I have only just begun to wake up from my holiday-induced hibernation. Never mind the early arrival of darkness, the cosy fires and inviting couch; it has been a blanket of sugar, butter and cream that has kept me in this sedative state.
As others seem to agree, this post-festive season lull allows for a bit of sensory recuperation; an opportunity to recharge after an onslaught of tinsel, twinkling lights and sheer gluttony.
It is during times like these I tend to crave immediacy of flavours - I have no patience for subtlety. I want to dispel this midwinter fog with the brightness of summer-hot chilies, the unapologetically verdant hit of cilantro and the acidic tang of limes. Each flavour distinct, no long-simmered blending to cloud their impact.
While I would love to be able to say that I had the energy and the wherewithal to tackle an authentically Thai or Chinese preparation, it is January and I’m still feeling slightly delicate. So instead I turn to an old friend and standby; my Mother’s vaguely Asian chicken-corn soup.
A taste directly transcribed from my childhood, this soup made an appearance whenever we had home-made chicken stock on hand. Served in small white bowls with a fluted edge and a rim of gold, it always felt like a special occasion. It is astoundingly simple to make, forgiving in its quantities and with great allowance for improvisation. Borrowing from various cuisines, this dish delivers the clarity of flavours I so crave, with minimal fuss.
Mother’s vaguely Asian chicken-corn soup
My variation on her creation, with thanks.
2 cups (500 ml) chicken stock
1/2 cup (125 ml) water
2 green onions/scallions, finely sliced, with white and green parts separated
Ginger (see note)
1/2 cup of shredded cooked chicken
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) cream-style corn
Chili oil/chili sauce (optional)
1/4 cup of roughly-torn cilantro leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 Thai bird chilies, with our without seeds, finely julienned
1 lime, cut into quarters
In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, combine stock, water, the white part of the green onion, ginger and garlic, if using. Bring to a simmer, and allow to steep for 5 minutes, until the broth is fragrant.
Add the shredded chicken, corn and chili sauce/oil, reduce the heat to medium-low and gently simmer for another 8-10 minutes.
Finish with the reserved green onion, a few drops of sesame oil and the cilantro leaves. Stir through to combine. Check for seasoning.
Serve with a sprinkling of julienned chili and a spritz of lime, if desired.
• Home-made chicken stock is my preference, but there are some excellent store-bought alternatives available. I would use a low-sodium variety.
• I’ve not included a quantity for the ginger, as it really depends on your taste and mood. When I am looking for assertiveness I will throw in a few 1 inch matchsticks, while I’ll simply grate in a hint when I want just a background earthy heat. Trust your own judgement.
• Canned cream-style corn is readily available (and another childhood favourite), but I highly recommend Alton Brown’s version, omitting the rosemary from his recipe.
• If you do not have chili sauce/oil on hand, I would add a few pieces of the julienned chili to the stock as it simmers, reserving some for garnish.
• My mother would always scramble an egg into the soup to finish - as one does with egg drop soup. She would bring the soup to a boil and then, in a thin, steady stream she would stir in the beaten egg.
• For a vegetarian variation, substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock and omit the chicken. In this version, you could also use a can of baby corn instead, adding vegetable dumplings and/or Chinese greens.