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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

*hang on, soupy.

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There are only a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in my municipality, but I credit one of them with introducing me to the concept of pho, which I believe is Vietnamese for "noodle soup."

This isn't pho (I admit I don't know much about the various incarnations of this across the Asian continent—I'm sure there are many, and I beg forgiveness for the many ways I've destroyed their authenticity in my own kitchen), but the overriding factor in my adoration is depth. There just seems to be this bottomless layering of flavors that seems beautifully endless: starchy noodles, spicy broth, hearty chicken, crisp onion, bright lime, soft egg, and, in this case, chicken broth, curry paste, fish sauce, soy, coconut milk, sriracha ... Every bite is the definition of satisfaction.

It's without doubt the best cure for a cold—all that warm comfort and gentle heat are soothing, while the protein and carbohydrates (hello, lover) restore your energy. I'm not ill, thankfully, but last night proved surprisingly cold in the Deep South, and it felt like the perfect excuse to make one last bowl of soup for the season.

I've made this a few times now, adapted each time more and more from a recipe I found at When East Meets West. I'm a bit flummoxed by it—the components seem to be there, but there's still some missing chromosome that's keeping it from being all it can be. The first time I made it, I attempted to correct its flatness by stirring in a king's ransom of sriracha, and while it was delicious, it was still missing something. This time I added curry paste, a step in the right direction, but it's still not all the way there.

As a personal preference, I don't adore poached chicken. I think next time the chicken might get sautéed. Maybe less broth? More lime? It's a testament to how good this is that I keep making it, but I'm going to continue to tinker with it.

If you want to be a little bit bad, I suggest eating the good stuff and then throwing a bit of hot cooked rice in to soak up the broth. Or maybe you could just put the rice and noodles on a pizza crust between two slices of bread. Carbs are your friend.

I'd love for someone to make this and tell me what it needs to reach its full potential. No chicken noodle soup left behind!

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Chicken Coconut Noodle Soup
1 large sweet onion, halved and cut into thin crescents
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons red curry paste
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 teaspoons ground paprika
3 (13.5-ounce) cans lite coconut milk
7 cups chicken stock
½ cup cornstarch
16 ounces dried Chinese egg noodles
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
Sriracha, to taste
2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 limes, quartered

1. Place sweet onions slices in a small bowl, and cover with cold water. Set aside.

2. Combine fish sauce and next 5 ingredient; add chicken, and stir well. Set aside.

3. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Stir in yellow onion, and cook 3 to 4 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add paprika, and mix until onions are well coated.

4. Add chicken and marinade; raise the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Add coconut milk and stock, and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes.

5. Whisk together cornstarch and ½ cup warm water; stir into soup, and return to a boil. Simmer over medium-low heat 10 minutes or until the soup thickens slightly. Reduce heat to low, and keep warm until ready to serve.

6. Cook noodles according to package directions. Divide among individual soup bowls, and ladle over each about 1½ cups soup. Top with reserved sweet onion slices, eggs, sriracha, green onions, and cilantro. Serve with limes. Makes 6 servings.

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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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