1. Boat Motor Soup
Soup making is a creative art. Soup styles run the spectrum between a simple Campbell’s-like chicken rice soup with a just a tiny bit of carrots and celery, to a complex minestrone with three starches (beans, rice, pasta), tomato, several vegetables, greens, and garnished with grated Parmesan and olive oil.
I’m fussy about soup. I don’t subscribe to the clean-out-your-leftovers school of soup making. I never put corn in soup, I hate canned diced tomatoes, I think boxed stock is a bad value (but don’t let that stop you!) and I don’t like reheated potatoes.
Most of all, I need to have a good amount of broth in each spoonful of soup I eat. The proportion of liquid to non-liquid ingredients is crucial; boredom sets in when there’s not enough broth.
I love putting a soup together. I’ll make (usually) chicken stock and let it sit in the fridge a day or two while I mull over ingredients, mentally adding and discarding them, getting a flash of inspiration. To me it’s exciting.
But sometimes I say the heck with all that and just boat motor some soup using a hand held blender. It’s pleasantly mindless but still top quality. I promise the hand held blender is a handy purchase: pureeing in a regular blender is more work and less fun.
Boat motor soup could not be easier. Just pick some vegetables (mushrooms too) that don’t mind being pureed, add some kind of soup stock and adjust to the consistency you like with water if you don’t have enough stock.
Sauté washed, peeled, and cut vegetables of choice (except parsley), add chicken stock to cover and boil.
Beware making this soup too thin. Barely cover the veg with stock and dilute later; if you add too much stock you’re out of options except cooking more veg or eating thin soup.
Blend in saucepan when vegetables are cooked, adding water if needed to desired consistency. Sprinkle with minced parsley.
2. No Thought Stir Fry
The same principle of pleasant mindlessness can apply to stir fry. A well crafted stir fry can be a thing of beauty, with a few carefully selected and prettily cut vegetables combined with your protein of choice.
In the past couple years I’ve kicked up the deliciousness of my stir fries containing meat by a simple preparation method that also works with well with shrimp or scallops. It’s simply to cut the meat in small strips, flour lightly and stir fry separately. Flouring and separately stir frying gives the meat a tiny crispness and a much better flavor.
But as with soup, sometimes you don’t feel like finessing a stir fry because it’s a workaday dinner day and all you have is carrots, celery, and onion. That’s when to dice your staple vegetables on hand and stir fry with flavor additions: garlic, ginger, cilantro, sesame, and of course soy sauce.
Still, you can make this prosaic dish wonderful by adding chicken stock thickened with cornstarch, coating your everyday vegetables with a velvety sauce.
Dice vegetables on hand. Stir fry with minced garlic and ginger. When vegetables are still very crunchy add one or two cups of chicken stock thickened with up to one tablespoon cornstarch. Flavor with soy sauce.
It’s a party when you have chow mein noodles on hand.
Stop cooking when vegetables are still crunchy. Mix in pan with cooked rice or serve on top of rice. Top with sesame seeds or any roasted nut. Add soy sauce to taste.
3. Last Resort: Still Fab
When the chicken stock is homemade, it’s still satisfying to just sip a cup or eat with crumbled saltines. Toasted leftover bread or quickly mixed dumplings are good too.
Just Do It!
Try it, you’ll like it! Buy a few packs of chicken bones and boil them for a couple of hours with carrots, celery, onion, parsley, and salt.
Strain well, twice to make sure. It is an undeniable pain to wash pans, bowls, and colander / strainer.
Refrigerate stock overnight and you can easily discard the fat (or use it to sauté vegetables). If you’re using the stock the day you make it you can remove the fat with strips of paper towels skimmed over the hot stock.
Don’t pay too much for soup bones.
A great shopping street will have a chicken store with inexpensive bones for sale. Ask at butcher shops. A supermarket may have frozen bones in addition to fresh.
Yeah, chicken stock really ties the meal together!