Smoke In The Water

Speaking of essentials–like the pressure cooker mentioned previously–it’s hard to beat having a few containers of smoked chicken stock on hand in the freezer. As much as I love smoked chicken (and mine enjoys a pretty good reputation in these parts) I almost love the stock more. It’s like liquid barbecue, yet weightless and fat-free, so it has an Ali-esque butterfly/bee dichotomy going on. It’s mighty for cooking beans, stews, gravy, or anything else that enjoys a good smoky note, and in a pinch it’s superb as a noodle soup base with a little or a lot added on top.

This version had some good salmon that I crisped up nicely on the skin side and then flipped to finish in a mixture of soy, maple syrup, and vinegar so it took on a shiny, tasty glaze. I sliced up the fillet into these pieces before cooking, so the ratio of crisp, glazed outside to tender inside would be a perfect contrast to the soft, slurpy noodles. The greens are “perpetual spinach” chard that I blanched in the noodle water just before serving. The noodles are organic udon. I added some soy sauce to the stock, and had heated it up with a smashed thumb of ginger and clove of garlic in the pot.

On cooler evenings, especially those where one does not have the luxury of ample prep time, a sexy, smoky stock like this makes the difference between fail and win. I think I threw some scallions and cilantro on top after I shot the picture, but I might not have. It didn’t matter; this soup was just a big bowl of awesome and it made us all very quiet and grateful the way dinner should.

This could have just as easily been a risotto, a minestrone, or polenta and it would have been every bit as good. The rich smoky flavor and primal chicken soup goodness provide the Midas touch to all they encounter: deeply nourishing and decadently sensual at the same time. Smoke chickens. Make stock. Win dinner.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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