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.
Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup
Course: Starter / Lunch
- 1 whole chicken (approx. 1.8 kg) (Note 1)
- 1 whole onion, peeled and cut in half
- 2 carrots, chopped into small pieces
- 1 celery stalk, chopped into small pieces
- 1 medium swede, peeled and chopped into small pieces
- 1 knob of ginger
- 2 L of boiling water
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml of fish sauce
- 20 peppercorns
- 1.5 L chicken stock
- 350 g shredded chicken meat (from the chicken used to make the stock)
- 1x 420 g can creamed corn
- 1 tbsp / 15 ml shaoxing cooking wine
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml corn starch
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml water
- 2 eggs
- Finely chopped spring onion
- Finely chopped coriander
- Cracked pepper
- Place all the chicken stock ingredients in a large pot and bring to the boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 1.5 hours. Remove any scum that appears on the surface.
- When the time’s up, remove the chicken and set aside on a plate (Note 2).
- Remove the vegetables and either discard or use for something else.
- Strain the broth into a measuring jug then pour into a medium pot. Measure out roughly 1.5 litres. If you find you have less just make up the difference with more water. If you have too much then bring the stock to a hard boil until it reduces down to the required quantity.
- Once the chicken is cool enough to handle (Note 3), shred the meat and weigh out 350 grams. The leftover meat can be used for something else (Note 4).
- Bring the 1.5 litres of chicken stock in your medium pot to a slow boil.
- Add the 350 grams of the shredded chicken meat, the creamed corn, the shaoxing cooking wine and the sugar. Return to a boil.
- Mix the cornstarch with the two tablespoons of water until dissolved. Add to the pot, and stir until the soup thickens.
- Beat the eggs, then turn the heat right up and bring the soup to a hard boil. Once it’s boiling, pour the eggs in slowly while stirring (Note 5).
- Check the soup for seasoning, and adjust if necessary (Note 6).
- Serve hot with finely chopped coriander and spring onion, and freshly cracked pepper.
- Use the highest quality chicken you can find. It will not only significantly improve the taste of this dish, it will also make it more pleasant to make. Higher quality chickens tend to not smell as bad when they’re raw, and tend to be cleaner so won’t release as much scum while cooking.
- This recipe has been written as if the chicken is removed from the stock straight away. Be aware that if you leave the chicken in the stock, even with the heat turned off, the chicken will continue to cook and this will produce softer meat than intended by this recipe.
- The warmer the chicken is the easier it will be to shred. There have been times where I’ve made this recipe in stages over a couple of days, leaving the whole chicken in the fridge overnight and shredding it the next day. This didn’t seem to impact the taste, but it did make it harder to get the exact size and shape of chicken pieces I wanted as a colder chicken is harder to work with.
- I normally use the leftover meat for sandwiches, casseroles or pot pies.
- It’s essential the water is very hot before you pour in the eggs. The idea is that the eggs will cook on impact in separate little pieces. If the water isn’t hot enough the egg won’t cook fast enough and you’ll just end up with a cloudy soup.
- If you think the soup needs to be saltier then I recommend you add more fish sauce rather than soy sauce or salt. For ages I avoided using fish sauce in this recipe as I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible (you don’t generally see fish sauce in Chinese cooking). I was however eventually converted on the basis that fish sauce will produce a longer aftertaste which you just do not get with salt. I don’t recommend adding more soy sauce because it will alter the flavor and colour of the soup too much.