It’s hard to believe we’re already almost at the end of April, the days are getting shorter and darker, I’ve finally re-embraced wearing tights. It seems like just yesterday that we were all complaining about the lack of a summer, and now here we are, thigh-deep in autumn, whether we like it or not. I like it. Despite the deliriously frantic pace of the last few weeks, this autumn has been nice – that sort of settling-in feeling has set in, I’ve been making soups and curries and braised meats and bringing out the woolly jumpers and savouring every bit of it.
This time last year was much the same: April sped by at a breakneck pace, just shy of overwhelming. But this time, though it’s crept up on me, I’m in a bit more control. If last April started with a bang and a headlong descent into a chaotic busy-girl frenzy, this year’s April started with a whimper and a steady crescendo to a controlled pandemonium. Which is better, I guess.
At the beginning of the month (and I can’t believe it’s already three weeks ago) I found myself huddled under the duvet in a friend’s* bed in Auckland, that horrible alternating between shivery cold and feverish sweat, dreaming weird feverish dreams in which I didn’t make it back to Wellington alive. Of all the times I could possibly get sick, of course it had to be on a weekend away.
So that was awful. But despite my fever-induced delusions to the contrary, I did live to see the morning (and an excellent breakfast at Kokako in Grey Lynn, and the Degas to Dali exhibition at the art gallery, and some amazing turbot sliders at Depot), and I managed to make it back to Wellington alive.
And when I got home, I made this soup. It’s a simple chicken soup, simple enough to make when you’ve got nothing in the fridge, just as long as you get some bone-in chicken pieces and a carrot or two. It was super delicious, and it saw out the rest of my cold, and the rest of that crazy-busy week when the only thing I wanted was the thing I didn’t have time for: rest.
You see, chicken soup is the best thing for when you’re sick, tired, hungry, stressed, overwhelmed, all those things that happen to people all the time but to me especially when the seasons are changing and it’s getting colder and darker and things are getting busy. It’s down-to-earth, pure, simple comfort food, and it’s kept my feet firmly planted on the ground during what was an incredibly busy couple of weeks.
This recipe is really more of a loose method than anything else. You might have your own favourite chicken soup recipe; for those who don’t I’m sharing mine. It’s simple enough that you can make it even when you’re too feeble to do much else, which is an important thing for this kind of food.
Feel free to get creative and add or subtract ingredients – the key thing you’re looking for is a deeply soothing broth with chunks of meat and vegetables. Things like barley, noodles, rice, little alphabet pasta, etc are an added bonus – I really, really like the almost-chewy, wholesome quality of barley though.
*so many thank-yous to Sophie for looking after me! x
CHICKEN & BARLEY SOUP
Get a bone-in chicken leg quarter, or 3 or 4 drumsticks, or any combination of bone-in chicken pieces. Put in a big pot and cover with plenty of water. Add some things like: an onion, sliced in half, a carrot, maybe some celery tops, herbs from the garden, peppercorns, bay leaves, that sort of thing. Bring to the boil, skim off the scum that rises, cover and let simmer on a low heat until the chicken’s cooked and comes off the bone easily – about an hour.
Take the chicken out of the pot, pull the meat from the bones, return the bones to the pot and let simmer as long as you can manage – an hour more, perhaps, or longer if you’ve got time to kill, like if you’ve taken the day off work.
Meanwhile, chop up the chicken (or pull apart with your fingers, depending on how you like it) and set aside. Roughly chop a carrot or two, an onion, celery if you’ve got it, plenty of garlic.
In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat up some butter or olive oil (or both) over a medium heat and saute the carrot, onion and celery until they start to soften a bit. Add the garlic and some sprigs of thyme* and let cook a little bit more until fragrant, then add some pearl barley (I used about 3/4 cup, but you could use less or more depending on how thick you want it – just adjust the liquid if need be). Season with a bit of salt and pepper.
Using a sieve, strain the chicken stock from the other pot into the pot with the vegetables and barley. If it needs more liquid, add a bit of water and adjust the seasoning. Bring to the boil and then let simmer for 30 minutes or until the barley’s nice and tender. Add the chopped chicken, heat through, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Serve on its own or with hot buttered toast.
*or whatever herbs you’ve got on hand that you think might go nicely: oregano, chopped up rosemary, tarragon, etc.