In January it's so niceWhile slipping on the sliding ice To sip hot chicken soup with rice Sipping once, sipping twice Sipping chicken soup with rice

-Maurice Sendak


A tip from the very divine mastermind of Glutton For Life sent me scurrying over to Michael Ruhlman’s website the other day, and once I had thoroughly alarmed myself about the possibilities of committing involuntary manslaughter with homemade chicken broth and taken a Solemn Vow Of Immediate Refrigeration, I stumbled into the embrace of Ruhlman’s essay on reviving Americans' interest in cooking for ourselves. It was a perfect antidote to the Alarming Broth Report, as well as a welcome encouragement to keep yabbering on in this space about what I make for dinner. Here is a snippet:

Americans are being taught that we’re too stupid to cook. That cooking is so hard we need to let other people do it for us. The messages are everywhere. Boxed cake mix. Why is it there? Because a real cake is too hard! You can’t bake a cake! Takes too long, you can’t do it, you’re gonna fail!

Look at all those rotisserie chickens stacked in the warming bin at the grocery store. Why? Because roasting a chicken is too hard, takes FOREVER. An hour. I don’t have an hour to watch a chicken cook!

Mindset, mindset! Exactly! Once more I found myself nodding vigorously enough to dislodge a molar. Life is full of drains on our time and distractions and pressing commitments, it’s true. But we have to eat, and often. All five senses are involved, whether they are rewarded for it or not. You don’t have to make trouble for yourself in order to excite them, although there is certainly infinite room to do so. We get several opportunities each day to thank our bodies with a good taste, pleasing fragrance, satisfying texture--maybe with no grander a gesture than a squeeze of lemon (okay, I am a little bit obsessed with lemons) in our water or, heaven, over the soup.

chicken soup with barley

1 whole boneless chicken breast

to season the chicken:

  • 2t finely chopped or smashed preserved lemon, or substitute 1T of lemon juice, a scratch of lemon zest and a pinch of coarse salt
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced or pressed in a garlic press or run through a microplane grater
  • about a half inch of fresh ginger, grated on the microplane or other fine grater (about a teaspoon)
  • 1T good olive oil
  • a few twists of the pepper mill

for the soup:

  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and diced small
  • 1-2 stalks celery, diced small
  • 1 medium potato (Yukon or bliss) diced small
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2.5 quarts of chicken broth
  • 1 c pearled barley

optional garnish:

  • 1-2 T finely chopped fresh dill
  • lemon wedges

Pound the chicken breast to about half an inch thick (I did this in the plastic bag the chicken breast came in, with the base of the olive oil bottle that was on the counter, just by way of indicating how refined a process pounding a paillard de poulet can be for those of us in street clothing).

Season the flattened chicken with the lemon, garlic, ginger, pepper and olive oil (I threw them in the bag I'd pounded the chicken in, and mashed it all around; again, a highly refined culinary technique). Plop the seasoned chix onto some broiler-worthy apparatus, and slide it under the broiler to cook until it's lightly browned on both sides and cooked through.  Let it cool enough to handle, then chop it up.

In a large pot, sauté the vegetables in the olive oil until they begin to soften at the edges a little, about three minutes. Add the broth to the pot, and the barley, and bring to a steady simmer. Throw in the chopped chicken, and simmer it all until the barley is tender, about 30 minutes.

When you dish it up, sprinkle a few teaspoons of dill and a squeeze a little lemon on each bowl.