Forget any ifs, ands or buts, because this, my friends, is the tastiest chicken soup you’ll ever slurp up.
The kind that makes your eyes widen in unexpected pleasure from the first spoonful. The kind that boasts layers upon layers of deep, full, satisfying flavor. The kind that nourishes and comforts no matter if you’re ailing or just in need of something wonderfully warming.
The secret is that the chicken in the soup first gets roasted. In fact, the entire soup is mostly made in the oven, concentrating the flavors and leaving the chicken as tender and moist as your favorite rotisserie bird.
“Limon Omani Oven-Roasted Chicken Soup with Celery Seeds” may have a long name with an ingredient or two that may give you pause. But don’t let that put you off from what is essentially a quite easy recipe that delivers more than you’d ever expect.
The recipe is from the new “Mastering Spice: Recipes and Techniques to Transform Your Everyday Cooking” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy.
It’s by Lior Lev Sercarz, chef-owner of New York’s revered spice shop, La Boite, who has worked with such acclaimed chefs as Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert.
In this masterful book, he teaches basic techniques for versatile home-cook-friendly dishes that can be changed up easily with the addition of different spices. For instance, a basic recipe for “Roasted Mixed Vegetables” can be enjoyed in several ways, from “Tarragon Roasted Vegetables with Citrus and Mustard Seeds” to “Sesame and Prosciutto Roasted Vegetables with Fenugreek.” Or simple “Quick-Seared Pork Chops” can change up from “Pork Chops with Peanut Satay Sauce” to “Pork and Pineapple Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing.”
Same with this oven-roasted chicken soup, which can easily be altered to become “Creamy Labne Chicken Soup with Dill Seeds” or “Tomato-Basil Chicken Soup with Ancho and Cumin.”
“Limon Omani Oven-Roasted Chicken Soup with Celery Seeds” calls for two whole Omani lemons. In actuality, they are limes — dried Persian ones to be exact.
After being dried in the sun, their skins become hard as a walnut shell, so you’ll need a strong palm (Sercarz’s recommendation) or a meat mallet (my preferred way) to smash them before pulverizing them in a spice grinder.
They are highly aromatic, and have a deep, musky, earthy sourness with a hint of bitterness and smokiness. They are vaguely reminiscent of preserved lemons — but without the overt saltiness. Omani lemons are definitely worth seeking out for this recipe. You could try adding some chopped preserved lemon to the soup as it cooks or a squirt of fresh lemon or lime juice before serving instead. Both would work; but neither would provide the profound depth that the Omani lemons would. So make the effort to acquire some — and in the process, discover a new ingredient you’re sure to fall for.
The other surprising ingredient in this soup is Granny Smith apples. They are cored, then quartered, and added to the soup to gently bubble away in the oven. At first, I thought the apple pieces might be too big, and I worried that they weren’t peeled beforehand. But the apples will actually break down and disintegrate into the soup. You won’t even realize they are there. Yet they’ll provide a touch of fruitiness and acidity that adds another dimension to this soup.
Celery root, celery, and celery seeds also give a pronounced celery-parsley taste that is a natural when it comes to chicken soup.
The carrots, celery, celery root and onions are cut in good-sized pieces for the soup. And if like me, you end up using a chicken that’s closer to 4 pounds than the 3-pounder originally called for in the recipe, you will have a soup that’s plenty filling and chock-full of chicken meat.
Consider it the ultimate chunky soup. Or quite simply the chicken soup of your dreams.
Limon Omani Oven-Roasted Chicken Soup with Celery Seeds
(Makes 3 to 4 quarts, 8 to 12 servings)
For main spice blend:
2 whole limon Omani (dried Persian limes, 8 grams)
1 1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon peperoncini (dried Calabrian chile) or red pepper flakes
1 whole (3-pound) chicken, quartered for 2 bone-in, skin-on breasts, 2 bone-in, skin-on thighs, and 2 drumsticks
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium carrots
1 large parsley root or small celery root
2 small yellow onions
2 large celery stalks
2 Granny Smith apples
4 garlic cloves
To make main spice blend: Crack and crush the limon omani into smaller pieces by pressing them against a cutting board with your palm (Or use a meat mallet to whack it gently.) Transfer the pieces to a spice grinder and finely grind. Immediately mix with the whole celery seeds, ginger, and peperoncini.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper. Cut the chicken into quarters. Use poultry shears or a sharp knife to cut along one side of the backbone and one side of the breastbone to halve the chicken. Cut each half into two pieces between the breasts and thighs. (If your store sells whole chickens already quartered, you can buy that and skip this step.)
Sprinkle half the spice mix all over the chicken, sprinkle with salt, and drizzle with oil to coat (1 to 2 tablespoons). Place on the prepared pan, skin-side down. Roast until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Flip the chicken pieces over and roast until the other side is browned, about 15 minutes more.
Meanwhile, scrub the carrots and peel the parsley root. Cut the carrots, parsley root, onions, and celery into 1 1/2-inch chunks. quarter and core the apples. Cut the garlic cloves in half.
Heat a large Dutch oven or other large oven-safe pot over medium-high heat. Coat the bottom with oil (2 to 3 tablespoons) and heat until shimmering. Add vegetables, apples, and remaining spice mix. Stir well, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent, 10 to 13 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low and add 2 cups water. Stir and scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Nestle the chicken into the vegetables. (Keep the oven on.) Pour 1 cup water into the sheet pan to loosen any browned bits and pour into the Dutch oven. Add another 5 cups water. The liquids should just cover the solids. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, and transfer to the oven.
Bake until the chicken and vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes. Transfer the Dutch oven to the stovetop. Uncover the pot and use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to another sheet pan. When cool, peel off the skin, pull out the bones, and return the skin and large bones to the soup; shred the cooled meat and set aside.
Simmer the soup on the stovetop over low heat for about 25 minutes and then use a slotted spoon to remove (and discard) the skin and bones. Return the shredded meat to the soup, season to taste with salt, and serve hot.
Adapted from “Mastering Spice;; by Lior Lev Sercarz
More Soups to Enjoy: Chicken Meatball Soup