, not at all, actually, just not at all what I was used to. After awhile, though, I was the one making sure we bought the chicken. I didn't want it for the "real" parts of the chicken though-- the legs, the breasts (whose appeal I fail miserably to understand-- does anyone honestly prefer white meat?); I just wanted the chicken soup. 

We were living in an apartment that for God knows what reason had the kitchen and bathroom outside, and I was cold all winter long. Felipe would get up in the cold and heat up breakfast while I huddled, drowsy and pathetic, under the covers. By far the best thing about those mornings was when Felipe had made chicken soup the day before, and would bring me a bowl of it, steaming and fragrant with cilantro, into the bedroom. One of the consequences of being pathetic is that the other, more functional person may well decide to mock you. "Caldito para la niña," he would appear, smiling, maneuvering his way into the room with a steaming bowl of soup in each hand. "Caldito para la niña que tiene tanto frio" (broth for the the little girl who's so cold). 
My friend Mira was the impetus for getting Felipe to explain to me exactly how he makes his soup. She's seeking the perfect chicken soup, the platonic ideal of liquid comfort. I would certainly not consider myself an expert, not in chicken soup eating, and certainly not in chicken soup making, but this version is hard to beat. It's not your grandmother's chicken soup-- it's not even Felipe's grandmother's chicken soup, because she certainly didn't use smoked paprika or turmeric, elements that make the broth particularly deep-flavored, and particularly helpful on those mornings where getting out of bed seems a monumental challenge. 

Caldo de Pollo (Cold Morning Chicken Soup)

Giblets, wings and thighs from 1 chicken (even if you don't normally like them-- I don't-- the giblets are important to flavor the broth)
7 c. water
2 medium potatoes (or 4 small ones), peeled, quartered and sliced
¼ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. smoked paprika
½ tsp. turmeric
1½ Tbsp. salt
10 grinds pepper
2 bay leaves
2 spring onions or 4 scallions, finely sliced
1 medium-large tomato, finely chopped
½ c. packed cilantro leaves

Place the chicken and 7 c. water in a large pot over high heat. Add in the potatoes, cumin, smoked paprika, turmeric, salt, pepper and bay leaves. When the pot comes to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer. After 15 min., add in the tomatoes, onions, and cilantro, then let the soup simmer for another 15 min. Taste for salt.

As far as serving goes, make sure that the giblets go to someone who wants to eat them, or leave them in the pot. We normally eat one wing or thigh per person. For a more filling meal, serve with rice, adding it already cooked to each bowl of soup, or serving it on the side, spilling a bit of the broth over the rice. It is also very good with a hunk of challah on the side.

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