Chicken sandwiches and chicken noodle soup
Sometimes I feel we look for the new at the expense of the old. Nothing brings this into sharper focus than the Melbourne Cup carnival. A week-long extravaganza of the latest fashion, the newest hats, the most beautifully tailored suits, and a variety of shoes that even Imelda could only dream of. Sequestered away in the fancy marquees, the chosen few are being enticed with the latest fashion in food. They have Melbourne’s top chefs cooking a dizzying array of the finest dishes for them. While I am sure it is all delicious, I lament the move away from what I might politely call the classics. And the most classic of them all for the racing carnival – the humble chicken sandwich.
Sandwiches aren’t terribly current in my life. If I think hard about them, they were something that never came up too well in my lunch box. Every so often I am forced to remember them because of a special occasion that deems them appropriate. It is then I remember, if made and stored nicely, how bloody delicious a good sanga can be.
So why should we eat chicken sandwiches on Melbourne Cup Day? Because they are delicious, they are reasonably healthy, easy to transport and, let’s face it, they tend to soak up alcohol. For me, the perfect chicken sandwich starts with a gently poached chicken. The flesh is removed, carefully shredded and put to the side. Then, it’s time to make a tasty mayonnaise. Choose your greens – I prefer the sharp peppery nature of watercress – and, for me, a lovely loaf of white sliced bread. Not the chain-store variety, but the sort you can still find from small independent suburban or country bakeries. Some good butter and off you go.
But then there is the wonderful byproduct – the stock that the chicken was poached in. You may wonder why this is such a special treat. Well, no matter how many chicken sandwiches you ate on Melbourne Cup Day, they may not have soaked up all the alcohol you consumed. So imagine, if you will, you’ve come home on the train, fallen precariously onto your bed and had the sleep of the wretched. Somehow you don’t make it to work the next day but fall back into bed and then, when you wake again midafternoon, you remember. That lovely pot of homemade chicken noodle soup you forced yourself to make with the chicken poaching stock. Cradling the soup in a bowl in your hands, as you slump on the couch with the telly on, it nurtures you back to something human. After all, there are few things as restorative as chicken soup.
For the poached chicken
– No. 18 chicken
– 1 onion
– 2 carrots
– 2-3 celery stalks
– 1 tbsp peppercorns
– 1-2 cloves garlic
– bay leaf
– fresh herbs
– 1 tbsp salt
Rinse the chicken under cold, running water and let it drain for about five minutes.
While that’s happening, chop a peeled onion, a couple of peeled carrots and two or three celery stalks into two-centimetre cubes.
Place the chicken into a large pot. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Skim.
Add the chopped onion, carrots and celery, along with a tablespoon of whole peppercorns, a clove or two of garlic (peeled and crushed), a bay leaf and some fresh herbs. Add a tablespoon of salt, and bring it to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook.
After about an hour, check to make sure the chicken is cooked through. Turn off the heat, remove the chicken and transfer it to
a large bowl to cool for about 20 minutes. Save the broth.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, you can pull off all the meat, using a fork to get off the trickier bits.
For the sandwiches
– good-quality white bread
– 100g mayonnaise
– all but one cup of the poached, shredded chicken
– 1 bunch watercress
I like to mix my chicken through the mayonnaise and check the seasoning when done.
Spread one piece of bread with the chicken mix, the other with butter and picked watercress. Continue until the chicken mix is finished.
Chicken noodle soup
– 50g butter
– 2 brown onions, peeled and diced finely
– 1 large leek, trimmed and sliced thinly
– 2 garlic cloves, crushed
– 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
– 2 celery stalks, diced
– 2 litres chicken stock
– 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
– 1 bay leaf
– 250g thin egg noodles or soup noodles of your choice
– 1 cup cooked chicken meat
– 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt the butter. Add the onion, leek and crushed garlic, cooking over a low heat until
soft (about eight minutes). Add the diced vegetables, thyme and bay leaf and sauté for a moment or two. Add the stock and bring to the boil.
Turn down to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are firm-tender. Add soup noodles and cook according to the instructions relevant to the noodles of your choice (usually six to 10 minutes). Add the chicken meat to the soup and simmer for two minutes, until heated through. Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary.
Finish with parsley and serve.
NV Billecart-Salmon champagne, Mareuil-sur-Ay, France ($80)
– Peter Watt, sommelier, du Fermier
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 4, 2017 as "When Cup Day runneth over". Subscribe here.