If there was a meal that reminded me of my childhood, it would either be the classic rural Australian fare of meat and three veg pretty much seven nights a week, or the barbecues that my dad would cook on Sundays on a sheet of steel over a wood fire under the big gum tree. Now that I have a family of my own and have been out in the wide world for a couple of decades, those things are still part of what my family eats, though they aren’t really what I would consider the embodiment of my home kitchen. If I had to choose one thing now, it would be the chicken soup that I cook most weeks.
It’s basically a whole chicken, covered in water and cooked slowly with whatever vegetables and spices I have to hand that won’t make the kids’ toes curl. Usually I pop it all in a slow cooker along with herbs from the garden and some black peppercorns. I try to get it on in the morning and let it tick away ever so slowly throughout the day, filling the house with its comforting aroma and tantalising me with the prospect of a hearty dinner that’s already sorted well before the manic endgame of dinner, bath and bed with the kids.
It’s pretty much the one meal that I know my kids will eat without protest. It fills me with endless joy to see them slurping and stuffing their faces with such a nutritious meal. The other bonus is that one batch is always too much to eat in a single sitting so a container or two goes into the “couldn’t be bothered” food bank in the freezer, which is a godsend when you live in regional Australia and your takeaway options are extremely limited. It’s also the first thing I look for when I get home after I’ve been travelling for work.
If there’s one thing that I hope my kids can cook by the time they leave home, it is this.
Chicken and Sweet Corn Soup
- 1.3kg whole chicken
- 1 garlic bulb, cut in half horizontally
- 10cm piece of ginger, sliced
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- Small bunch of thyme
- 1 cup white rice, rinsed and drained
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 carrots, finely diced
- 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
- 4 sweetcorn cobs, kernels stripped and separated
- Coriander leaves
- Chilli flakes (optional)
- Salt and pepper
Give the chicken a quick rinse under cold running water, including inside the cavity. Transfer to a large saucepan, along with the garlic, ginger, peppercorns and thyme, then fill the saucepan with enough water to completely cover the chicken, plus a little more (ideally around 4 litres).
Bring the water to a gentle boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 45-60 minutes, until the drumsticks pull away easily. Use a large, slotted spoon to remove the chicken from the pan and place it in a deep-sided baking tray to cool a little.
Strain the stock into a large bowl and add the softened garlic cloves (discard the ginger and thyme), then return the stock to the saucepan, along with the rice, onion, carrot, celery and corn.
Season with salt and pepper to taste, then bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat.
While the soup is cooking, shred the meat from the chicken and place it to one side. You can use the bones and bits to make stock, if you like, or you can discard.
Stir the shredded chicken into the soup, then ladle into serving bowls. To garnish, scatter over a few coriander leaves and chilli flakes (if using), and season with salt and pepper. Any leftovers can be frozen for up to three months.
Homegrown by Paul West is out now.
This article first appeared in The Big Issue Ed#658.