Asymmetrical Information - Megan McArdle

11.02.12

The Gadget Chef: Reconstructed Chicken Soup

Foolproof. And remarkably easy . . . if you have the right gadgets.

I am, as longtime readers know, a huge kitchen gadget afficionado.  The purists who say that they need nothing except a cast iron dutch oven and a good chef's knife may scoff, but I stand firm.  Just because you can do everything with a few simple tools doesn't mean that doing so is better, or more virtuous.  Your great-great-grandmother did everything over a wood stove or an open fire, with none of this sissified dependence on temperature controls and refrigerated ingredients.  That doesn't mean that that's the best way to do things.  

But as a result, I have a lot of gadgets for which there are no, or very few, cookbooks.  So I've had to improvise.   Since I know a couple of my other readers have the same problem for their Thermomixes and sous-vide machines, I offer recipes that take advantage of the machine's capabilities.  

First up, "reconstructed" chicken soup.  I love chicken soup.  But getting it just right is tricky.  If you don't time it just right when you add the ingredients, the meat is dry or the noodles aren't cooked or the vegetables are soggy.  And this is a particular problem if I try to use my favorite cut: the boneless, skinless chicken breast

How could I get a really tasty chicken soup without spending the rest of my life hovering over the stove?  The answer is my thermomix and sous vide machine, which let me cook delicate ingredients separately--a sort of deconstructed chicken soup.   Then we put them all together in the end for . . . reconstructed chicken soup. You don't technically need all the gadgets to do this, but without them, the PITA factor gets kind of high.

The result is pretty great. Not quite what you would get if you used a Thomas Keller recipe that started with lovingly hand-raising your own Leghorns.  But for something made quickly, with standard ingredients, it was terrific.  And believe it or not, it took about 10-20 minutes of active time.   When I work from home, I'll frequently start this in the afternoon, and then finish it when we're ready to eat.

The amount of ingredients are just guidelines.  This makes a soup that is heavy with meat, veggies and noodles. If you like more broth, add another box.  If you like more veggies (or different ones) cook them up and add 'em in--I'd use chunks of celery cooked the same way I do the carrots, except that my husband hates them.  If you're a dill fan (I'm not), you should toss in a teaspoon.  Me, I'm pretty simple in my chicken soup desires: a few spices, carrots and mushrooms, and I'm good to go.  

One other note: I refuse to give amounts for salt and pepper.  For one thing, these are individual tastes.  And for another, you're grinding, aren't you?  In the case of pepper, I certainly hope you are, because fresh ground pepper is incomparably better than those old cigarette ashes they sell in cans labeled "preground" pepper.

Anyway, if you have a pepper grinder, you are not going to patiently stand there and grind the damn stuff into a saucer so you can measure it.  You're going to do what any reasonable human being would, which is take the grinders to the stove, and grind in salt and pepper until it looks right.  There's no need to waste your time or mine with directions you won't follow.

You will need:  

The gadgets:

1 Thermomix  

1 Sous Vide Machine  

1 Vacuum Sealer

Almost-homemade broth:

Leftover chicken bones or carcass from a roasted chicken (Just stick them in a plastic bag after dinner and pop them in the freezer until you're ready to use--wing and leg bones work particularly well)  

2 boxes low-sodium chicken broth  

1/2 cup white wine  

The soup filler:

1 to 1.5 pounds Boneless, skinless chicken breasts  

1 tablespoon dried parsley, or 2 tablespoons fresh  

2 teaspoons thyme, or 1.5 tablespoons fresh

2 teaspons sage, or 1.5 tablespoons fresh

1 clove of fresh garlic, or 1.2-1 tsp garlic powder  

Salt

Fresh ground pepper

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion

1 stalk celery

1 carrot (or a handful of baby carrots)  

8 ounces mushrooms  

1 cup of baby or regular carrot in 1-inch pieces

8 ounces (half a bag) of broad egg noodles  

Step One:

Pre-heat your sous-vide to 140 degrees.

Step Two: Start your almost homemade broth:

Place white wine, chicken bones, and boxed chicken broth into a pot large enough to hold all of them. Bring to a boil over high heat.  You can skip this step if you have had a less exciting year than I, and thus have a freezer well-stocked with homemade chicken broth.

Step Two: Prep your chicken breasts  

Mix together the parsley, thyme, sage, and garlic.  Sprinkle liberally over your chicken breasts along with a grinding of salt and pepper.  Don't use a light hand--your chicken will look quite green when you've done it right.  Seal in a vacuum bag and place in sous vide machine.  

Step Three:  Turn down the broth  

It is probably boiling by now.  Turn down heat to low and cover.  

Step Four: Take a Break  

You have at least a couple of hours, and up to 3.5 hours, before you have to do anything else.  (These steps can be done the day ahead.)  

Step Five:  Make your mirepoix  

Put the butter into the Thermomix at 100 degrees/Speed One/1 minute.  Use that minute to peel the onion and carrot, and wash your celery.  Cut each into quarters and pop into the machine.  Chop for 10 seconds on speed five.  Cook at 100 degrees/speed one/five minutes.  

Step Six: Chop your mushrooms  and carrots

I like quarters, though you can skip this step by buying pres-sliced and I won't tell.

Step Seven:  Strain the broth  Put it through a fine strainer, cheesecloth, or chinois in order to remove any scum and bones.  Put mushrooms in strainer basket and put the basket into the Thermomix with the mirepoix in the bottom.  Pour broth over mushrooms until it comes within a few inches of the lid (don't overfill!).  Put any leftover broth back in your stock pot.

Step Eight: Cook your vegetables  

Put the carrots (and any other vegetables you plan to use) in the Varoma steamer.  Cook over the broth and mushrooms on Varoma/Speed 1/28 minutes.  (Faster cooking vegetables, like broccoli, should be added halfway in.  Though I can't imagine why you'd put broccoli in this soup.)  

Step Nine: Take a break  

You've got almost half an hour.  Not enough time for a manicure, probably just enough time for a stiff drink.  

Step Ten:  Combine your Broths 

Empty the mushrooms from the strainer basket into the pot with the leftover broth.  Pour the broth from the Thermomix into the pot through the strainer basket, so that the mirepoix is separated out.  Discard the mirepoix.  (DO NOT put your cooked carrots in yet).  Turn heat on high and bring to a boil.  While it's coming to a boil, taste for salt--I find I need to add quite a lot at this stage, but of course remember that you can always put more in, but you can't take it out, so add it a little at a time.    

Step Eleven:  Cook your noodles

When the broth is boiling, add your noodles.  Cook for 6-8 minutes; you want them al-dente, because they'll keep cooking in the hot soup.  

Step Twelve: Finish your chicken  

Take the chicken out of the sous vide.  It will not look like what you are used to--"It's not done!" my mother cried--but in fact, it's perfectly sanitary, and unbelievably tender--the only boneless/skinless chicken breast I've ever had that could honestly be described as "moist". Chop or shred it into bite-sized pieces while the noodles are cooking.  

Step Thirteen: Put it all together

When the noodles are cooked, add the chicken, any juice the chicken has released, and the carrots to your soup.  Serve. Makes enough soup for at least 4-6.

 Obviously, you can do all this without the Thermomix and the sous vide, but it will take longer--you need to very carefully poach your chicken over low heat, chop your vegetables, etc.  This whole process takes me a few minutes of active time, then let it cook away while I'm doing something else.  And there's nothing like it on a fall afternoon.  

Next week:  slow-cooker beef stew, not quite as easy as the dreadful things that are done to innocent chicken breasts with cans of cream-of-mushroom soup, but much faster than the four-hour boeuf bourguignon I used to make for dinner parties.