Back-of-the-box Chicken Soup
By Barbara Haber
It is easy to disdain the recipes we find on the backs of those boxes, cans and jars that most of us have in our pantries. Such recipes are usually seen as relics of the 1950s when the can opener was presented as the cook's best friend. But I have found that not all recipes found on products are bad or even quick.
I remember the time when I stumbled across a lengthy recipe for a chicken and bean soup I had noticed printed on the plastic wrapping on the backs of chickens in my local supermarket. At the time I wasn't in the mood, but the soup recipe stuck in my mind, so a few days later I decided to buy one of those chickens.
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When I returned to the market's chicken bin, I saw that the recipe was for a boring salad and I realized that a new batch of chickens had arrived. So there I was, burrowing within the chicken bin, quite overwrought, yet aware enough to realize that I would need a believable alibi if the store manager happened by and asked me what I was doing. "I think I lost my ring," I would deceivingly reply.
When I finally got to the very bottom of the bin, I found one lone chicken with the soup recipe. Since I figured that the bird was past its expiration date I spent the next several minutes scribbling the recipe onto the back of an envelope. This recipe is now a mainstay winter dish at my house.
A life lesson behind 'mahogany' Jell-O
This leads me to realize that people really love certain foods that some of us scorn or at the very least think of as passé. There was the time when I was invited to a 1950s-style food event and promised to bring a Jell-O mold. Later, I discovered that I had just two packages of Jell-O, one green and the other red. Since I was short of time I decided to combine them and make the speedy version of the dish that involves ice cubes for quick jelling. When it began to jell, I whipped it up and added some sliced canned peaches, and the whole thing firmed up in time for the party.
The dish turned out to be some unprecedented shade of reddish-brown, but instead of fretting, I dubbed it "mahogany salad." To my utter surprise and amusement, my Jell-O mold was hugely popular and quickly devoured by the party guests.
Unchanged and still kicking: California dip
Another reminder of the sustained popularity of back-of-the-box recipes is that steadfast dip made up of dried onion soup mix and sour cream, what is sometimes called "California dip." It is one of the few dips I enjoy, since I always like to know what I am eating, and many such concoctions now being served are filled with snippets of unrecognizable foods I find unappetizing.
When I was in a supermarket last week, sure enough, the recipe was there. Though it has been around for more than half a century, "California dip" seems here to stay because people love it. And so I rest my case.
Back-of-the-Box Chicken Soup
For the chicken:1 chicken (preferably a stewing hen)
1 onion quartered
1 rib celery
Salt and pepper
For the soup:1 pound dried navy beans, soaked overnight and drained
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
2 celery ribs, sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Parsley for garnishing
1. Place chicken and vegetables in a large stock pot and cover with water (12-14 cups).
2. Cook for at least two hours until chicken is almost falling off the bone.
3. Remove chicken to cool. Reserve broth for the soup.
4. When chicken is cool, remove flesh from bones and cut into chunks.
5. Add the beans, onion, celery, garlic, oregano, bay leaf and salt and pepper to the broth.
6. Cook the soup for 2 hours or more until beans are tender, then add chunks of chicken. Add parsley just before serving.
Zester Daily contributor Barbara Haber is an author, food historian and the former curator of books at Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. She is a former director of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and was elected to the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who's in Food and Beverages" and received the M.F.K. Fisher Award from Les Dames d'Escofier.
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