Fennel-lemon broth fortifies chicken-noodle soup

The classic cure-all, chicken-noodle soup, was reformulated recently in the Chicago Tribune.

Crispy-skin chicken atop udon noodles bathed in a stock of the roasted bird and veggies are the main deviations from the typical chicken-soup format. Concentrated flavors of fennel and lemon persuaded me to prepare this version for my family, all suffering from the sniffles. The former is a vegetable my kids will eat in most dishes; the latter is one they crave and supplement by sucking on slices and wedges.

Despite its characterization as “elixir,” this dish played on my kids’ palates, at least, more like foul medicine. The flavor of the tart but faintly licoricey broth made them shudder. They could be prompted at least to extract and consume the chicken and noodles, when the younger one wasn’t protesting my crime against lemons, evidenced by the chewy, caramelized slice on his plate.

I love fennel bulb and tolerate the seeds, so the unusual notes of the broth appealed to me, just not with such a coarse mass of vegetables and noodles. Because the flavors put me in mind of my favorite healing tonic, avgolemeno soup, I vowed to make the broth as directed here, straining it into another saucepan for simmering short-grain rice and skipping the noodles. If the lemon juice-spiked egg added to Greece’s chicken soup isn’t already a crowning touch, this recipe’s crispy-skin bird will put it over the top.

Tribune News Service

Roasted Fennel Elixir

2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, about 5

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed

1 fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered and sliced 1/4 inch thick, fronds finely chopped

2 lemons, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 onion, peeled, quartered and sliced 1/2 inch thick

1 small hot pepper, such as serrano, halved, seeded and thinly sliced

4 garlic cloves, whole, skin-on

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 star anise (optional)

4 ounces udon noodles

Rub the chicken with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Settle chicken, skin-side up, on a large baking sheet. Set aside 1/2 cup finely chopped fennel fronds. Heap all remaining ingredients (except noodles) onto pan, and toss with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast at 425 F, stirring vegetables occasionally, until they are beautifully caramelized, for about 35 minutes.

Pull pan out of oven. Avoiding garlic and star anise, portion half of vegetables into 4 large soup bowls. Scrape remaining vegetables and 2 chicken thighs into a large saucepan. Return sheet pan to oven and let remaining chicken crisp, for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour water into saucepan to cover chicken by 1 inch. Stir to break up chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Stir in the noodles; cook until tender but firm. Drain. Rinse under cool water to stop cooking. Portion a nest of noodles into each soup bowl.

When roast chicken is beautifully crisp, pull it out of oven. Remove and discard bones. Slice meat into 1-inch-wide strips. Portion strips, skin-side up, into soup bowls.

Strain broth; discard solids. Reheat and add salt, if needed. Ladle hot broth into each bowl. Garnish with fennel fronds. Serve steaming hot.

Makes 4 servings.

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