When you live by yourself, with only a partner to have to feed on occasion, roast dinners aren’t something you can ever really make. Quite often I might make a meal of a pork chop or similar piece of meat with the obligatory “two veg” but it’s not the same as a whole roast chicken. Coming home to stay with my parents for the summer however, a roast dinner was perhaps one thing I most looked forward to. Of course, even between three or four a large chicken can still be a bit of an extravagant meal (and we’re the family that always buy a turkey for 6-10 at Christmas) so you have to get your money’s worth. Growing up, this usually meant that my dad’s homemade chicken pies were a regular Monday night affair, but by turning the carcass into a stock, I rose to the challenge of stretching the bird to a third day, and for dinner last Tuesday, made a Chinese-style hot and sour soup.
I flavoured my stock by adding sliced ginger, star anise and a couple of dried shiitake mushrooms to the pot, but I’ll give directions as if using a shop bought stock or some made up how you might usually (though I don’t think many people usually make stock at all!). Making this also gave me a chance to experiment with the dried lily flowers I recently impulse bought in a Chinese supermarket – part of a collection of poorly thought through purchases before I moved out of fear of a lack of anywhere to buy them in the future, including caperberries and dried mango powder that remain as yet unused. The dried lily flowers are have a faint sweet-and-sour taste, but are more for texture as they a have a slight crunch and whether or not they’re nutritious enough to count as one of your five-a-day, I couldn’t say. They had mixed reviews and are by no means essential: this is the kind of recipe that can accommodate for whatever is going a little wrinkly in the fridge! I made it purely from things that were either dried or tinned. The only requirement is a savoury broth of good stock and dried mushroom, lots of pepper and a good splash of sour vinegar, which makes this surprisingly refreshing for even a hot summer’s day.
Bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for 10 minutes, drain and add the soaking liquor to the pot along with the ginger, grated or minced. To make the stock as I did from scratch, slice the ginger and add along with the dried mushrooms and two star anise, to the carcass of a roast chicken and 1.5 litres of water and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, skimming off the scum that floats to the top.
Slice the rehydrated mushrooms, removing any tough stalks, and add to the pot with the vegetables and continue to simmer until the vegetables are cooked (or just warmed through, depending on what you use). When ready to serve, season the soup with the pepper, five spice if using, soy sauce and vinegar, then taste and add more soy, pepper or vinegar as you see fit. Ladle into individual bowls and garnish with the spring onion. Serve with the rice on the side, or add cooked noodles to the broth. Serves 2-4.