When I join my wife for lunch at the university, we sometimes go to Café Pomegranate. While this is primarily a Persian restaurant, sometimes they go a bit wild with their soup of the day. Last week it was lemongrass soup. It was so good that I decided that I would have to deconstruct it.
From the name, I knew that it had lemongrass in it, but most recipes I have found use this ingredient vary sparingly. This soup was very lemony, so I am pretty sure that they used more than is usual. Other bits I recognized: grated carrot, baby corn, long shreds of ginger, diced onion, and bits of rice noodles.
There was a green herb floating in the clear broth of the bowl that I simply did not recognize. On asking the chef, I was told that it was cilantro from their garden in the back. However it did not look like the broad leaves that I am familiar with. Looking at the picture in Wikipedia, I realized that these were the frilly leaves from the flower stalk. They may taste the same as the broad leaves, but they gave the dish an elegant, delicate presentation.
After Dinner Note: This was a good first attempt, tasty and satisfying. However, next to the Pomegranate dish, it was heavy handed and not nearly lemony enough. I should have realized that, being Persian, the chef must have added lemon juice.
A second mistake I made—at least as far as replicating Pomegranate’s soup— was in the broth. As I buy chickens for other meals, I cut them up myself and I am left with frozen bags of backs, necks and bits. When I get four or five of these saved up, I make chicken stock. That is what I did with this soup. However, this turned out to be a bit too chicken-y. While tasty, it became more of a chicken soup with lemongrass, rather than lemongrass soup with chicken.
Karl’s Lemongrass Chicken Soup
Note: I have written this up as I made it. The next time I make it I will include my further attempts to replicate the master.
32 oz. chicken stock
7 stalks lemongrass
1 cup baby corn, cut into half inch pieces
½ cup onion, fine dice
2 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless
½ cup carrot, grated
2 Tbs. fresh ginger, cut into 1 inch matchsticks
½ rice noodles, broken into half inch pieces
¼ tsp. White pepper
2 Tbs. cilantro (flower stalk leaves if available)
1. Put the stock in the pot and bring it to a boil over medium heat.
Tip: I found chicken stock too hearty for this dish. I would recommend a light chicken broth.
Note: I made my chicken stock by frying three pounds of backs and giblets until well browned. I removed all but two tablespoons of oil and browned a diced onion and seven whole cloves of garlic with half a teaspoon of salt. I returned the chicken to the pot with 2 stalks of celery, a chopped carrot and two bay leaves. Covering it all with water, I simmered it for two hours and then strained out the solids. The chicken bits—picked from the bones— I reserved for chicken salad spread.
2. Remove the outer leaf of the lemongrass stalks and cut off the discolored end by about half an inch.
Tip: The outer leaf is frequently dried out and moldy.
3. Lay the stalks on a cutting board and crush them with a kitchen mallet.
4. Cut the stalks into two inch pieces and add them to the pot.
Tip: There are two ways to release the flavor of lemongrass. You may spend time slicing them into small rings or crush the stalks and make only a few cuts. The idea is to expose as much of the lemongrass to the liquid as possible to get a good infusion of flavor.
5. Simmer the lemongrass, covered, for 30 minutes to an hour.
6. Strain out the lemongrass and return the broth to the pot.
Tip: Unless you grind the lemongrass to a fine powder, the stalks are too fibrous to chew. When I make Papa’s Fine Soup I use powdered lemongrass.
7. Add the corn and onions to the pot and simmer for five minutes.
8. Cut the chicken into small bite sized pieces and put them in a bowl.
9. Pour two cups of very hot water over the chicken. Stir to expose all sides of the chicken to the hot water.
10. After one minute strain away and discard the liquid. Rinse any remaining scum off the chicken.
Tip: When you put raw chicken into a pot of hot soup the proteins in the juices on the outside of the chicken pieces clump together to make an unattractive scum on the surface of your soup.
Note: This pre-treatment of the chicken does more than just get rid of the scum. It causes the surface of the chicken to tighten, keeping more of the chicken juices inside of the meat while it is cooking.
11. Add the chicken, carrots and ginger to the pot and simmer, covered, for another 8-10 minutes.
Tip: A fast way to make ginger matchsticks is to peel a two inch piece of ginger and slide it across a mandoline. Stack the resulting ginger planks and cut them, along the long side, into thin sticks.
12. Add the rice noodles and pepper to taste. Simmer until the noodles are al dente.
Tip: Most rice noodles take from two to five minutes, depending upon their thickness, to become soft.
13. Stir in the cilantro and serve.
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