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In January it’s so nice
While slippin’ on the slidin’ ice
To sip hot chicken soup with rice
Sippin’ once, sippin’ twice
Sippin’ chicken soup with rice..
Lyrics (original text) by Maurice Sendak. Music by Carole King, Really Rosie. (Click here to listen.) First published in the book Chicken Soup with Rice, part of the Nutshell Library.
As a student in library school, I once was in charge of a weekend seminar about famed children’s author, Maurice Sendak. I had to plan the event from soup to nuts, including speeches, lunches, lodging, etc. I also had to invite the man himself. I was flabbergasted when he accepted. I was near collapse when his assistant called a few days ahead, and citing illness, informed me the author would need to miss this particular conference. Hundreds of people from miles around were nearly on their way. Crushing… But, still–the weekend went on as planned….though we certainly missed the main attraction. No great matter in the long run, though, I never lost my deep and sincere admiration for this talented, innovative author, nor my love for his sweet lyrics about one of my favorite soups ever, Chicken Soup with Rice! All of my children heard and read the Sendak books (Remember Where the Wild Things Are?) and we kept the REALLY ROSIE book around until…well, actually I still have it.
Growing up, my dad — a lifelong and inveterate soup-maker — made chicken with rice soup regularly for a couple of reasons: a. chicken was cheap and great soup material and b. he was from the south: rice, rather than potatoes, was a more typical starch choice. And while I’ve always adored it, I only fairly recently have begun making chicken-wild rice soup. Living in Minnesota for a few years, I discovered wild rice — hand-harvested wild rice — was a mainstay and one of the state’s tastiest and most famous edible products. Uh, right up there after walleye, anything deep-fried and on a stick, maple syrup, and burgers with beers. (Those are the most-celebrated and obvious sorts of state food symbols. I myself never got over the best farmer’s market in the world in downtown Saint Paul.)
Wild Rice is the grain of a reed-like aquatic plant (Zizania palustris), which is unrelated to rice. It is grown in the United States and also in Canada. The grains are long, slender and black, with a distinctive earthy, nutty flavor. It is available in three different grades, giant, which is a very long grain and the best quality, fancy, which is a medium grain and of lesser quality and select, which is a short grain. Wild Rice is an annual grass which grows naturally in many Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin lakes. The Chippewa word for grain of berry is “min.” The word “mano”, meaning good, makes “manomin” (good berry). Wild rice was known by this name “manomin” to the Chippewa’s and to most of the early white explorers and settlers of the Upper Mississippi Valley. Throughout the years, there have been 60 popular names identified for wild rice. English terms were numerous but the most commonly accepted name became wild rice. By whatever name, many of the Indigenous Peoples of North America consider the “wild” varieties of lake and river wild rice to be “A Gift from the Great Spirit…the Creator Himself”, spiritually sacred and therefore distinct from the “cultivated” or “farm grown” varieties. Today, the “wild” varieties and the “cultivated” or “farm grown” varieties of wild rice remain an especially important crop for both lake and river producers and modern day farmers.
–Moose Lake Wild Rice
At church soup suppers, Chicken-Wild Rice Soup played a large role and never missed being on the menu. I fell in love with it and, borrowing a recipe from famous cook and soup maker Pat Veum-Smith, I began experimenting. A simplified turkey version is in my upcoming book (truly is going to be published soon), but last night I came up with this tweaked potful and thought I’d share it on a cold and blustery Colorado day.
below: Miss Gab, just recovering from kennel cough despite the vaccine, and Tucker staying warm while I cooked.
I had begun a pot of chicken noodle soup for a sick neighbor and realized I had enough chicken and vegetables for two pots of soup, but not enough noodles. Rifling through the cupboards, I came up with a packet of wild rice purchased last fall in Minnesota. Manna from heaven. The rest you see below.
below: front walk with blowing snow
chicken-wild rice soup with butternut squash and pecans
- 1 cup wild rice
- 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups diced onions
- 2 cups diced celery
- 1 cup sliced carrots
- 1 cup diced butternut squash
- Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, and crushed red pepper
- 3 tablespoons chopped mixed fresh herbs: sage, rosemary, and thyme (or 2 teaspoons mixed dried — can substitute Herbes de Provence)
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 5-6 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup whole milk or half-and-half
- 2 tablespoons sherry
- 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans (toast in small skillet on low for 5 minutes)
- 1 cup sautéed mushrooms, optional
Add wild rice to a medium bowl and cover with water. Swish well with hands to clean; drain. Repeat two more times. Set drained rice aside.
In a large pot, heat oil and butter over medium heat and add onions, celery, carrots, butternut squash, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, a generous pinch (1/8 teaspoon) crushed red pepper, the fresh herbs, and the chicken. Let cook 10 minutes, stirring regularly, or until vegetables are softened and the chicken is browning nicely. Add garlic and cook until chicken is cooked through. Season again with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Pour in white wine and simmer another two minutes or so, stirring.
Stir in broth and water, raise heat, cover, and bring to a boil. When boiling, add clean, drained wild rice, lower heat to a simmer, and cook 45 minutes or until rice is tender and beginning to split at edges. Lower heat so that soup is no longer simmering and add milk or half-and-half and sherry. Stir in mushrooms, if using. Do not boil. Taste, re-season, and serve hot garnished with toasted pecans.
Cook’s Note: Lovely with homemade biscuits
WINE: A buttery, big California Chardonnay would be my first choice, but a light Pinot Noir would also be lovely with all the earthy flavors. Just for fun, read about Eric Asimov’s top 20 wines for $20 in the NYT.
WILD RICE SOURCES AND INFO
Sing a new song and stay warm,