Friday, October 23, 2009

the alchemy of comfort food: grandma kate's chicken & noodles

i'll admit it. i watch heston blumenthal's cooking programs (kitchen chemistry) with a mixture of horror and fascination. to make mashed potatoes, he uses a thermometer and keeps them at 70 degrees C for 30 minutes, then immerses them in cold water and adds egg yolks when he begins to mash them. and although that sounds like WAY too much trouble, i am fascinated by the science of it. while i scoff at the extreme pretentiousness of the notion of molecular cooking (all cooking is molecular, right--it's a matter of chemistry), i am at the same time attracted to the alchemy. because cooking is transformative, like alchemy, transforming simple things into something more complex.

but i do wonder what he'd make of my grandmother's chicken soup with homemade noodles. because somehow, i think she got the alchemy just right and she did it quite instinctively, without putting any thought at all into the whole science of it.

grandma kate's homemade noodles

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
lump of butter (the size of walnut)
3 eggs
2 T. water

mix first three ingredients, stir in egg and mix. only add the water if needed to make it come together into an elastic, golden ball. knead by hand. roll out, allow to dry several hours then slice into thin (1/4 to 3/8" wide) strips. my mom says she dries them on cooling racks. but i can remember that grandma rolled hers out on newspapers (the family ate a ton of ink), then she'd hang noodles over the backs of all her chairs. cut them the length you want or break them up after they are dry.

although i know my grandmother did it all by hand, i'll admit i tossed it all into my kitchen aid foodprocessor and let it do the work for me. the dough is a gorgeous yellow from the eggs and has a lovely elastic consistency. my mom said, "This is the best recipe. They are yellower (eggs) and yummier (butter) than most homemade noodles I have tried."

mom also told me that when grandma made chicken and noodles, it was really just that - chicken and noodles. she didn't put anything else in with the broth (apparently not even an onion!)...she just boiled up a chicken (undoubtedly after butchering it when they lived in the house down the creek), then added the noodles, some salt and pepper and hoped it stretched to feed her family of nine children.

but grandma didn't have the benefit of an organic box of locally-grown veggies being delivered to her door every friday. of course, she probably had a garden full of organic veg just outside her door, long before anyone was talking about organic, but we'll leave that aside. today, my organic box contained all of the ingredients for a lovely chicken soup base, including the chicken!

chicken noodle soup

1 organic chicken*
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 large leek, sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
2 celery stalks, including leaves, chopped
1 fresh bay leaf (they're so much better fresh, it's incredible)
25 grams salted organic butter
glug of good olive oil
2 liters boiling water from the kettle (to speed things along)
salt & pepper to taste
1 batch of homemade noodles, as above

heat the butter and olive oil in the pan (speaking of alchemy, this is a fantastic combo), add the chopped veggies and sauté until softened. make room in the bottom of the pan, put in a bit more olive oil (if it looks necessary) and place the chicken in the pan. brown for a few minutes, then add the hot water. you can also add cold if you prefer, i just like to speed things up by heating it up with the kettle first.  simmer until the chicken is tender and delicious and falling off the bone. remove the chicken onto a cutting board, cool and separate all of the meat from the bone. chop the larger pieces and put them back in the pot. add a bit more water (if necessary), then heat it up again and add your noodles and more salt and pepper to taste, cook for 15-20 minutes more and serve the alchemic goodness to anyone in the family that's in need to nourishment after (or during) a cold or flu.

my grandma was famous for her chicken and noodles. especially the noodles. she'd make vast batches of them for church bazaars and people would snatch up those plastic bags of homemade goodness faster than you could blink. i remember her kitchen being covered in newspapers with noodles drying on them. sometimes, you could even see a bit of newsprint on the noodles, but she would just say it added to the taste. and it probably did. maybe it contributed to the alchemy of the whole thing. i wonder what heston would say.

* if you saw how they treated the chickens, like i have seen on hugh fearnley-wittingstall's programs about it, you would never buy an ordinary chicken again--better to splurge once in awhile on an expensive organic one that was treated nicely than to have chicken produced the ordinary way every day. plus, the organic ones taste loads better!

EDIT:  although i had a little bit forgotten about the tarragon mustard giveaway, i remembered today and generated a random number. Nimble, you won, so please email me (email address on my profile) with your address and I'll get that little jar of goodness in the mail to you right away!


Elizabeth said...

Love chicken soup, I always make it myself but without the noodles. Never made glutenfree noodles. You write about the elastic consistency I don't think I can get there with my flour. Maybe I should just try it.

julochka said...

note: really a good idea to wait for the chicken to cool as i suggest in the instructions. you will definitely burn yourself if you don't.


Bee said...

You have so many gorgeous pictures here, but I love the mind's eye picture of your grandmother's noodles drying on sheets of newsprint.

You know, I've got a good batch of broth in my refrigerator already . . . maybe I will give these a whirl for lunch today. I'm also wondering what they would taste like with some good butter and parmesan cheese and salt and pepper.

julochka said...

i had to add a photo of my noodles drying on newspaper (they weren't there yet when i put up the post originally). :-)

kristina said...

This sounds heavenly. I don't think there's anything more comforting than a big bowl of homemade chicken soup. But I've never made my own noodles. Must give it a go. And I completely agree with you re the chickens. K x

Anne said...

Mmm, noodles... I've never made noodles for my chicken soup, but I shall have to try it. I typically use wild rice, in part because I've never been able to find the kind of noodles that I'd really like to have in chicken soup. Maybe these will be the ones.

I agree 100% that a humanely raised organic chicken once in a while is better than poorly treated chicken every day of the week. A whole chicken is such a treat!

Char said...

i imagine she was a lot like my grandmother who made chicken and dumplings. i like mine with lots of crumbled in cornbread.

i need to try these.

MissBuckle said...

Noodles. Will defnintely make. Yum.

Ju said...

Such a treat. Funnily, before coming here to read, I posted something called Food for thought today. Autumn is all about food for most of us.
Loving this blog girls!!

Michelle said...

This inspired me to make fresh noodles for soup - thanks J! -Michelle


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