My sister Clare is my witty, beautiful, cool-as-a-cucumber role model who recently invited me to join her book club. She’s ten, by the way. Our other club members are Clare’s friend Tess, and my twenty-three year old sister Frances. It’s a great club. As the founding member and club president, Clare chooses our books, the latest one being Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux. It’s the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread—I highly recommend it.
In the book, soup plays a key role, specifically the Queen’s favorite chicken, watercress, and garlic soup. I thought it was only fitting that for our club meeting, I’d try to recreate this legendary soup.
So here goes! Step one: have your mom roast two delicious chickens for dinner the night before. No but seriously, if you happen to be home, like me, for two days, and your mom happens to roast a chicken or two for dinner, this is a golden opportunity for homemade chicken stock. Chicken soup is a no-brainer the night after a roast chicken dinner. Just pick any of the leftover meat off the carcass (save the meat for the soup), and throw the carcass with all the chicken-roasting-juices in a big pot with some onions, carrots, celery, garlic, peppercorns (whatever you have around, really—it doesn’t matter), cover it all with plenty of cold water and allow it to simmer uncovered overnight. You’ll have beautiful chicken stock in the morning! Or, if no roast-chicken-carcasses are in your near future, you could buy some chicken stock at the store…
Step two: Get out any inner frustrations by crushing your garlic cloves with the side of a knife. Literally, lay the knife on its side on top of a clove of garlic, and bang down on it with the heel of your hand… it’s a good tension reliever. The papery cover will fall right off, and your garlic will be split, crushed and ready to go. Melt this down in a pan with your sliced onions and some butter. Season with salt and pepper as you go. When the onions are soft and translucent, add your chicken stock (if you’re making your own stock, strain it through a colander, refrigerate the stock, and remove the congealed fat before using).
Step three: Cook the chicken. If you’re using the picked-off-extra-meat from last night’s roast chicken, this is already done for you. If you wanted to roast some chicken breasts, do it in a 350⁰ oven for 30 minutes. Or you could just throw in raw chicken and it will poach in the hot broth. The chicken is done when it’s white, not pink. Taste it for seasoning, and add salt if necessary.
Step four: Just before serving, roughly chop some watercress. In each bowl of soup, drop a healthy handful of the crispy greens. If you do this ahead of time, the greens will turn army-fatigue green and lose their crunch, so it’s best to do it right as you serve the soup. I’m not sure if this soup lives up to the queen’s soup in DiCamillo’s story, but it was an attempt! Clare liked it, so that’s a start…
(these are all approximations—it’s hard to go wrong with soup, so just throw stuff in!)
- 10-12 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 5 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- ½ stick of butter
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- 10-12 cups of chicken broth
- 2-3 chicken breasts, sliced into bite sized pieces
- 2 more teaspoons of salt, or more!
- A bunch of watercress
Serves about 6!