This recipe marks my return to the kitchen after one of the blackest periods of my life, during which I’ve hardly eaten, and which, I hope, is now behind me. It was exhausting, and I’m sure there’ll be a price to pay tomorrow, but at least it will keep me going for a few days.
And yes, I still have plans for faggots at some point.
This is based on a Nigel Slater recipe for which the timings given are deeply suspect (I know that because I used them to make my version – the thighs weren’t cooked through by the time I had to strip the meat from the bones, not fun as the thighs stay hotter than the drumsticks). It’s also more intensely flavoured. (As it turned out, not nearly intensely flavoured enough – see comments near the end.)
800-900g free range chicken drumstick and thighs
160g Oyster mushrooms
250g Pak Choi
Bunch of large spring onions
2 Kallo Organic Chicken stock cubes
2 rafts Sharwood’s fine egg noodles, broken up roughly (do this in a bowl or basin, or bits will ricochet all over the kitchen)
3 tablespoon Sharwood’s Rich Soy Sauce
4-5 good shakes Nam Pla (fish sauce)
1 tablespoon Oyster sauce
A couple of splashes Sesame oil (light, not the dark, roasted kind)
The quantities for the three sauces are just suggestions, as people’s tastes vary so much. You can always add more, you can’t take it out. Bear in mind that it makes almost 3 litres of soup, so the amount per bowl is quite low. Sesame oil is an acquired taste, use as much or as little as you like. Or none.
In a three-litre steel casserole or pan, put about a quarter of an inch of oil, sunflower, rapeseed, something bland, and brown the chicken in batches to avoid chilling the oil. Remove to a deepish plate so no juices are lost. When they’re all browned, set aside.
While the chicken is browning, chop the mushrooms, checking that they’re clean and free of foreign bodies as you go, then brown lightly in the oil. Add the trimmed and thinly sliced onions to them for a couple of minutes.** Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the chicken.
**For a more oniony flavour add at the same time as the Pak Choi.
Pour a little boiling water into the pan/casserole and scrape up the caramelised chicken residue, toss in the stock cubes and stir until dissolved. Add the chicken thighs, and enough boiling water to cover if necessary, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the drumsticks and any remaining mushrooms/onion, cover well with boiling water, return to the boil, reduce and simmer for 25 minutes more.
Remove the chicken to the plate – the meat of both thighs and drumsticks should be falling from the bone – and unless you have asbestos fingers, put them in the fridge to cool, turning the temperature as low as it’ll go.
While the meat is cooling, separate the Pak Choi into leaves and the hearts, wiping clean with some damp kitchen towel as you go (it’s a bit prone to collecting dirt and flies between its layers), then roughly chop it into more or less spoon-sized pieces, and add to the stock along with the egg noodles. As before, bring to the boil, reduce and simmer.
Retrieve the chicken, which will still be hot, but should be bearable, strip the meat from the bones, discarding the bones, skin and any cartilage, and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. Add to the pot. This will drop the temperature, so bring it back to the boil and – oh heel, you know how that goes by now.
Simmer until the chicken is tender, adding boiling water as needed so that the meat remains covered.
Check occasionally to see if the meat is tender, once it is, remove from the heat, stir in the oyster sauce, season well with black pepper – there should be no need for salt – and leave to cool, then refrigerate overnight. All stews and soups benefit from an overnight rest so the flavours can snuggle up and get to know each other.
New morning, there will be a slightly congealed layer of oil and fast on the top. Remove some of it carefully, and store it in the fridge – lots of flavour in that.
Reheat, season with sesame oil, and serve.
Changes I would make:-
Having just eaten a bowl, I’d make some changes to the basic recipe:-
Omit the spring onion, and start by sweating off a finely-sliced leek, before browning the chicken.
Omit the oyster mushrooms – they go leathery. Instead, cross-hatch the tops of 3 or 4 dried shiitake mushrooms with a sharp knife, and throw them in for flavour. Discard before serving.
Double the Pak Choi. Summer Pak Choi stays much firmer in soups, this batch almost disappeared. (Both British grown.)
Be more heavy-handed with the flavourings. Much more.
Oh, and be more careful with the sesame oil – it got away from me this time!