11 Jan An Excerpt from Chef Nicola’s Cookbook, “Chef Nicola – For Food, Family and Friends”
Chapter – My Mother’s Chicken Soup
(Note: To purchase a copy of Chef Nicola’s Cookbook visit Momento’s Pizzeria & Restaurant in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, or call 570-422-1040.)
When I was a kiddo, I can remember how wonderful it was to come home and find my mother making my favorite chicken soup. This soup is simple, and ugly, and one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. Every time I taste it, it reminds me of why I went into the industry. It doesn’t matter how great a Chef you are, your talent, where you cook, or how famous you become – in the end no one cooks as good as momma.
To make this soup, my mother would take a whole organic chicken that she brought home from the market and put it in a pot of water. She would season the pot with salt and whatever herbs we had on hand to perfume the water. Next she would add a few cloves of garlic and fresh ground pepper (my momma loves fresh ground pepper). Momma would make sure the water covered the chicken and seasonings and then would put the whole pot with a lid on over a medium fire to boil.
From time to time, I would sneak into the kitchen and lift the lid of the pot to see the chicken cook, smell the rich scent of the herbs, and try to sneak a piece of the chicken skin as I was an impatient kiddo. My mother would tap my hand with her wooden spoon every time I did this and say ‘Arjan [my given name] leave the chicken alone’.
My friends and I use to go to the playground after school to play a game similar to American baseball, but when I would come home to find this soup cooking, I would tell my friends I couldn’t make the game. That’s how much I loved and was fascinated by the flavors of this soup.
When the chicken and stock were done cooking on the stove, my mother used to take a soup spoon of cornstarch, 1 tablespoon of 00 flour and combine it into a rue in a stainless-steel pot with 2 tablespoons of butter and extra virgin olive oil. Momma would slowly stir the pot so that the flour turned golden and looked like wet sand at the edge of the waves on the beach.
Momma would separate the chicken from the broth and chill the broth before mixing in the rue. After mixing in the rue, momma would do as we say in Italy ‘add a little bit of this and a little bit of that’, Which means to your palate you season the soup with herbs, salt, and pepper.
Momma would then take the soup and put it over a low fire for about 5 minutes so that the flavors of the soup and herbs would fully combine. Once the soup was warmed, momma would put two egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk them lightly to break them up, then slowly add them into the soup so that they don’t cook but blend into the mixture. Finally, momma would select a lemon from the basket we always kept on the counter, being careful to choose one with a thin skin as these have the best balance of juice inside. Momma would cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice directly into the soup based on her palate and how the balance of seasonings had emerged.
After the soup was made, momma would shred the chicken that had been placed aside to cool and put it into the soup. As a final touch, when momma served the soup she would top it with a swirl of browned butter.
No matter how many times I’ve had this soup – too many to count in truth – I remain fascinated. This soup represents everything a good dish should be to me. It is an explosion of flavors, smells, taste, and texture. It remains one of my favorite dishes and an inspiration to my cooking each and every day.