So you've got the flu; I've got the flu; your significant other and/or kids and/or parakeets have the flu; everybody's got the flu. One of the annoying things about the flu, after, y'know, the raging fever and the intractable body aches and the weakness and your pores turning into disgusting sweat-hoses and the infuriating knowledge that you got a fucking flu shot already and what the fuck was that for if not to prevent you from getting the fucking flu in the first fucking place, is that nothing really makes the flu go away except keeping your body alive while it figures shit out. You're not going to cure the stupid flu. You're just going to sustain your life functions until it goes away, and in the meantime you're going to try to make yourself as comfortable as possible, which is not going to be very comfortable, except for that one window of time every six hours during which your fever briefly breaks and you feel OK for 19 minutes before the fever reducers and painkillers suddenly wear off and you burst into flames.
That is, unless you make chicken soup, which is the cure for the flu (THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN EVALUATED BY THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION). Chicken soup can be an incredibly long and laborious process, and truly, it's usually worth the full and fully insane investment of time, but you don't have time for that, because the flu is turning you into a mummy. So today you're going to make a version of chicken soup that is relatively quick, relatively easy, and totally guaranteed to cure your flu (CHICKEN SOUP IS NOT A PROVEN CURE FOR THE INFLUENZA VIRUS AND SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR MEDICAL TREATMENT).
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The first thing you need to do is braise some boneless, skinless chicken thighs in canned (or, uh, boxed or jugged or whatever this is) chicken stock, along with some other stuff that we will get to in a moment. I can detect a crescendo of grousing out there in the internet about the suggestion that you should use canned chicken stock, but, please, hear me out first: Shut up.
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Making good homemade chicken stock is great, and when you have the time and attentional bandwidth to really go all the way with it (simmering a whole chicken and various herbs and seasonings and aromatics and cheese rinds and whatnot for eight hours or so, then straining and refrigerating the liquid overnight before removing and discarding the solid cap of congealed chicken fat), you should do it. However, it takes a long goddamn time, and then the chicken you used is too mushy and flavorless to be eaten, and it's certainly not the sort of project one undertakes when deliriously feverish and fighting off all of the terrifying fever-bats, oh the fever-bats, no I will not feed you my dog, no you cannot make me, no stop screeching, oh God I cannot take the screeching, OK you can have him, just take him, I am so sorry Foofsy.
Therefore, just this one time (and also as many other times as you please, because you can make this choice for yourself, because people who try to make you feel bad about not making your own chicken stock are assholes and can be ignored), you may use store-bought chicken stock. It will taste just fine—probably not as earth-shattering as the homemade stuff, but tasty anyway, and that's OK, and anyway the time you save with this approach will enable you to have some chicken soup before the hearse arrives.
So. Back to what we were doing. You've got some boneless, skinless thighs in a saucepot; chop a yellow or Spanish onion in quarters and stick those in there with the chicken. Chuck in a couple smashed cloves of garlic and one or two dried bay leaves, too, and maybe a small spoonful of black peppercorns if you've got 'em. Pour your store-bought chicken stock over everything. Do you have enough to cover it all? Great! If not, it's OK to supplement with some cold water. Once everything is submerged, bring the pot up to a low boil, lower the heat until you've got a steady simmer, then stick a lid on top and leave it alone for 45 minutes or so. This should be just enough time for you to take a fever reducer, curl up on the couch, and shiver uncontrollably for 44 minutes while gushing sweat from all of your pores.
Forty-five minutes have passed; the drugs you took have broken your fever and restored your healthy glow. Uncover the pot and check the chicken. It's OK to pull one or two of the thighs apart with a fork. They're braising, so it's not as though you need to be worried about locking the moisture inside or anything, and you're going to pull them apart eventually anyway. What you're looking for is chicken that is cooked through and soft enough that it comes apart fairly easily, but isn't yet as broken-down as, say, pulled pork barbecue.
If your chicken still isn't cooked through, stick the lid back on there and go shiver some more. If it's done, grab your tongs or a slotted spoon and get the chicken out of there and onto a plate where it can cool for a little bit. You'll need it to cool because you're going to pull it apart with your fingers later, and it's best not to sear the skin off your fingertips when doing so. Pour the remaining contents of the pot through a strainer into another, larger pot, to get the onion and garlic and bay leaves and peppercorns out of the liquid.
You've now transferred your fairly rich braising liquid to a larger pot. If you want to grab a big spoon or a mug and try to skim the liquid chicken fat off the top, it will be a pain in the ass, but probably worth doing. If you don't want to do this, don't sweat it—just know that you will have some liquid fat on the surface of your soup when you serve it. In any case, add some more store-bought chicken stock to the braising liquid until you've got a plausible amount of soup broth, about two quarts worth. If you don't have enough store-bought chicken stock for this, you can use water, although you'll have a less flavorful soup, of course. If you go this route, be sure that you add it the water in increments and taste as you go so that you don't wind up with something too diluted and flavorless to consume, and also so that you can transfer enough of your flu germs to the pot to annihilate an entire city. Keep this over low heat (it doesn't need to be simmering, but it should be close to it) and under a lid, and leave it alone for a bit while you ...
… make meatballs! That's right, dammit: meatballs. Not the big, billiard-ball-sized ones you fry in oil with garlic and eat with tomato sauce, but adorable little pork meatballs you're going to bake in the oven. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, coat a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and wash your pestilent mitts, you walking cesspool.
Now, in a big bowl, mix a pound of ground pork with one beaten egg, some grated pecorino cheese, ground black pepper, and a wee pinch of salt. Roll the mixture into little balls, oh, say, an inch or so across, taking no special care to ensure that they are uniform in size or perfectly spherical. Line 'em up on your foil-covered baking sheet, and stick 'em in the oven for 20 minutes or so.
While those little suckers are cooking away in the oven, bring your pot of broth up to a low simmer, and add some sliced vegetables to it. Specifically, thin little disks of carrot, and similarly-sized cross-sections of celery. You're cutting them small because this will allow them to soften pleasantly in the brief time remaining in this culinary venture, and because they will taste lovely, and because they will look incredibly attractive in the finished soup, these bright little bursts of orange and green in the golden broth. (Also, you'll feel a little bit better about putting meatballs in your soup.)
So the timer's gonna go off on your oven; haul the meatballs outta there and set them aside. By now enough time has gone by for you be able to pull the chicken apart with your fingers. Do so. Would you like direction on how big or small to make the resulting pieces of chicken? Too fuckin' bad! Use your own damn judgment, you needy fuck!
Don't go chucking your meatballs and chicken into the soup broth just yet. First, you're going to cook some noodles for your soup. There are all different kinds of noodles that people like to serve in their chicken soup: egg noodles, bowties, elbow macaroni, the letters of the alphabet, and so on. All of these are tasty and pleasing and perfectly fine, except that they are wrong, because they are not as good as the greatest of all chicken soup noodles, acini di pepe. There are reasons for acini's superiority as chicken soup noodles—they're easy to eat with a spoon, they're adorable, they just goddamn taste better, I fucking said so, shut up, et cetera—but the most important one, today at least, is that acini cook quickly enough to be ready to eat long before your flu robs you of the ability to swallow food. Make some acini.
When the acini are done and strained in a colander (be careful with that, by the way: your cute little acini might slip right through the holes in some colanders, and that will be the saddest goddamn thing you ever see in your life, those little beauties swirling down the drain in your kitchen sink), drop the chicken and the meatballs into your simmering broth. Give the soup a minute or two to heat up these late additions. Stirring and tasting as you go, add salt in small increments until it tastes as good as you can get it before you collapse into a heap of bones on the kitchen floor. It is now done.
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Each bowl gets: a cup or so of acini, maybe a cup-and-a-half of hot broth (making sure to include some meatballs and chicken with it), a sprinkling of some more of the pecorino cheese you used in the making of the meatballs, and a spoon. Hold your leathery, sunken, haggard, gray face over the bowl and inhale deeply. Mmmmmmmm. Warmth. Health. Life. You feel better already, and you haven't even tasted it yet. By the time you drink down the last spoonful, you will be plump and ruddy and ready to punt a mountain into space. (THESE CLAIMS HAVE NOT BEEN VERIFIED BY AN INDEPENDENT PARTY.)
Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at email@example.com. Top image by Jim Cooke.