Karam’s Clear and Chunky Chicken Soup

The first job, I landed in the UK was with an Insurance Company. The Director at the time told me, You have made a wise decision; it’s the best company to retire from, with a good pension. Within a span of ten years, computerisation rendered Insurance Specialist jobs obsolete. I had other plans as my manager was very young and I wasn’t going to wait until he attained the retirement age of sixty five. I spread my wings looking for openings in UK and France to utilise my language skills.

One French company, Societe L’oust Africanne, the equivalent of the East India Company trading in West Africa,  gave me an interview for Marine and Claims underwriter in their Paris office. I did not have a clue about marine insurance having specialised in Engineering and contract works. At an informal interview with a large international trading corporation, their current marine/cargo manager said to me, If you can impress the directors with your knowledge of marine and International trade laws, you will crack it.  I had three weeks to arm myself with the Institute of London Marine underwriter’s archaic clauses. I burnt the midnight oil and within weeks, made contacts with leading marine insurance underwriters at Lloyd’s of London.

At the interview, I realised the French did not have a clue about International Marine practice and the nuances of British law relating to marine insurance. Plus they were desperate for someone with good command of English/French languages to cover Ex-British/French territories in West Africa. My East African background was therefore an asset. I laid into them, partly bluffing, and partly blinding them with my knowledge of the law, which won the day. I landed the job and after an initial period of eight months in the heart of Paris near Eiffel tower in prestigious offices at Rue de Grenelle, I was seconded to West Africa. This was my first encounter with the French way of life, notably the food, wine, fresh oysters and French women.  I could write a long story of my eight months in Paris, but we’ll leave that for another day. Prior to my secondment to Nigeria, I was sent to familiarise myself with Nigeria and the Ex-French territories of Benin, Lome and Cote d’ivoire.

I took to Nigerian cuisine quite well. My French colleagues were beset with tummy bugs eating western food, whereas I ate local food all the time. Nigerian stew called Soup is an acquired taste; consisting of beef, chicken, snails and fish, the chicken becomes fish flavoured! The local palm toddy was mind blowing. I once asked a Nigerian colleague, What the hell are these white chewy bits in the stew? Ah! He said, these are chopped up animal intestines.

I was provided with a large house at Ikoy Island which is joined to Lagos by a causeway, and two servants, a driver and a gardener/general housekeeper. My French colleagues advised me to hire a cook from the French speaking country of Benin. The system was that one purchased the servant from his family by payment of a sum of money, approximately £450. I would then provide him with accommodation, food and pocket money. If he left me, his potential employers would purchase him from me or his family would have to make a repayment to me. An indentured labour system at it’s best.

So, I acquired a cook called Dudonne. He was superb at French cuisine and became my Guru. He taught me French Cooking and I taught him Indian, Chinese and Greek. We parted company five years later.  I decided not to renew my contract as the political situation had become very volatile and dangerous. In five years, I lost 17 motor vehicles, which I used personally. Sixteen of these were direct armed robberies. I used to tell the driver to just hand over the car keys, as I was not going to lose my life for the company. I had a few close brushes during the change of regime from Military to Civilian and then back to Military, but that too is another story!

As soon as my departure became imminent, Dudonne became tearful. At times, he and his fiancée would wail for hours at end.  Both did not want me to sell him to another employer and remain indentured labourers for ever. His going price was now £1500 as I had taught him Indian/Chinese cooking. Sindhi businessmen were prepared to double that price. His aspiration was to initially run a taxi business and earn enough money to set up his own restaurant. He did not have the money to purchase a car.

So it came to pass; I was fed up of their wailing. His fiancée was worse; she would just burst into tears every time I came into sight. One day, fed up with all this wailing, I told him, I am going to set you free with a golden handshake, but you know what to do, if you want my company car, which I cannot hand over to you as it is not mine. Shortly thereafter, he had his coveted car. He arranged a fake encounter; engaging armed off duty policemen, who often supplemented their income by carrying out robberies, to take the car off me and my driver. All company and insurance documentation was soon completed.  On my departure, he dropped me off at the airport in my ex-car! I remember him with considerable affection and in particular miss his cooking and consommé soup.

By definition, it’s a type of clear soup made from richly flavoured stock or bouillon that has been clarified usually through a fining process involving egg protein. It requires considerable skill to create a high quality consommé. In the past, I have had several disasters trying to make perfect Consommé by a reducing process i.e. continue to boil chicken to reduce it to a rich concentrated mass.

Dudonne use to make beautiful consommé soup and I used to follow his instructions and create a good dish when he was around. On returning, I just couldn’t make the same soup of the same quality.  Last week, I hit on the idea of making a rendition of Dudonne’s Consommé in a slow cooker.

This cooker consists of a large glazed porcelain cooking pot surrounded by a metal housing connected to the mains. The pot can be lifted out of the housing. The lid is transparent glass seated in a groove at the edge of the pot; condensed vapour collects in the groove and provides a low-pressure seal. The contents of the pot are effectively at atmospheric pressure, despite the water vapour generated inside the pot. Heating is thermostatically controlled.

My first experiment has been to make a different version of Dudonne’s Consommé, which I’ll call Clear and Chunky Chicken Soup. I put all the ingredients and water in the slow cooker, set the thermostat to low, to cook all night.  The only disadvantage was that whole house reeked of chicken when I woke up the next morning.

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I was amazed at the rich, golden brown colour of the soup. The chicken meat was literally falling off the bones, and the bones had a bleached appearance. Strong delicious taste. I cooled the porcelain pot and placed it in the fridge. Fat had floated to the top which I skimmed. The soup was a mass of gelatine; good for nails and bones to avoid arthritis. I used to play the guitar once upon a time when I was a mad Elvis fan and dressed like him too. We used to eat lot of gelatine to strengthen the nails. This soup is full of nutrients, plus calcium from the bones. I did not need to use the fining process i.e. – add egg white to clarify the soup. The slow cooker reduced the soup very well and all the sediment had collected at the bottom. I scooped out the soup without disturbing the sediment. Very delicious, even if I say so myself.

Ingredients

  • 4 skinned chicken drumsticks and thighs
  • 1 whole leek, sliced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, grated
  • 1/2 tsp garlic
  • 1 litre warm water
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 glass of red wine to fortify the cook.

Method

  1. Boil chicken in a small pan and remove all the scum and fat from the surface.
  2. Pour chicken and all contents plus all the ingredients into the slow cooker.
  3. Cover the slow cooker and switch to the ‘low’ setting
  4. Drink the remaining glass of wine whilst watching ingredients slowly come to life in the pot

The quantity of soup was large – 1 litre plus all the stuff within. I froze about half a litre for later use, to cook rice. Instead of using water to cook rice, I often use chicken stock but now will use rich soup.

Karam Bharij

a lecturer, freelance photo-journalist afflicted with the travel bug, sampler of fine wines and an avid cook of Kenyan, Indian, Chinese, Greek and French cuisines particularly fusion recipes. He has travelled extensively in Tunisia, the Far East, Europe, Turkey and the Greek Islands in the Aegean and Iona sea. All his travels are off the tourist beats to savour different cultures and foods. He's even crossed the desert with a Bedouin caravan a few years ago living on a rustic diet of Harrissa (ground red chillies with garlic), tomatoes and flat breads.