In the summer of 2012, during the peak of the December party season I was spectacularly sidelined by an ugly spell of Glandular Fever. In the mornings I would wake, summon the energy to peel myself from my linens, make the short commute from bed to couch and from there I would indulge the fancies of my fever with warm blankets, or air conditioner blasts and icepacks. In between naps on these long days in isolation my television worked overtime. When the Game of Thrones ran out and my craving for a return to routine could no longer be ignored, I began alternating between Ross Kemp and Louis Theroux documentaries, followed by episodes of Twin Peaks to take the edge off. After three weeks on this regimen of hard-hitting investigative journalism and even-far-out-for-art-house television I was completely despairing, wholly morose and utterly freaked out. On Day 22, following a particularly hard to watch hour with Louis and The Most Hated Family in America, I couldn’t take anymore. Louis (or more specifically, his subject matter) had left me with a pervasive sense of dread and disgust, and I feared another confronting hour with Kemp, or a weird-out session with Special Agent Dale Cooper might just do me in. Something had to give. With no small effort, I drove myself boldly in the direction of my kitchen where I set about reclaiming my will to live. Unsurprisingly after three weeks of illness, the contents of my fridge were limited and uninspiring. There were two tomatoes, some wilted spinach, eggs and a packet of chicken thighs Joel had generously brought over the night before. Downtrodden but not yet entirely disheartened I dug my recipe notebook out of a kitchen drawer and scanned it for inspiration – and I found it, in a scribbled recipe for Moroccan Chicken Soup.
My energy levels held out for a full thirty minutes while I chopped and sweated onions and garlic, cubed and browned chicken, peeled, deseeded, grated and simmered tomatoes, peppered everything with spices and covered it all with water. An hour of slow cooking later and my tiny apartment was filled with the mouth watering smell of paprika infused chicken broth, and a faint feeling of warmth and contentment was tugging at the edges of my being. It is probably owed to the strange and trying circumstances leading up to that bowl of soup, but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had a more satisfying meal before or since. Eighteen months and many bowls of soup later, I have continued to adapt and refine this recipe to deliver the comforting, warming flavours that first endeared me to it, while doing away with the tomato-based tedium of the original formula. Without further fuss or ado I present you with my favourite chicken soup recipe; a proven antidote to melancholy induced by prolonged isolation and uncomfortable television.
I’ve kept the cost down and eliminated the need for stock by using a jointed whole chicken. If you prefer, you can use 800g of your favourite cut of chicken with 1.5 litres of stock instead of water. My vegetarian friends may like to simmer chickpeas with cubes of sweet potato and pumpkin in this broth instead.
- 2 tablespoons of butter or ghee
- 1 chicken (1kg +), jointed, with skin removed
- 2 onions, chopped finely
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 400g can chopped tomatoes or 500ml tomato passata
- Heat the butter/ghee over a medium heat. Add chicken pieces and cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes or until browned.
- Drop the onions into the pan and cook until translucent.
- Throw the garlic into the pan and dust with the smoked paprika, cumin, chilli flakes and cinnamon. Stir to distribute the spices.
- Pour the chopped tomatoes or tomato passata into the pan, stir, then add in 1.5 litres (6 cups) of water.
- Bring slowly to the boil, then reduce to a slow simmer and continue to cook until the chicken is tender and falls from the bone when persuaded by a fork; circa 45 - 60 minutes.
- Lift the chicken from the soup using a slotted spoon and drop into a bowl. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, harvest the bones and return the chicken meat to the stock.
- Serve with a swirl of tahini, a dollop of sour cream or a sprinkling of feta cheese.
Serves 6 hungry people.
Nutrition information (calculated using butter and canned tomatoes, based on the estimate that circa 800g of edible chicken remains in the soup once the skin and bones of a 1kg+ bird are removed): 335 calories / 1401 kilojoules, 21g of fat, 28g of protein, 9g of carbohydrate, 3g of fibre, 6g effective carbs.