This week’s lesson at the CSCA involved butchering. Both of a chicken and of my nerves.
Soups and stocks might not sound like the most threatening of opponents, but there were moments when I felt as if I’d bit off more than I could chew (bah!). And all this angst brought on by one of the most comforting meals out there: Chicken Noodle Soup with Parmesan Croutons.
Last week I’d felt as though I’d ducked out of a challenge. Though I’d been eager to finally learn the art of Eggs Benedict, it certainly wasn’t the most difficult recipe in The Packet.
Stocks take upwards of four to six hours to make, so Chef gave us tips and techniques instead (like, never season your stock), and we used a pre-made batch for our own soups. There were fewer recipes to choose from this week, so most people split up into groups of two. But as no one else volunteered to make the Chicken Noodle, I decided to go it alone.
There’s something about a long list of prep that makes me sweat. It didn’t take long before I started to experience little waves of panic, self doubt and thoughts of “I can’t do all this!” There were all those vegetables to chop, a whole chicken to butcher (it didn’t help that Chef made it look effortless. I ended up snapping some of the bones by hand rather than mangling the poor bird trying to find the right joint to saw through), plus the pasta and croutons to make. Who knew Chicken Noodle could be so intimidating?
It’s pretty laughable now that Chicken Noodle almost defeated me, but I’d like to think I’m not alone in this situation. It’s easy as a beginner to get overwhelmed by a recipe, no matter how simple it may be. To see everything as a step, rather than the completed whole, can be pretty daunting and, though my soup turned out beautifully in the end, I know this won’t be my last “Crap!” moment in an apron.
The most important thing I learned this week is to taste, taste, TASTE! Seasoning can really come back to haunt you if not done in the early stages. I’d added some hefty pinches of salt and pepper, but they didn’t match up to the enormous pot of simmering soup before me. Chef came over with two spoons, more salt and pepper, and a lemon. We’d add a little of each, then taste. Add a little, taste. This went on until we got it just right, and it was amazing how each addition changed the overall flavor completely.
This “TASTE!” idea was Cooking Epiphany #3 in my foray. Again, so simple, yet so necessary.
The Chicken Noodle was delightful, the perfect dish for a cold day. But you can find that recipe anywhere, so I’ll leave you this week with a soup made by another group that really bowled me over (bah! again):
Fennel Corn Chowder
6 slices of bacon
2 TBS vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 large fennel bulb, cored and cut in ¼ inch dice
4 large garlic cloves, germ removed and minced
¼ cup of flour
4 cups of chicken stock
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut in ½ inch dice
Kernels from 5 ears of corn, roasted, or 2 cups of frozen corn, toasted
1 cup of heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
To grill or roast fresh corn, heat grill or oven to 400°F. Remove all but the innermost layer of husk. Snip off tassel. Soak corn in water for 30 minutes. Place on grill or on rack in oven and roast until husks curl and brown, about 20 minutes. If using frozen corn kernels, first defrost and rinse. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Add corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until kernels begin to brown and pop, about 3 to 5 minutes.
In a large soup pot, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered and it is crisp. Add the vegetable oil and sauté the onion, fennel, and garlic until tender, or for approximately 2 minutes. Add the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly add the chicken stock and whisk to remove any lumps. Add the potatoes and cook until just tender. Add corn and cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.
(Roberta L. Dowling © 2003)