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Chicken Soup with Garlic, Saffron, Basil and Tomatoes

Updated February 23, 2016
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This is another one of those soups that I use to squelch my sporadic but overwhelming cravings for garlic. It is very similar to a Mediterranean bourride except that chicken is used instead of fish. You can make this soup as simple or as complicated as you like. When I’m home alone, I quickly simmer a cut-up chicken in a little broth and whisk in some garlic mayonnaise that I throw together while the chicken is cooking. The version given here is really an elaborate vegetable soup with chicken simmered in it during the last few minutes of cooking. Except for the final whisking with the garlic and saffron mayonnaise and the basil cream, this soup can be prepared 2 or 3 days in advance.

When a chicken is “quartered,” it is actually cut up into more than four pieces. In addition to the two half-breasts and two thighs with the drumsticks attached, there is also the back and the two wings. Thus the chicken is really cut into seven pieces instead of four. The back contains so little meat that it’s best used for making broth or cut in half or thirds and added to the sauté pan with the rest of the chicken to keep the bottom of the pan covered (to prevent it from burning in those areas left uncovered) or to augment the flavor of an eventual soup. The wings, while meatier, can be used in the same way. In most soup recipes calling for quartered chicken, I recommend removing the meat from the bone after the chicken has cooked to make the soup easier to eat. However, in some cases, you may want to leave the chicken on the bone and cut the quartered chicken into smaller pieces to make sure every serving of soup has a piece of chicken in it. You can convert four pieces into six simply by cutting the drumsticks away from the rest of the thighs and you can cut the half-breasts in half again so that you end up with eight pieces in addition to the wings and back. To quarter a chicken, pull any large chunks of fat out of the inside of the chicken (I discard them but they can be rendered and used as cooking fat). Turn the chicken breastside down and pull away a wing. Cut the wing oft where it joins the body. Repeat with the second wing. Fold the wing tips under the thickest part of the wing, forming a kind of triangle, so the wings hold their shape during cooking. Turn the chicken over and pull one of the thighs forward. Cut into the loose skin between the thigh and breast, cutting toward the thigh (so enough skin is left to cover the breast) and then slide the knife down to the joint where the thigh joins the back. Fold the thigh back away from the chicken and snap the ball out of the joint, dislocating the thigh. Slide the knife—I use a medium chef’s knife—along the back, following its contours so you leave any meat attached to the thigh instead of the back, and detach the thigh from the back. Repeat with the second thigh. Cut the back away from the double breast by holding the chicken on end so the larger opening is facing upward. With a large chef’s knife, cut through the rib cage all the way down to the bottom and open up the chicken, separating the back from the breast. Cut the back away from the double breast. Cut the double breast in half by resting it, skin side down, on a cutting board and forcing a knife into the bone in the middle of the two halves. Pull the knife toward you while pressing down. Turn the breast around and repeat in the other direction to separate the two halves. You should now have two thighs (with drumsticks), the back, two wings, and two half-breasts.

Makes8 first-course or 4 main-course servings (10 cups)

CostInexpensive

Moderate

Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseappetizer, main course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Equipmentblender

Mealdinner, lunch

Taste and Texturecreamy, garlicky, herby, meaty, savory, spiced

Type of Dishchicken soup

Ingredients

  • 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped, about 1½ cups
  • 1 leek, white part only, washed and chopped
  • 1 medium-size carrot, chopped
  • 1 small turnip, peeled and chopped
  • 6 medium-size mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
  • 5 medium-size tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or 2½ cups canned, seeded and drained
  • 1 4-pound chicken, quartered (see Notes)
  • 1 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup fresh, cooked dried, or canned cannellini, Great Northern, or borlotti beans
  • 1 bunch of spinach, stems removed, 1 cup packed leaves, shredded (chiffonade)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 cups Saffron and Garlic Mayonnaise
  • Slices of French bread, lightly toasted

Instructions

COMBINE the fennel, leek, carrot, turnip, mushrooms, and bouquet garni with the broth in a 4-quart pot. Simmer gently over medium heat until the vegetables barely begin to soften, after about 10 minutes.

ADD the tomatoes and chicken to the simmering soup. Make sure the chicken is completely submerged and simmer for about 20 minutes more. Take the chicken out of the soup with a slotted spoon and let it cool. Peel off the skin. If you’re serving this soup as a main course, you may want to leave the chicken pieces whole; otherwise, pull the chicken away from the bone and cut it into chunks.

SPRINKLE the basil leaves with olive oil to keep them from turning dark and chop them finely with a chef’s knife or in a blender. If you use a blender, you may have to add a little more olive oil to get the leaves moving. Combine the chopped basil with the heavy cream.

PUT the chicken back in the soup along with the beans and spinach and simmer the soup for about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

PUT half the garlic and saffron mayonnaise in a mixing bowl and whisk in the hot soup. Place a slice of French bread toast in the bottom of each wide soup bowl and ladle the soup over it. If you’ve left the chicken pieces whole, prop the chicken up on the toasts and ladle the soup over that. Drizzle the top of each bowl with a tablespoon of garlic mayonnaise and a tablespoon of the basil cream. Pass the remaining mayonnaise and basil cream at the table.

SUGGESTIONS AND VARIATIONS Almost any vegetable soup can be turned into a chicken soup by poaching pieces of chicken in the simmering soup about 15 minutes before serving. If you don’t want to deal with the last-minute skinning and boning of the chicken, bone the chicken in advance—if you have time, make the broth with the bones—and then just add the boneless chicken meat to the soup about 5 minutes before serving.

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