Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Leftover chicken

Yes indeed, leftovers are quite the hip thing nowadays. Our Prime Minister has given us a ruddy good wrist-slapping (and rightly so) about the appalling amount of food wasted each year by us Brits, and so it's about time we thought twice before a) buying something or b) throwing it away.

There are 101 things you can do with a leftover chicken - stick it in a sandwich with some baby gem lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise; toss it through some pasta with broccoli, lemon juice and olive oil; add it to a risotto with mushrooms, or have it in a salad with some croutons, caesar dressing and shaved parmesan - yum!

But it's still raining, and all I want for lunch is hot soup. It's worth having proper stock for soup - there's nothing wrong with cubed, but a homemade stock is pretty irreplaceable. Making a stock is easy and an excellent way to use every last bit of the bird. Strip the remaining meat from the carcass (this will go in your soup) and put the carcass in a medium saucepan. Cover with water. Add half an onion, a carrot, a stick of celery, a couple of bay leaves, a few peppercorns and, if you have any left, gravy (a lot of people use a clove or two as well - I find their flavour a little bossy). Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours. Drain through a sieve and either freeze or use for a risotto or soup, like this one.

If smooth, rich chicken soup is your thing then this ain't it - but it might convert you. This is very simple, rustic broth. Pearl barley is a really lovely grain, and also makes an excellent risotto-style dish. You can find it in most supermarkets these days, and certainly in health food shops.

Chicken and pearl barley broth

Serves 6

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 stick celery, trimmed and finely chopped
200g pearl barley
2 litres hot chicken stock
As much leftover chicken as you have, shredded

Heat a little oil over a low heat in a large saucepan and stir in the onion and celery. Season, cover and soften for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat and stir in the pearl barley, then add the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for an hour or so, until the barley is soft. Add the chicken and simmer for a further 5 minutes before serving. This soup is excellent done in advance and reheated.

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