“Chicken Noodle” Soup: Ramen Noodle Soup with Roasted Chicken

Well, I fell off the wagon longer than I’d intended for a number of reasons, but I owe you a soup recipe for April, so let’s get on that. It would feel disingenuous, I think, to careen through a year of soups without at least gesturing toward the perennial classic that is chicken noodle. Darling of head-colds everywhere, this is the feel good, childhood callback, gentle-on-the-tummy go-to. Every commercial soup company has a version. Usually it’s chunks of chicken, often cooked in the broth itself, along with a mélange of vegetables, and a heap of noodles of some sort, usually high on the egg content.

The problem is, though, and this is an issue with soups in general, that when I think of chicken noodle soup, all I can think of is softness. The vegetables, cooked to within an inch of their lives, are soft. The chicken chunks are tender (unless they’ve been cooking in the broth too long and have toughened while giving over their flavor to the liquid they are drowning in), but the noodles have lost any indication of al dente, sinking into near-mush while they wait for you to drag yourself out of bed and dip up a bowlful. And probably because this soup has become synonymous with “get well soon” food, it is made to be gentle on the belly, and thus its flavors are also soft: it is entirely unobjectionable. While that doesn’t sound like a tremendous issue when discussing food – who would want a bowl of soup to be objectionable? – to me, that’s just a polite way of saying that it’s boring.

My version of chicken noodle soup needed to break, therefore, from the softness that so often pervades both its ingredients and its flavors. When I want a soup with a deep, flavorful broth and perfectly cooked, just chewy noodles, I find I want ramen. This is perhaps a function of living in Los Angeles, where ramen shops are fairly ubiquitous (seriously, between pho and ramen, you could probably live for more than a week in my neighborhood consuming only Asian noodle soups, and you wouldn’t have to eat at the same place twice. And that doesn’t even take Thai restaurants into account).

A bowl of ramen is a treasure chest. In a way, it’s the soup version of my favorite sort of salad: full of stuff. Once you dig through the perfectly chewy noodles, there are hunks of meat, there are so-thin-they-are-almost-transparent slices of chili, there are vegetables or mushrooms or scatterings of herbs or sesame seeds, there are still fresh and crunchy green onions, and of course, quivering like unguarded crown jewels, there’s the soft boiled egg. Sometimes the broth is pork based, sometimes it is miso based, sometimes it is fish or seafood based. I saw no reason, with its deep flavors and its pile of noodles, why it couldn’t be chicken broth and form the basis for my own twist on chicken noodle.

I had a lot of ideas about what I wanted to put into my chicken (ramen) noodle soup, but because I was curious, I asked the internet, and Laura’s recipe looked so perfect that I ended up following it almost exactly. I have adapted a few things – adding baby bok choy and changing up the broth approach a bit – but the approach is essentially the same, and her recipe for soft-boiled egg – the first one (and then the second one) I’ve ever made – worked perfectly for me. We did find we wanted the shiitake mushrooms in smaller pieces; the whole caps looked gorgeous floating in there like rafts, but were a bit ungainly to eat. You can do with or without the jalapeño or fresno chili slices; think of them as sinus-clearing options.

Here, we are starting with a premade chicken broth and enriching it, enhancing the flavors even more with more vegetables, and the aromatic warmth of ginger and garlic. Your chicken broth might already be pretty tasty, but trust me on this: deeply flavored broth is important for a good bowl of ramen. When you serve this up, it’s a play of textures, and really, you get to be the boss. If you are nuts about broth, make it brothier. If you are noodle-crazy (like me), use less broth and pile in the chewy noodles. The chicken will still be juicy after a crisp in a skillet and then a quick roast in the oven, but it will still absorb some of the broth from the soup and lap up some of those flavors. As for the egg, well, if you need me to extol to you the virtues of a just-runny yolk stirred into noodles and vegetables, then you’ll need to come over and sit down for a while, because there’s too much to say for this one little post.

This isn’t your traditional chicken noodle, but I see no reason why, with its deep flavors and treasure chest of ingredients, it shouldn’t become your new favorite way to slurp up those classic soup components.

 

Chicken (Ramen) Noodle Soup
Lightly adapted from Fork, Knife, Swoon
Serves 4 modestly or 3 generously
6-8 cups chicken broth, store-bought or homemade
2 inch knob of ginger
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 yellow onion, root and stem end removed, quartered
3 carrots
2 stalks celery
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 chicken breasts, bone-in, skin on
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
3 heads baby bok choy, trimmed, rinsed, and larger leaves separated so only small heads remain
½ cup sliced scallions, dark and pale green parts only
2 packages (3 or 3.5 ounce) ramen noodles
Optional: thin slices from 1 jalapeño or fresno chili, ¼ cup cilantro leaves, 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

 

  • Preheat the oven to 375F. While it warms, add broth to a large pot – if you prefer a more noodle-forward soup, use 6 cups of the broth. If you prefer a brothier end product, use all 8 cups. Pop in the prepared onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and ginger, then bring to a boil with the lid on. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • While the broth is warming, season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the vegetable oil and sesame oil in an oven-safe skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken breasts skin side down and cook without moving them for 5-7 minutes, until the skin is golden and crisp. Flip both breasts over, cook another 4-5 minutes, then transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes (start checking doneness at 15 minutes), until cooked through. When done, remove from oven and cover with tinfoil to keep warm until you are ready to serve the soup.
  • After the broth has simmered 20 minutes, remove the large vegetable pieces with a strainer or a slotted spoon. Taste for seasoning and add soy sauce until the broth reaches your desired saltiness. Add the shiitake mushrooms as well, and simmer 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms are softened. If desired, now is the time to fish out the mushrooms, remove their stems (which can be a bit tough), and slice them before popping them back in.
  • At this point, pause for a moment to make your soft-boiled eggs. Bring a small pot of water to a boil, then use a spoon to add the eggs, still cold from the refrigerator, one per diner. For a custard-y middle (that is, still liquid but quite thick), boil for 7 minutes, then remove to an ice bath for 5 minutes before peeling.
  • With your eggs working, add the prepared bok choy to the broth with mushrooms and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in the noodles and simmer 3 minutes more.
  • Now you are ready to assemble. With tongs, pile the noodles in a large bowl. Add broth and vegetables. Slice the peeled soft-boiled eggs in half and position atop the noodle pile. Slice the chicken into thin strips, keeping as much of the skin on as possible, and arrange these around the bowl. Scatter on the scallions, and add the chili pepper slices, the sesame seeds, and/or the cilantro, if using, over the top. Serve immediately.
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Chicken miso meatballs

Food blog July 2015-1180…and then it was a week later, not just a few days. That’s the way summer is sometimes, isn’t it? And there’s about to be another hiatus as I travel to Oregon for our annual visitation.

Food blog July 2015-1151We are now officially half a year through this meatball exploration. I like assigning myself these year-long projects because they give me plenty of opportunities to experiment, and when I emerge, breathless, come December, I feel I’ve attained (sometimes tenuous) mastery over the subject at hand.

Food blog July 2015-1158A year-long food project can present challenges, though. The chief difficulty, it seems to me, is the bald truth that single food types don’t often translate well through the seasons. A sweet potato project, as delicious as that might sound, would not be as welcome in July as it would in November. Meatballs, similarly, seem most suited for cooler months: draped with sauce, topped or wedged beside or squashed between bread and cheese, they are a heavy prospect.

Food blog July 2015-1160What is needed, then, as this month grows more and more sultry, is a summer-soaked meatball: light on the stomach, feathery in texture, heavy only in flavor. Conveniently, this meatball dish delivers not just on flavorful meatballs that didn’t leave us feeling meatball-shaped, but it takes into account and makes gratuitous use of that most prolific and dreaded of summer vegetables: zucchini. If you have a garden, chances are you’re growing zucchini. And as you know, it’s getting to be the season when you’ve given loaves of zucchini bread to everyone you can think of, jammed a few in your freezer for good measure, stuffed and baked a few of the baseball bat sized specimens that escaped your notice for a few weeks, and the thing just keeps spitting out squashes. This dinner takes at least two more off your hands by offering them sliced into thin strands, barely cooked, and woven into a tangle of soba noodles.

Food blog July 2015-1163Food blog July 2015-1168Food blog July 2015-1174For the meatballs themselves I went in an Asian direction, inspired mostly by pot stickers, one of my favorite indulgent snack foods, but in part by the container of miso paste hanging out in the back of my refrigerator. The aggressive saltiness of the paste means you don’t have to add a tremendous amount of additional seasoning to the meatballs, but as long as you are judicious, it doesn’t overwhelm the classic, welcome pairing of ginger and garlic. There’s lemongrass here too, for some fragrance and brightness, its persistent woody fibers tamed and made entirely edible after a run-in with a microplane.

Food blog July 2015-1173Food blog July 2015-1179The meatballs cook in a simple broth flavored with more ginger and lemongrass – which conveniently helps you use up those stalks after you’ve grated down the bulb end – and means you can serve this like a pasta, with just a bit of flavorful sauce to moisten the noodles, or, my preference, enough broth to make it almost like a soup, with the meatballs all but bobbing. Beautifully, the meatballs, the noodles, and the broth taste just as good at room temperature as they do just off the stove, in case you, in the midst of summer, are boiling quite enough on your own.

Food blog July 2015-1186

Chicken Miso Meatballs with Soba and Zucchini Noodles
Serves 3-4
For meatballs:
2 tablespoons red miso paste
1 egg
1 lb. ground chicken (dark meat preferred)
1 tablespoon grated lemongrass bulb (remove the outermost layer first, then use a microplane or a zester)
1 tablespoon grated fresh garlic (about 4 cloves)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (easiest if frozen first)
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion, dark and light green parts only
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ tablespoon fish sauce
3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
For sauce:
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 lemongrass bulbs, smashed with the back of a knife (you can certainly use the one you grated from earlier)
knuckle of fresh ginger (about 2 tablespoons)
1-2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce (if you are gluten-free, be sure to check the label – most soy sauce contains wheat)
For noodles:
2 bundles soba noodles (200 grams or about 7 ounces)
2 medium zucchini
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Toasted sesame seeds and sprigs of cilantro, optional

 

  • In a large bowl, whisk together the egg and miso paste. The goal here is to break up the miso a bit for easier integration with the chicken.
  • Add the ground chicken, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, cilantro, green onion, black pepper, and fish sauce to the egg and miso. Using your fingertips, lightly mix and work the seasonings into the ground chicken until evenly distributed.
  • Heat a teaspoon of the olive or vegetable oil in a large, deep skillet over medium high heat. Scoop up about a teaspoon of the meatball mixture, press it into a small patty, and fry it about a minute on each side until cooked through, then taste for seasoning and adjust for the rest of the mixture if needed.
  • Heat the remaining olive or vegetable oil in the skillet over medium high heat. While it warms, use a tablespoon and moist hands to make small meatballs. They will be very soft – don’t worry about making them perfectly round. As you make each tablespoon-sized meatball, set it aside on a clean plate. You should have enough mixture for 18-20 meatballs.
  • Carefully place meatballs in the skillet, taking care they do not touch. You will likely need to fry them in batches. Brown them on all sides (about 2 minutes per side), then remove to a clean plate. Repeat with a new batch of meatballs until all are browned.
  • Your skillet should now have a layer of deeply browned bits and drippings stuck to the bottom. This is called fond and it is lush with flavor. Add the 3 cups of chicken broth directly to this residue in the pan and use a whisk to scrape up and incorporate the fond into the liquid. Toss in the smashed lemongrass bulbs and the knob of fresh ginger, then bring to a simmer.
  • When the liquid reaches a simmer, taste for seasoning. If it needs salt, add the 1-2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Keep in mind the flavors will concentrate a bit as cooking continues. Add all of the meatballs back into the broth mixture. Try to keep them in a single layer, but it’s okay if they bump up against each other now. Clap on the lid, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, basting and turning the meatballs occasionally.
  • While the meatballs simmer, make the noodles. Draw a y-shaped peeler along the zucchini lengthwise repeatedly to cut it into long, thin strips. Stack up 5 or 6 of these strips at a time and, very carefully, cut them into thin “noodles” with a sharp knife (see photos above for reference). Set aside.
  • Cook the soba noodles in boiling salted water according to package directions. About 30 seconds before you are ready to drain them, toss in the zucchini noodles and stir gently. Drain and rinse as instructed.
  • In the same pot you used for the noodles, heat the 2 teaspoons of sesame oil over medium-low heat. Add the drained noodles back in and toss gently to evenly coat them with the oil and to be sure the zucchini is well distributed, not just clumped up by itself. Keep warm until the meatballs are ready.
  • To plate, coil up a tangle of soba and zucchini noodles in a shallow bowl. Top with meatballs – 5 per person is about right – and ladle on about ½ cup of broth for a soupy presentation (my preference), or 3-4 tablespoons of broth for a more pasta-like assembly. Add a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds or sprig of cilantro if desired, and serve hot or warm.