As you may remember, January saw us heroically trying to stave off the common cold with a particularly tasty preemptive strike: soto ayam. What we didn't tell you, and what I now realize was largely unapparent from January's posts, was that at the time we were in the midst of a full-blown Asian kick prompted by a handful of recent acquisitions:
a) a copy of Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors
b) a copy of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent
c) a copy of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Seductions of Rice
d) a rice cooker*
This full-blown Asian kick only lasted a few weeks before we started to drift back into more familiar terrain--like Italian, Hungarian, French, and Mexican--but it did result in a number of outstanding meals. So earlier this month, when we suddenly realized how far we'd strayed, we took a pledge: all Asian, all month. You can expect to hear about all the highlights of our own culinary travels in the very near future, but in the meantime, here's a recipe that's a great follow-up to the soto ayam, one that doesn't pack the same spicy punch, but is also an ideal late-winter cure-all.
It's a rice soup with chicken, seafood, and mushrooms, and it's based closely on a recipe (Cháo Bôi) in Andrea Nguyen's truly inspiring Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. Nguyen's original calls for dried wood ear mushrooms, but we didn't have any of those, so we replaced them with fresh shiitakes, which have become readily available here in Montreal in recent years, so much so that we can get them at our local supermarket for the same price as your standard white mushrooms. The recipe also calls for crab. We recommend using fresh Quebec snow crab, whose short but sweet season has just begun. Half a snow crab will provide you with more than enough crab for the soup--any extra you can use to treat your cats.
Michelle still loves the soto ayam the best because of its sensory overload, but, if you ask me, this delicate little gem is easily its equal.
fig. a: before
Rice Soup with Chicken, Seafood, and Mushrooms
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, about 1/4 lb
1 cup long-grain white rice
3 quarts homemade chicken stock**
8-10 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
2 tbsp canola oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and halved horizontally
1/3 cup freshly picked crabmeat
1/4 cup small tapioca pearls
1/3 cup chopped scallion, both white and green parts
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Fill a 5-quart saucepan half full with water. Bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat and add the chicken breast. Remove the pot from the heat and cover tightly, letting the pot stand for 20 minutes in order to gently poach the chicken. After 20 minutes, the chicken should be firm to the touch yet still yield a bit. Remove the chicken from the pan, leaving the water in. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it by hand and set aside.
Return the water to a boil and add the rice. Parboil the rice for 8 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
In the same pan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and chicken, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for 10 minutes, or until the rice expands.
Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently, stirring from time to time, for about 4 minutes, or until fragrant and soft. Add the shiitake mushrooms and sauté for another 2 minutes. Add the Chinese cooking wine or sherry and cook until it evaporates. Add the shrimp and sauté for about 3-4 minutes, until they curl into corkscrews. Add the crabmeat and stir to distribute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
To prevent the tapioca pearls from clumping on contact with the hot soup, put them in a sieve and rinse briefly under cold water. When the rice has expanded in the soup, add the tapioca pearls and cook for another 10 minutes. The tapioca pearls will expand and become translucent. At that point, add the seafood and mushroom mixture, heat through, and adjust with salt, if necessary.
Ladle into individual bowls and top with scallions and cilantro. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6 as a highly nutritious one-bowl meal.
fig. b: after
Good to the last drop!
* We realize that getting a rice cooker and a copy of Seductions of Rice back-to-back is a bit odd, given Alford and Duguid's insistence on time-honored ways. We still love making rice the traditional way for ourselves, but we also like our rice cooker, especially for dinner parties.
** We made ours with a couple of leftover chicken carcasses, two onions, four cloves of garlic, a couple of hunks of ginger, half a daikon, five stalks of celery, four carrots, the shiitake mushroom stems (see above), salt, pepper, and a teaspoon of five spice. It only took about 45 minutes to make and it made a huge difference.