Monday, December 14, 2009

Chicken and Leek Soup with Pancetta and Celery

I love the way you can mark moments in time with a memorable meal. Years back I was visiting a friend in San Diego. We met at a pub and drained pints of Guinness while enjoying some potato and leek soup. With that fond memory in my mind, I wanted to welcome friends into my home with own take on that seasonal favorite.

This recipe is labor intensive. I gave myself about 2.5 hours. A big chunk of time comes from making the stock. I don't recommend trying to save time by using store-bought chicken broth or boneless chicken. It might taste okay, but not nearly as good as it could.

3 1/2 to 4 pounds chicken legs and thighs
1 bunch of celery
1 onion, chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
a few fresh parsley stalks
a few fresh tarragon sprigs
10 cups cold water
3 large leeks
5 tablespoon butter
2 potatoes, cut into chunks
2/3 cup dry white wine
kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 1/2 ounces pancetta, grilled until crisp for garnish

1. Separate the legs from the things and chop 8-10 pieces to place in a large stockpot. Reserve the rest of the legs and thighs. Be sure to discard any large pieces of fat.

2. Chop 4-5 of the outer sticks of the head of celery and add them to the pot. Coarsely chop an onion and also add it to the pot.

3. Tie the bay leaf, parsley stalks and tarragon sprigs together to make a boquet garni and add to the pot.

4. Pour in the 10 cups of cold water to cover the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover the pot with a lid, then simmer for 1 1/2hours.

5. Remove the chicken from the pan using a slotted spoon and cut off and reserve a meat. Strain the stock through a sieve, then return it to the cleaned pan and boil rapidly until it has been reduced in volume t about 6 cups. (After simmering for so long, it may be unnecessary to do this.)

6. Meanwhile, set about 5 ounces of the leeks aside. Slice the remaining leeks (not the green part, of course) and the remaining celery, reserving any celery leaves. Be sure to clean the leeks thoroughly. Chop the celery leaves and set them aside to garnish the soup.

7. Heat 2 1/2 tablespoons butter in a large pan. Add the sliced leeks and celery, cover and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Add the potatoes, wine and 5 cups of the stock.

8. Season with a little salt and plenty of black pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Partially cover the pan and simmer the soup for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked.

9. Meanwhile, skin the reserved chicken and cut the flesh into small pieces. Melt the remaining butter in a frying pan, add the chicken and fry for 5-7 minutes over medium high heat until cooked.

10. Thickly slice the reserved leeks, add to the frying pan and cook, stirring occasionally for a further 3-4 minutes until they are just cooked. Also, add some of the stock to the pan to deglaze the fond.

11. Preheat oven to 350. Place the pancetta on a baking sheet and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the pancetta is crisp.

12. Meanwhile, in a blender, process the reserved chicken from the stock, the chicken and leeks from the frying pan and the soup in batches. Check flavor and add salt and pepper to taste. Add more stock if the soup is very thick.

13. Garnish with pancetta and celery leaves, then serve.


You can blanch one of the green ends of a leek to use as a tie for your bouquet garni.

When cutting the meat from the bone that was used in the stock, spread the chicken out onto a cutting board. This will make it easier to feel for bone and gristle. Be sure to pull out chunks of fat, skin and tendon.

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