Torquing Two Reliable Standbys

Chicken soup with Bhutanese red rice

What you see above, a smackdown of inspirations drawn from chicken-and-rice soup and tom yum goong (but with some distinct departures from either), has reintroduced me to the easy pleasures of poached chicken. What alchemy could be simpler? In this case, it’s bringing galangal, lime zest and a seeded, sliced habanero to a boil in a few cups of water, lowering it to a bare simmer, slipping in a cut of uncooked chicken and covering it all. When the pot’s uncovered after a few minutes have passed, it reveals a lovely, fragrant broth and chicken that’s evenly flavored and juicy, even if you use historically dry boneless, skinless breast meat.

Here’s where the trick comes in. Instead of conventional rice, pick up a small bag of Bhutanese red rice at the market or health food store nearest you. As you assemble the rest of the soup (yes, Anthony Lane, thou god-among-critics, it’s possible to “assemble” a soup if it’s this easily accomplished), cook it in a rice cooker on on a separate burner of your stove. Stir in the rice right before serving. It’s startling how much flavor the soup has, especially since its ingredients are all cooked so gently.

I must segue for a moment before giving you the recipe, as I have a shout-out to give.

Awesome gifts from B—an octopus necklace and caribou jerky

B, you are the best! Awesomest necklace I’ve gotten in years. I think I’ve worn it every day since receiving it, which also means that everyone who’s complimented it has gotten a half-lecture about krakens and octopuses. As for J, he hasn’t tried his caribou jerky yet, but I’ve sworn to make him remember to give it a chew before the week’s done. Bookoo merci!

Chicken Soup with Bhutanese Red Rice
Serves 2-3

6 cups water
1 tablespoon thinly sliced galangal root
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 stalk lemongrass
zest and juice of 2 limes
2 habanero chilies, seeded and sliced
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 cup Bhutanese red rice, rinsed and draised
1 1/2 cups cremini mushrooms, stemmed with caps quartered
1 cup watercress, thinly sliced
1 yellow and 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
3/4 cup halved grape tomatoes (optional)
3-4 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
salt, to taste

Peel tough outer layers from lemongrass. Chop stalk into 2-inch lengths and smash pieces with the flat of a knife. In a stock pot, heat water, 1/2 the habanero chilies, 1/2 the lime zest, 1/2 the shallots, the galangal and 1/2 the lemongrass and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, making sure that contents of pot are at a bare simmer, with 1-2 bubbles breaking the surface about every 10 seconds. Gently slip the chicken into the contents of the pot. Cover, and let simmer for about 10-12 minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked and no longer pink.

As the chicken poaches, cook rice according to package directions. If using a rice cooker, do not lift the lid after the rice is done—allow the rice to steam in its own heat until ready to use.

When chicken is cooked, turn off heat, remove chicken from broth and let cool. Shred into thin strips using 2 forks. Strain broth, discard solids and return to stockpot. Warm broth to a gentle simmer over low heat. Add remaining lemongrass, lime zest and habanero chilies, along with remaining shallots, fish sauce, mushrooms, and bell peppers. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, then add watercress and tomatoes, if using. Simmer gently for an additional 5-6 minutes, or until vegetables are just tender. Add lime juice, chicken, salt, chives and rice. Serve.

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