Saturday, February 6, 2010

Surviving PhD Exams with Indonesian Chicken Soup

Do's PhD Qualifying Exams are this Wednesday. He has been studying every day, evenings and weekends, for 11 months. For those of you outside academia, this event carries all of the anxiety of an Indiana Jones "Are you worthy to pass through, if not you'll die a painful death" ancient booby trap, but without the 3rd Reich and the Steven Spielberg dramatic soundtrack playing in the background. Like in the ancient Roman Coliseum, it'll come down to a thumbs up or a thumbs down from the Committee: thumbs up and Do magically transforms into a PhD candidate, thumbs down and we have to go through this 11 month hell again. If you get thumbs down twice, you get fed to the Lions: you're kicked out of the PhD program and pretty much have to give up on a career in the sciences.

Yeah, and he goes to the Coliseum this Wednesday. In 3 days. After 11 months of preparation.

All things considered, he's handling it pretty well.

So we've been eating a lot of "whatever will make Do happy." Turns out these days that's a lot of chicken soup. Friday night was our Matzo ball soup, and the week before was this crazy Indonesian Chicken Noodle Soup.

The soup was beautiful. The flavors and textures were complex. The ****ing recipe had so many moving parts that you should not make it without a sous chef (unless it's a dire emergency, like the week before Quals). I knew what I was getting into: this is a recipe out of the Williams & Sonoma Asian cookbook, a source known to gratuitously throw in esoteric ingredients and insert as many unnecessarily cumbersome steps as possible. Don't believe me? This recipe calls for you to grind a bunch of ingredients into a paste, which you then cook until fragrant (pretty standard for a south Asian recipe). I used a cuisineart. This cookbook wants you to do it by hand using a mortar and pestle! I mean, even freakin' Madhur Jaffrey (the Julia Child of Indian cooking in the 1970s) wanted you to use a blender!! Gah!

Anyways. So the soup is complicated and hand-intensive. But Do was so happy. The noodles expanded so that they sucked up almost all the liquid (the proportions are more Udon-style than a western chicken noodle soup). The dish was bright yellow and green, very cheerful for a winter day. It's delicious hot or cold (so good for leftover lunches). The flavors are authentically complex and nuanced. The fried shallots and hard boiled eggs and mung beans and all the other goodies add a ton of varying texture in every bite. He'd like it a little hotter, but didn't think it really necessary. Seriously, he took this dish into work every day for lunch and was so happy.

It's easy to buy chocolates and roses. In this household, we tend to display love by undertaking a very personal, labor-intense project, preferably resulting in something edible. One of our very first blog posts was about one such endeavor. In the spirit of V-day, if you want to really pamper somebody special (including yourself, because you're special too right?), I offer you this recipe. It takes so much effort, it must mean love.

Indonesian Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup, from Williams-Sonoma Asian cookbook (serves 6-8)
8 cups Chicken stock
1/2 lb bone-in chicken breast, skin removed
1/2lb bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
1/2lb vermicelli
3 jalapenos, chopped (or more)
7 shallots
2 fresh ginger slices, peeled
3 cloves garlic
5 blanched almonds
2 Tbs lemongrass, chopped.
2 tsp tumeric
1/4 tsp ground coriander
2 Tbs fish sauce
2 Tbs lemon juice (Neen: don't add more, or lemon flavor will be more dominant than you want it)
3 eggs
1 cup bean sprouts (~ 1oz)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
3 green onions, sliced on the diagonal.

In a heavy bottomed pot or large saucepan, bring the chicken stock to boil. Add 1 Tbs salt and the chicken, and return to a boil. Reduce heat to meduim and cook, uncovered, until the chicken is opaque throughout (~30min).

Meanwhile, soak vermicelli in water to cover for 15min. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, hard boil your eggs. (Suggestion: put eggs in saucepan and add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring just to a boil over medium heat, remove from heat, cover, and let eggs stand in water 20min. Rinse under cold water until cool, peel).

Meanwhile, roughly chop 4 shallots. In a cuisineart, combine 2 jalapenos, chopped shallots, ginger, garlic, almonds, lemongrass, tumeric, coriander, and 1-2 Tbs of water. Grind together until a paste forms. Set aside (Neen: if you have leftover lemongrass, which I did, just toss it in the simmering chicken broth).

Meanwhile, slice remaining 3 shallots and fry in 3 tsp canola or peanut oil until crisp and golden brown (7-10min). Drain on paper towels.

Once the chicken is cooked, use tongs to transfer chicken to a plate to cool. Pour broth into a heat resistant bowl. In the pot or large saucepan over medium, heat 2 Tbs oil. Add chile paste and saute until fragrant (~2min). Pour reserved broth back into the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 15min. Stir in fish sauce and lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer for another 5min.

Meanwhile, shred the chicken into thin pieces, discarding bones. (Neen: again, throw them back into the simmering broth to add flavor).

Meanwhile, quarter the boiled eggs.

When broth is ready, discard all the solids (all that lemongrass and bones you added in). Add the drained noodles to broth and cook until just tender (~2min). Add chicken, bean sprouts, cilantro, green onions to pot. Ladle soup intro individual bowls and garnish with eggs, fried shallots, and the remaining jalapeno. Serve.


Michael said...

And. . . it's beautiful!

Ginny said...

Delicious! Good luck! :)