There’s a movie called Julie & Julia that is based on the real life blogger Julie Powell’s attempt to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I don’t know how normal it is for people to try to cook EVERYTHING in a cookbook, but given at least one other person has attempted this I now feel comfortable admitting that this is the sort of thing I do all the time. Sometimes this means making nothing but cakes for a month as I make my way through the first chapter of Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, but if it helps to satisfy my OCD, I’m good.
The first cookbook I remember doing this with was Survival for the Fittest, released by the Australian Institute of Sport back in 1999. This is a great book containing really easy, nutritious recipes. In fact, the recipes were originally designed for young athletes who were training with the Institute and were often learning to cook for the first time. The book was written back in the day where carbs were your friend and enjoyed the bottom tier of the food pyramid. Each recipe had gold, silver and bronze medals depending on the nutritional content, with pastas and risottos all coming out on top. If cookbooks could be kindred spirits, this would be mine.
One of the first things I made from this book was chicken and sweetcorn soup. The recipe was pretty simple – fry up some chicken tenderloins and aromatics, heat through with some Campbell’s chicken stock and creamed corn, then serve with chopped parsley. You can pull it together in under half an hour. If you’re on this page because you’re after a quick, easy and tasty chicken and sweetcorn recipe, you can find it here. If you’re on this page because you want to see what twenty years of obsessively reading cookbooks can do then read on!
For starters, once I got into the swing of making my own stock it never again really felt right using something from a carton. Soups for me are something to be made from scratch. The whole process of transforming plain water into a complex, flavoursome liquid is for me what cooking is really all about – a little bit of time, love and effort, to produce something worthwhile. So it logically follows that my recipe now also includes instructions on how to make the stock.
Secondly, if I was going to use a chunk of meat to make my own stock then it made sense to use the same meat for the final product. It had already been flavoured by the other stock ingredients, and cooked to a nice soft consistency. So I’ve substituted the fried chicken tenderloins for a slow-boiled whole chicken.
The switch from fried chicken to soft, boiled chicken changed this soup into something more like the Chinese chicken and sweetcorn soup I grew up with, and suddenly it wasn’t enough to have something that was sort of reminded me of home, I had to have something that was exactly like what I had eaten at countless home dinners and Chinese restaurants. This meant adding the beaten egg, soy sauce, thickening with cornstarch, swapping out the parsley for coriander and spring onion, and bringing out the Chinese soup spoons.
Finally, one of the best things about marrying someone from another culture is it opens up a whole other world of culinary experiences. One thing I’ve learnt about Vietnamese people is they really love their fish sauce, and one thing I’ve learnt about fish sauce is it really does enhance the flavour of just about everything. So, my final adjustment to this is two tablespoons of fish sauce, added at the beginning to the stock.
This recipe may no longer be a quick and easy recipe for young Australian athletes, or a completely authentic and traditional Chinese recipe, BUT it is still an easy and delicious recipe that combines the best of every cookbook I’ve ever read.
Steph’s Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup (from Scratch)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 can creamed corn (420 gm)
- 1 tbsp shao xing cooking wine
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 350 gm chicken meat, shredded
- 1.8 kg whole chicken not frozen
- 2 L water
- 1 onion, peeled and quartered
- 2 carrots, chopped into small chunks
- 1 celery, roughly chopped
- 1 swede, peeled and cut into small chunks
- 20 gm ginger, thinly sliced
- 1/2 tsp salt
- pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp corn starch
- 2 tbsp water
- 2 spring onions finely chopped
- 4 sprigs coriander finely chopped (optional)
Making the Chicken Stock
- In a medium stockpot, bring 2 L of water to the boil.
- Place the chicken with the breast face down in to the boiling water. Let it come back to the boil and skim any scum that accumulates on the surface.
- Add the the rest of the soup ingredients and cook for 1 hour.
- Take the chicken out to cool and strain the soup. Put the soup back into the pot on medium low.
- Once the chicken is cool enough to touch, shred roughly 350 gm of chicken meat. Store the rest of the meat in the fridge for another recipe.
Making the Soup
- Add the shao xing wine, sugar, fish sauce and cream corn into the soup. Combine well.
- Add the thickener and stir it in until the soup thickened.
- Very slowly swirl the soup with a wooden spoon in a circular motion, and add the beaten eggs in little batches.
- Taste check the soup and adjust to your preferences.
- Add the chicken in at the last minute and garnish.