Midwest winters can be long and cold. There’s something to be said for them though, since the absence of the growing season makes you value it more. When Spring comes around, the first green vegetable tastes that much sweeter.
Last year, just when I thought winter couldn’t get any colder my friends at Bubbling Spring Farm in Wisconsin pointed out to me that the watercress in their spring stayed alive through the winter since the movement of the water inhibits the ice from forming. I thought it was so cool that something green could stay alive all winter, like a reminder of things to come.
My friend Chris and I went back out to the spring to shoot a quick video about the cress a couple weeks ago. We picked some, cleaned it up, and enjoyed it with a simple soup of chicken and root vegetables.
You might not think of watercress fitting into a winter soup, but one of my favorite things to do with cress is to fold it into a broth at the last minute. Since cress has a very short shelf life, It’s a good way to use cress that’s still good, but may be a bit wilted. Here’s the recipe, and enjoy the video.
Chicken-Root Vegetable Stew, With Watercress
When I made this I had some French red rice I brought back from the Camargue this year-a marshy delta in Provence where wild horses roam, and a number of different types of rice are harvested. You can add any grain you prefer though, but I like to cook them separately, adding them just before serving to prevent overcooking.
I like to add additional garnishes to hearty soups like this too, pesto, grated parmesan olive oil, croutons, or a poached egg are all good choices. As with most soups, this is much better made ahead of time and allowed to age for a day or two before eating.
Yield: 1 gallon, roughly 8 adult sized portions
- 3lbs assorted root vegetables such as turnips, celery root, rutabaga, parsnips and carrots
- 1 small yellow sweet onion, diced ½ inch
- Fresh watercress picked into 1-2inch pieces, a couple handfuls
- 1/2 cup flavorless oil, for browning the chicken and sautéing the vegetables
- ½ lb savoy cabbage, diced ½ inch
- 3 quarts chicken or other meat stock, preferably homemade
- 1.5 lbs chicken thighs, trimmed of fat if needed
- Kosher salt, as needed
- A bouquet of 5 thyme sprigs, one dried bay leaf, 5 black peppercorns and 2 lightly crushed garlic cloves (tie these ingredients inside a bundle of cheesecloth)
- ½ cup French red rice or another grain of your choice, cooked in lightly salted water until tender (optional)
- Wash the watercress in a basin or cleaned sink of cool water, then roll up gently in paper towels to dry
- Peel the roots, making sure to remove not only the skin, but the white layer of tough flesh underneath the skin as well, dice the roots ½ inch and reserve.
- Season the chicken thighs liberally with salt and pepper
- Heat ½ of the oil in a stock pot large enough to hold 2 gallons of liquid. Brown the chicken thighs on both sides, then remove and reserve. Discard the oil in the pan, then add the remaining half of the oil and sweat the onion for 3-4 minutes, then add the root vegetables and cook for 4-5 minutes on medium heat. The root vegetables should not take on any color. Add the chicken broth, chicken, herb bouquet and the cabbage and bring the mixture to a simmer, double check the seasoning for salt, and adjust as needed, then turn off the heat, transfer the soup to a container with a tight fitting lid left ajar for steam to escape and chill. After the soup has chilled, remove the chicken and dice the thighs roughly into ½ inch pieces and add them to the soup. Discard the herb bouquet.
- To serve the soup, heat it and double check the seasoning for salt one last time. Just before serving, stir in the watercress, cooked rice or grain of your choice if using, then ladle into individual preheated soup bowls, top with any of the additional garnishes and serve immediately.