Chicken and Rice Soup

Tuesday, Liam woke up with a headache and a canker sore. With the consequences of staying in bed until 9 a.m. and no electronics all day, he stayed home from school. At 3 p.m. when Will came home from school, Liam went to the screens. He must have interpreted the ban as effective during the hours school was in session. A Nor’easter-like rain sat over our house that whole day. It felt more like an English winter day than a New England winter day. Knowing the forecast for Tuesday, on Monday I had grabbed a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store – chicken and rice soup sounded good. It’s one of my few back pocket recipes which three out of four Malcolms will eat. When I got home, I took the plastic lid off and saw what had been hidden under the large label on top.

I don’t usually get rotisserie chickens from this particular store. I double checked the label to make sure this was a whole chicken. It was. I know what a featherless chicken should look like; this wasn’t fitting that picture. I turned the meat around looking for proof that it was a whole chicken. Indeed, I found puny wings hiding behind an over-sized breast and tiny lower legs attached to gargantuan thighs.

This creature had never walked a day in its life. It had been a living rotisserie chicken, somehow raised to grow an abundance of the best white and dark meat. My mind has been playing word association games ever since I bought it. Barbie. Dolly.

I felt discombobulated as I pulled the meat off. What sicko raises birds like this? (Thanks to Dad for that noun...) I tossed the bones and skin in a soup pot and filled it with water. It was good not to be looking at it as a whole.

Onward. My goal was to make chicken stock Monday and chicken soup Tuesday. Monday evening, Bill was sitting at the kitchen counter on a phone call with China as I was pulling the chicken meat off the bone. I quietly rustled the carrots and celery out of the fridge and took them to the laundry room where I laid them on the lid of the washer. Out of earshot, I snapped three carrots into thirds with my hands and walked them back to the kitchen and dropped them in the pot on the stove. I returned to the laundry room and broke three stalks of celery the same way and dropped them in too. Back in the laundry room, I pulled an onion from my baker’s rack, quartered it in my hand with a paring knife, and put it into the pot. No one likes watching that cutting-vegetables-in-the-palm-of-your-hand procedure. Mom has cut fruit and vegetables up for years like that. I watched the pot come to a boil then turned it to low and let it simmer away for an hour. From there, Bill took it to the porch to let it cool overnight.

With Liam home Tuesday, I recruited him to help cut up the vegetables for the soup. He doesn’t like cooked carrots, so we left those in big rounds so that they would be easy to pick out. Liam decided the celery should be finely chopped and took great pride in completing that job. I turned my eyes to my own cutting board to chop up the onion. I didn't want to watch every move Liam made with the 8” chef’s knife. But he had the right grip on it: thumb and fore-finger steady on either side of the blade, with the other three fingers wrapped around the handle.

I brought the soup pot containing the broth in from the porch, took off the lid, and inhaled. The only word I can find to describe that smell is comfort – a result of simple ingredients and a little time. I strained the old vegetables and chicken bits out of the broth, and we put in our freshly chopped veggies, together with a half teaspoon each of rubbed thyme and black pepper, plus a bay leaf. The broth rolled in a gentle boil until the flesh of the carrots easily gave way to the paring knife. I added a couple cups of cooked rice and the chicken; brought it back to a simmer; and added some salt. The grand finale was a small once-around-the-pan squirt of lime juice. It’s the something-something that makes this soup a little different from other chicken soups. Liam and I marveled at how good it was as we slurped up bowls of it as a mid-afternoon snack.

I knew I wanted to write about chicken and rice soup today, but I wasn't sure why. I thought it might be a piece about responsibly raising animals for food, but it’s not. I thought it might be a piece about Liam wriggling a day at home out of me, but it’s not. Bottom line, I think it’s about comfort.

I can depend on this soup. There are no surprises with it. It’s sound nutrition. It’s nothing fancy. It’s an easy dish to share with friends; it only needs to be heated up. I can freeze it at any stage -- as a completed soup, just the basic broth, broth with veggies, or seasoned broth with only rice.

And, in the future, my chicken and rice soup will only be made with a well-balanced real rotisserie chicken.