The Hairy Bikers made this soup as part of their ‘Best of British’ series some years ago, and I’ve been making it religiously ever since then. The original recipe is a bit labour-intensive, so I’ve adjusted it through the years to suit my palate and patience levels. It’s now lazy-person compatible, which suits me perfectly.
It involves building up a fragrant stock and then adding chicken meatballs, drawing inspiration from Matzo balls – so it’s a bit of a fusion-y soup, which I’ve turned Thai along the way. Ah well. The stock is sour and spicy, with a second huge spicy hit coming from the chicken balls.
I hate being ill. I know right, shocker. I turn into a complete drama queen, convinced I’m going to die and that all hope is lost. This soup, I have discovered, can just about help me keep my head on my shoulders and get some perspective. Besides which, focussing for hours on perfecting the flavours gives me something else to think about than my inevitable mortality and the fragility of my body.
I told you I get dramatic.
Just in time for Christmas, I’ve been struck down with a stupid cold, so I distracted myself with some nice music and spending an afternoon making this. I’ve been promising the recipe to friends for years, so finally here it is!
For the chicken meatballs
500g chicken breast
5″ piece of ginger, skin on if it’s fresh enough
5-6 cloves garlic
3 spicy chillies (I use bird’s eye)
Large handful of coriander (you could also use 2 tsp of Indian coriander chutney if you have it!)
2tbsp lemon juice
1 large onion
For the fragrant stock
3 lemongrass leaves, slightly bruised and sliced
4 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fish sauce
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup soy sauce
4-5 bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
3″ square ginger
Large handful coriander, chopped
Small handful Thai basil, chopped
Small handful mint, chopped
Vegetables to go in the stock
This is up to you – whatever you have to hand can work really well. Carrots, mushrooms, peppers, bean sprouts, beans, anything. Add them once the stock is finished, to cook before adding the chicken, and to your taste.
Mix all the ingredients for the stock (except the fresh herbs) in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and then a rolling simmer.
While the stock is simmering and the flavours are intensifying, make the chicken balls.
In a chopper, mix all the ingredients except the chicken until you get a fine paste. Remove and add to a mixing bowl, and season to taste. Then add the chicken to the chopper and mince it finely. This will also ensure that you get all the goodness out of the chopper, since the chicken gets into all the nooks and crannies as it’s mincing – easier to wash up!
Add the chicken to the bowl, and thoroughly mix it all together so you have a large blob of delicious-smelling chicken. You may need to add more lemon juice to get the consistency you want. Leave the chicken to marinate as you check on the stock.
(You could always form the chicken into balls and freeze them for the next time you’re about to die of a cold. Jus’ sayin’.)
Add ingredients and seasonings to the stock as you desire, to make sure the flavours are well balanced. If you’re making this when you’re at death’s door, as I am now, don’t hold back on the ginger, garlic or chilli! All of these act as anti-oxidants and help expel the germs. Plus they taste divine.
This is the most hassle-laden stage of cooking, and the one I pay most attention to since a perfect broth is a Godsend when you’re ill.
The ingredients and quantities above are rough guidelines that I use as a base, but some days I’ll add more chillies, other days I’ll throw in some sugar – feel free to experiment. Some Shaoxing rice vinegar or mirin gives it an interesting depth, as does green tea.
When you’re happy with how the stock tastes, strain out the aromatics and add your vegetables to cook. The chicken should take about 5-7 minutes to cook, so depending on the vegetables you use, and how crunchy you want them, you can add the chicken at the same time.
Divide the chicken mixture evenly – I tend to get around 30 balls – and roll them between your palms. You may need to wet your hands to make them easier to handle and shape. As they’re ready, just drop them into the soup. When they’ve all been added, add the chopped herbs and prepare your final garnishes. Sometimes I like to garnish with julienned ginger and even more chilli!
I like to bulk this out by adding egg noodles at this stage, but you could of course keep tis as just a simple soup. If you’re adding noodles, cook them towards the end, and in the same pot
Test if the chicken is cooked all the way though, and when it’s ready, ladle the whole thing out into your favourite bowl and enjoy!