As a cheesemonger in Galway in my early 20s, the only thing that would ever cure a raging hangover was a lunchtime visit to Da Tang Noodle house on Middle Street. Once I’d slurped and lip smacked my way through a steaming bowl of their spicy chicken noodle soup, electrolyte levels re-balanced, all washed down with a cold Tingstao beer, the world was a better place and I was ready again to extol the virtues of a stinky Epoisses or a mature Appenzeller to the Galway masses.
Such a bowl of soup is a thing of wonder. Those clean Asian flavours, all at once enriching, fresh and enlivening for the soul. The aromatics in this soup create wonderful subtle flavours without one outshining the other, but for me the two key ingredients are Star Anise and Kaffir lime leaves. These two ingredients really give the dish an authentic taste. Do yourself a favour, get down to your local Chinese market, buy a bag of Kaffir lime leaves, open the bag and stick your nose right in. There’s no smell like it!
This is such an easy recipe which produces a really authentic end result. Seasoning the soup broth carefully is the part of the recipe you should take some time over, tasting as you go. A skilled seasoning of the broth will elevate this soup to spiritual heights Buddha would be proud of.
The broth is the gold at the end of the meal. It should be clear, fresh, deep with flavour, carrying hints of all the aromatics, but with a savoury ‘umami’ roundness that is so satisfying. A scattering of fresh coriander and basil torn up over the soup right before serving ramps up the freshness which goes so well with the savoury broth.
Whenever I eat this dish I can actually feel my body responding to the goodness of this soup. It’s a completely balanced meal, which not only comes from the balance of ingredients, but also from the order in which you eat the different components of the soup. Eating your greens and proteins first, followed by the carbohydrate of the rice noodles and washed down with hot cleansing broth is a very healthy way to eat and actually aids digestion.
Just in case your worried about being too healthy you could have a couple of steamed pork buns for starters – savoury sweet roast pork, encased in a soft light dough just can’t be wrong?!
This soup will rejuvenate you and is also one of the most satisfying dishes you could eat. I like to serve wedges of lime on the side, as the sharp sweet tang of lime juice is the final seasoning which takes the broth to another level of flavour. Washed down with a cold beer, this dish makes me very happy!
1 whole free range chicken
3 large red chillies
4 Star Anise
A handful of dried Kaffir lime leaves
2 sticks of lemongrass, bruised to release the flavour
2 medium-sized red onions
1 whole bulb of garlic
a thumb size chunk of fresh ginger
Thai Fish sauce
1 chicken stock cube
Rice noodles 500g
1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
4 Pak choi
A handful of coriander
A handful of basil
First of all place the chicken in a large pot, along with all the aromatics of the whole red chillies, Star Anise, Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, red onions, whole bulb of garlic, ginger and cover with cold water.
Allow the water to come to the boil, then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer. The chicken is cooked once it floats, this should take about an hour.
Remove the chicken and allow to cool. Now is the time to season your soup broth. Start by adding a few dashes of Thai fish sauce and Soy sauce, but do this carefully, as you don’t want to over season the broth. It should be perfectly seasoned, balanced but not salty.
At this point I also add a chicken stock cube, which acts as a seasoning and helps the natural flavour of the chicken to come out. Once your happy with the flavour of the broth, put to one side and allow to simmer gently. The colour of the broth should be quite dark, but with good clarity.
Now cook your rice noodles in some boiling water, then drain. Divide the noodles into four large Chinese soup bowls. Steam the Pak Choi for a few minutes, then lay on top of the noodles.
Take the breast and legs from the chicken and carve into thick slices and lay on top of the noodles and Pak Choi. Tear up the basil and coriander and scatter into the bowls. Pour ladles of the steaming broth into each bowl, finish off with a few slices of red chilli and a few squeezes of lime.