Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gimme Soup

So it's raining today, and it's cold, and I want soup. I want soup without leaving my apartment. I dig through the cupboards. No soup, not even a battered old cup of noodles. Not much to make soup with either. For some reason though I seem to have cornered the market on shallots. Must make something heavy on shallots soon. 

The fridge is equally unresponsive to my plea for soup/the makings of one. Still bearing the burden of too much beer brought by generous friends to my recent British-themed Bangers 'n Mash Ball, all my fridge seems to have in it is a myriad of ale. I could make Boddington's Soup, Hornsby's Cider Soup, or Guinness Soup...hmmm, tempting, but no. 

Canvas shopping bag in hand, I put on my boots and head out into the gale. I decide en route to the store that I want Thai soup. Maybe it's because I've been writing the invite for Table For Twelve's Pok Pok adventure next week, but suddenly I'm absolutely ravenous for chicken coconut soup. At Trader Joe's I collect a few basics: coconut milk, boneless chicken breast, mushrooms, limes and chicken broth (I know, I should make my own but I never do), and a bar of Scharffen Berger chocolate. Onward to City Market, where I procure fresh cilantro and garlic and an absolutely massive bottle of fish sauce--ingredients: fish extract (assorted blend of scads, herrings, sardines, mackerels), water and salt. Mmm, scads. My favorite. I have a tenuous relationship with fish sauce--I know how it's made and it smells horrendous and it sort of all-around grosses me out, but it's such a key component of Thai cuisine (which I could not live without) that we must work with each other. I have to say though, I've never seen such a huge bottle of fish sauce--I usually buy those little Thai Kitchen ones at Cost Plus, but this one's the size of a bottle of whiskey. "Pufina Pastis," it's called, made in the Phillipines, which according to my atlas "Our Dumb World" by The Onion, is somewhere near Thailand (sorry, I surreptitiously read novels under my desk during most of my youthful geography instruction, I'm one of those Americans who thinks Brussels is in Greece...Just kidding! I've been to Brussels! It's in France!). So I guess I will trust this big bottle of Filipino fish sauce, City Market knows what it's doing I presume. Although when I inquired about galanga root, I was told they didn't have any because it was 'relatively obscure.' Which is why it would be cool if they carried it, eh? Anyway I might not have galanga root, but I have an ace up my sleeve--wild lime leaves and little green chilis I brought back from the Granville Island market on a recent trip up to The Nice Vancouver. Oh and I decided to omit the lemongrass from my soup because I don't really like grassy herbs (or people) that overpower everything else around them in a social situation--be it a soup pot or a dinner party. 

Back home, I put on Lily Allen because I'm feeling a little feisty today, spicy like a little green Thai chile, and I get to work. First step to making Thai soup: Eat some Scharffen Berger chocolate whilst contemplating your impromptu Thai chicken coconut soup recipe and the dirty pot "soaking" in the sink, which used to be a handy receptacle for salmon chowder but now is just a murky-water filled chore. I don't really feel like using a recipe today, so we'll see what happens once I wash this stinky pot out and put some chicken 'n fish sauce 'n whatever else in it. 

Jen's Chicken Coconut Soup

First I pour two cups of chicken broth into the pot. Why two cups? Because my Pyrex cup measures two cups, and it looks like a goodly amount of broth, that's why. I add the entire can of Light Coconut Milk. I feel like a lot of recipes call for 1 to 1.5 cups of coconut milk, but most cans are 14 oz and I don't really want to waste that extra couple ounces or have them hanging out in the fridge with all that beer, getting into all sorts of trouble, so I just put the whole can in--all 14 oz. 

I stir everything with my new Ikea spoon--it was 29 cents! I know, I should be more eco-friendly and forgo buying cheap-made foreign wood products and stir my soup with a felled tree branch or a biodegradable shoehorn or something, but I really like this spoon. It has just the right concavity to both stir effectively and taste liberally. Is concavity a word? I hope so!

So while the broth and coconut milk are sitting quietly on the stove waiting to heat to a slow boil, I chop up 3/4 pound chicken breast into bite size chunks. I cut the chicken on my little red Meat-Only cutting board of course. I slice some crimini mushrooms too, thinly, about a cup's worth I'd say.

I bring the broth and coconut milk to a gentle boil over medium heat, then add the chicken and mushrooms. I let them all hang out for about ten minutes, then I pour in the juice of one plump lime (mine yielded 3 tbls for me) and two tablespoons of fish sauce. Oh the smell!! I nearly gag. 
I know a lot of chicken coconut soup recipes call for cilantro by the tablespoon...I put in about a half cup though, because I love cilantro. I am actually highly suspicious of people who don't love cilantro...and my own father's in that strange camp. Mmm, the kitchen smells delicious...the crisp scent of cilantro cuts through the coconutty smell of my soup. 

I slice up two Thai chiles, seeds and all, and add them. I decide my soup would appreciate some garlic, so I chop up two fat cloves and sprinkle it around, then I find a bit of slightly mouldy ginger in my crisper, which I trim and dice and put in the pot. This soup will be amazing! It will be unlike anything the world has ever tasted, I think.

My phone rings. It's my sis, en route to her hair appointment with Sarah at Blue Chair Salon on NW 21st. Sarah is the greatest--not only does she have Extreme Hair Intuition, but she gives you a relaxing mini head massage when she shampoos your head, and provides wine while she cuts your hair. You should leave your current hair person and take up with Sarah, is all I will say about that. My sister agrees to come over and try this soup of mine when she's done with her cut. Actually she tries to convince me to walk the two blocks to Blue Chair and bring her some, but I point out that it will be cold by the time I arrive and I cannot in good conscience serve her cold soup, just for convenience' sake.

I ladle my soup into a bowl, the moment of truth. I taste it.

This is a very curious soup. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's fiery, savory, tangy, mellow all at once. Cilantro gluts my spoon (perhaps I shouldn't use a half cup next time) and I must filter it through my teeth like a whale collecting krill. Thankfully I am eating this soup alone so nobody is repulsed by this.

In all honesty, I feel slightly deflated. I'm just not sure if my soup is Pok Pok worthy. We will see what my sister thinks when she stops by after her haircut. I hope her assessment is softened by Sarah's wine and head massage. Maybe I will speak with Andy Ricker of Pok Pok about where exactly I went wrong when we eat at Whiskey Soda Lounge next Wednesday for Table For Twelve's "Bring Me Something Tasty From the Streets of Bangkok...Food, That Is" dinner, to be held at 7:30 pm. If you'd like to come, and taste some really good Thai soup made by Andy Ricker, who really knows what he's doing when he puts fish sauce and coconut milk in a pot, you can RSVP to

There's only one thing to do now. Finish my chocolate bar, and put my soup pot in the sink to soak. 

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