CALDO DE GALLINA
Yesterday I woke up with allergies, the last nagging remnants of a cold, and a raging hangover. So essentially, I was half dead. I did manage to drag myself out of bed and head to Sunset Park with J for the latest installment of our wishful thinking real estate tour. Sadly, the house we saw appeared (in my man’s words, anyway) to be inhabited by a clan of incontinent cats with a major smoking habit — though, oddly, we couldn’t actually pinpoint physical evidence of them. What we did find was lots of faded Jesus ephemera (which I kind of dig), overflowing garbage bags (which I dig less), 12 different kinds of shag and linoleum, a locked room which supposedly contained the owner’s 98 year-old uncle and her nogoodnik son of indeterminate age (I supposed he was the one blaring the death metal), and a pair of kitchens and bathrooms that had likely not seen a sponge or a toilet brush since the Eisenhower administration. I am generally the sort of person who conjures up grand plans out a pile of sawdust: I believe in elbow grease and paint and sledgehammers! But this house defeated me. I was in no state.
In fact, I could feel my physical hangover evolving into what the late great Kingsley Amis called the metaphysical hangover: “When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you…” As a salve, Amis instructs the afflicted to remind themselves that “You have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is.” All of which is good advice, I guess. But he left out the caldo de gallina.
Caldo de gallina, at least the version I’m most familiar with, is a classic Peruvian soup: a hearty amalgam of deep, golden broth (courtesy of that gallina, aka old hen), chunks of chicken, ginger, potatoes, carrots, onions, chiles, and (in case you were worried about getting enough starch) a thick tangle of spaghetti noodles. Universally prescribed for hangover sufferers and women who have just given birth (now I see the connection…) it’s a morning after staple that comes with elaborate garnishes that vary from region to region. My first encounter with it came while I was at Saveur, developing the Peru section of our special breakfast issue — and probably because of that, I’m preferential to a version adapted from that recipe: a Lima-based riff topped with scallions, lime, and hardboiled eggs.
Anyway, following J and my departure from Sunset Park, I came home, collapsed on the couch, and slept for three hours. And when I woke up, that damn soup was all I could think about. As I couldn’t muster the energy to do more than dial the phone last night, I had to settle for a wan substitute. (Read: take out Cuban.) But first thing this morning, spring back in my step, and with a cold rain drizzling down all around, I set to chopping and stirring and simmering. By lunchtime, the caldo was complete. And the hangover was gone, but not the hunger.
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, scrubbed but unpeeled, and chopped into 1 1/2 inch lengths
1 leek, washed and sliced into thin rounds
1 1/2 – 2 lbs boneless chicken thighs, cut into big chunks (I usually buy Murrays. That said, if you can get your hands on a real stewing gallina, by all means, go for it.)
3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes,(Or other small, waxy variety)
1/2 serrano chile, minced (Or, use the whole chile if you like it especially fiery)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon ground fennel seed
1/3 lb spaghetti
4 hardboiled eggs
2 limes, sliced into wedges
2 scallions, chopped
4 radishes, sliced into thin rounds,
1. Melt butter in a large dutch oven over medium flame. Add onions, carrots, leek, chicken, salt and pepper to the pot and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions have become translucent and the chicken has begun to cook through, about 5-6 minutes. Add water to cover the chicken and vegetables, cover the pot, reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.
2. Uncover the pot, add 3 cups of water, potatoes, chile, ginger, and fennel seed. Cover again and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until potatoes have softened. Raise heat, and when the stock has come to a slow boil, stir in spaghetti. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until spaghetti is tender. Turn off heat and prepare garnishes. Ladle into wide bowls and top with sliced egg, wedges of lime, scallions, and slivers of radish.