It's been one of those weeks I've just been gritting my teeth and trying to survive through rather than anything more interesting or noble. After a few days off work, I was finally back yesterday and sat at my desk infecting all those around me, which I am sure they were thrilled about. At the end of the day, I was overtaken by the desire for a bowl of something nourishing, spicy, sour, headclearing, healthy and comforting.
Basically I wanted chili ramen soup from wagamama, but I wasn't going to get it, as it was sheeting rain and not really a going-out-for-soup kind of night. Short of bribing someone to go and get some for me, I was running out of options. I dredged through my recipe memories and eventually came up with this, which I present with apologies to Nigel Slater, whose once-glorious recipe (which no doubt included lots of virtuous things eg. vegetables) has been massacred due to my greed, need for instant gratification, and unwillingness to detour past the library to re-borrow a book. It probably bears little relation to his written recipe (which was in Real Food, if memory serves) but I'm sure the star anise, at least, were in the original.
A spicy, clear, sinus-clearing soup
For two people:
Get some water simmering. To the pot, add:
a big knob of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
two cloves of garlic, ditto
a splash of fish sauce (go easy at first, you can always add more later)
some vegetable stock (from a cube / bottle / tub, obviously)
a lime, cut into quarters
a chili, sliced
two whole star anise, if you've got them (otherwise a pinch of chinese five-spice)
plus anything else you think might help - dried japanese mushrooms are great, apparently, but i've never been able to find any where I live, or maybe some spring onions (scallions?)
Simmer for as long as it takes to sort out the rest of the meal. Taste as you go and adjust flavours if needed, obviously.
Now heat up your griddle pan. Slash two chicken breasts and marinate them in whatever appropriate flavours you have in your cupboard. Last night, I used a splash of soy sauce, a splash of sesame oil, and the juice of a lime. I also used a splash of japanese rice vinegar, but that was only because i was so surprised to find it when rooting through the pantry - I have no recollection at all of buying it, and it was still sealed. It probably helped a bit but I can't really imagine it did anything that the lime juice didn't do equally well. Rub the marinade into the chicken so that it is well coated and is soaking into the slashes. Obviously it would be nice if you could marinate the chicken overnight, but if you're well enough to be thinking about tomorrow's dinner already, you're probably not sick enough to need the soup.
When your husband gets home from work, or whatever your own personal final signal is to get dinner finished, get a second pot of water boiling and griddle the chicken for about four minutes per side, or however long it takes to cook them. The marinating and griddling should give you deeply savoury stripes.
With about three minutes to go, boil about 100g of noodles according to the directions on your noodle packet. (I like the noodles that come in individual portion cakes, because they tend to be a bit less messy. Any kind of noodle will work here, by the way. My favourite are Ho Fun (flat thai rice noodles) but they're hard to find here so I tend to use egg).
Take the chicken breasts off the griddle and cut into diagonal slices that are small enough to grab with chopsticks.
Strain the broth into the biggest bowls you've got, leaving all the bits from the pot behind. Add the noodles, and top with the sliced chicken breasts. The chili and lime really clear the head, so make sure you have a box of tissues to hand!
This won't actually cure a cold, but I guarantee it will make you feel better for a little while. Especially if someone else does the washing up.
I didn't take a picture last night when it looked rather fine, but here are the lunchtime leftovers.
Excuse me now while I go eat this.
Excuse me now while I go eat this.