Despite the sweltering summer heat, I enjoy eating hot soup anytime of the day. Peculiar isn't it? Yet, it's so comforting to be able to enjoy - slurp to be exact - a nice bowl of well balanced soup, preferably one with a zesty hit of citrus.
One of my favorite soups is the pickled lemon chicken and king oyster mushroom soup. I preserve the lemons every year around the winter season. It's when I harvest them from my friend's lemon tree and preserve them in salt and water to make salty lemonade and use them in cooking such as in this chicken soup. The downsize is there's not enough heat from the sun during winter to help with picking the lemon and there is chance of getting mold/fungus growing in the brine. I usually just let them sit at room temperature near by the stove. It takes a long time, at least 2 months, for the pickle lemon peels to soften, and for the flavors to fully mature. When Spring comes and the sun is out, I let them bake in the sun to hasten the process. Click here for preserved lemons recipe.
What I enjoy most about this chicken soup is the zestiness of the broth. The roasted rice and the preserved lemon in this soup give it a nutty and sharp citrus kick. Cooking the king oyster mushroom in this soup also brings out a savory umami flavor that goes well with the velvety, meaty texture of the mushroom that reminds me of abalone. And lastly, the distinct earthy aroma of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and garlic make this a hearty, comforting, yet light and nourishing soup.
RECIPE: Pickled Lemon Chicken and King Oyster Mushroom Soup
1 whole free range chicken, available at Asian market
about 3-4 king oyster mushrooms, sliced
1 whole garlic, peeled
1/2 - 3/4 cup rice
2 lemongrass stalks, slightly smashed, cut into 4 inch pieces
5-8 kaffir lime leaves, optional
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1-2 preserved lemons, optional
1 bunch culantro leaves, optional, roughly chopped
a bunch of green onion, finely chopped
I always toast my rice first when cooking porridge or any kinds of soup to give it a nutty flavor that complements the soup perfectly. This process takes only a few minutes and it will add an extra layer of depth to the dish. Wash the rice for a few times until water is clear. Drain well. Place rice in a skillet over low heat and stir the rice in the skillet constantly for about 10 minutes until you start to smell the nutty heat and the rice start to turn golden brown. Remove the rice from the heat.
I am obsessed with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, therefore, kaffir lime tree and lemongrass are must-haves in my vegetable garden. If lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves are not available for you, you can substitute them for a few slices of ginger root.
For this soup, I like to use free range chicken from an Asian supermarket. It is smaller and less meaty than chicken from American supermarket but when cooked, it produces an intense chicken stock with a beautiful yellow hue. The chicken skin becomes yellow and looks amazing.
Rinse the chicken well under cold running water. In a large pot, about 8 quarts, add chicken, roasted rice, mushroom, garlic, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and enough water to cover it at least by 2 inches and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low to maintain a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes to extract as much flavor as possible from the bone and meat so all the goodness goes into the broth, and the rice grains expand and become soft. Add sugar, salt, and fish sauce. Use a fork to break the chicken apart into small pieces.
At this point, smash a preserved lemon one at a time and add to the chicken pot. Give it a taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Add more preserved lemon if you want a bit more punch. Eliminate preserved lemon if you prefer. The flavor won't be the same but broth is still hearty and delicious. You can substitute fresh lime juice and serving it on the side. Cook the chicken soup for another 10 minutes.
Ladle chicken soup into a serving bowl. Garnish with green onion, and culantro leaves. Serve with lime or lemon wedges on a side if you don't use preserved lemon in the dish. I like to add a few slices of fresh red chili pepper to my bowl as hot, fragrant and sour is how I like.
Eat well. Stay healthy.