GINGER COCONUT CHICKEN SOUP // the local food report

There’s a flu going around. Hacking coughs, sore throats, noses running faster than the cheeks they crown. In our house we’re fighting it every way we can: with summer-dried teas of foraged blackberry leaves and rosehips steeped with local honey. With ice-cold smoothies made from last year’s frozen peaches and mulberries. And of course, chicken soup.

We started raising our own birds for meat three years ago. Our friend Drew raises pastured poultry in Truro, and one August day he delivered 15 just-hatched Freedom Ranger chicks to the moveable pen we built in the backyard. They ate and drank and ate some more, and two months later they were ready for slaughter, full size. We killed and plucked and gutted them, froze them, and took a break from chicken for a while.

There are six left in the freezer from this summer, six that I intended to measure alongside our hunger, to stretch along. But we’ve eaten two in two weeks; we need them now.

The other day I pulled out a bird and let it thaw. I unwrapped it from its plastic bag—I have searched high and low for a size of reusable freezer bag that fits a 4-pound chicken, like the silicone ones they advertise for berries and corn. But no one seems to have invented this one. And so I threw yet more plastic out and cranked the oven on and rubbed the bird with salt and pepper and oil. I cooked it until the skin was tight and bubbling and brown. We ate: white meat for my older daughter and my husband and dark meat for me and my five-year-old. After dinner I pulled the rest of the meat from the bones. I set aside the extra skin in its own container—there’s a salad I like to make with grapefruit, butter lettuce, and avocado, topped with crispy chicken skin.

With the skin sorted and the meat pulled, I put the carcass on to simmer with scraps from the freezer. I dug out a jar crammed with carrot peelings and celery trimmings and an onion that had started to sprout. I left it to simmer until bedtime, then to cool until dawn. 

The next morning as the sun comes up orangey pink over the kitchen windowsill I wake the girls for school and while they breakfast I make soup. I grate ginger, crack open a can of coconut milk, pour in full-fat homemade chicken stock. Nina Planck’s Real Food Cookbook reminds me that coconut milk is rich in lauric acid, an antiviral fatty acid also found in breast milk. This luscious soup, she says, is the ultimate cold-and-flu therapy.

I tweak it a bit. I add red curry paste and rice and frozen corn. I thicken it with meat pulled from the carcass, salt it, and serve it hot. It soothes our throats and cuts into our coughs. It’s time to order this spring’s birds from the hatchery, I think. To raise on summer bugs and grass for another winter’s colds and coughs.


This recipe is adapted from Nina Planck's Real Food Cookbook. Her original is more of a broth; I added some chunks to make it feel more like a meal. Ginger and lemon are known immune boosters; Planck points out that coconut milk is too, rich in lauric acid, "the antiviral fatty acid found in breast milk (and required, by law, to be in infant formula) that gives newborns immunity." Also, and most importantly, it's delicious. I start this soup by making a roast chicken for dinner, then broth and soup from the carcass the next day. 

one 1-inch piece fresh ginger
juice of 1 lemon
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
4 cups unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon red curry paste
1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup dry brown rice
2 cups frozen corn
2 cups chopped/pulled chicken meat
optional: chopped cilantro, for garnish

With the skin on, grate the ginger as fine as your grater will allow. Combine the grated ginger, lemon juice, chicken stock, coconut milk, red curry paste, chili flakes, salt, and brown rice in a large soup pot. Warm over medium high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Turn down to low and simmer, covered, for roughly 30 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through. Stir in the corn and chicken and serve piping hot. Garnish with cilantro if you like, or, if you are Nora, simply eat the garnish alongside the soup by the fistful. Huzzah!


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.