The cliché is accurate: it’s always summer here. Oh, I know, people here will tell you it’s “freezing” when it’s 50°F outside, and it does get cloudy (ish) and chilly (a little) in January and February, but it takes a real act of deliberate self-deception to buy into the idea that it’s winter. So screw it, I say, and make hearty winter soup on a mild summer day—it’ll be no less strange than the fire I insisted in having in the fireplace most every evening last winter.
Having come to this conclusion, I found myself in my not terribly hot kitchen late yesterday afternoon, making a soup I associate with the long, damp winters of southwestern Germany rather than a sunny, clear afternoon in the southwest corner of California. But hey, dark meat chicken and spicy pork sausage are delicious any time of year, and this soup is packed with both. And you can even feel virtuous as you slurp big mouthfuls of this elixir, since it’s bursting with fresh vegetables as well.
First, let’s talk a little about ingredients. Get yourself some iced coffee, a glass of wine, whatever works. Ready?
- Chicken thighs: You can use white meat if you’d rather, but I’m of the opinion that it costs more and isn’t even half as delicious. You’re going to be eating this with pork sausage, so my take on it is that you just enjoy the hell out of this soup, even with its big helpings of fatty meats. Just not too often.
- Potatoes: Here’s a handy guide to which potatoes are waxy and which are starchy.
- Leeks: I love me some leeks, and though I cringe at the packaging, Trader Joe’s sells ’em already stripped of the tough, dark green outer leaves. It’s a bit of a time-saver, but you’re still on the hook to give them a good soak in cold water after you’ve chopped them, or you risk making a big batch of sandy, grainy soup.
- Garlic: this is an ingredient for which it’s impossible to suggest a realistic measurement. I use a ton of garlic in soup, and I can honestly say I’ve never tasted any soup I’ve ever made and thought, “Wow, that’s too damn much garlic.” So start with the suggested amount and flex from there for next time.
- Cayenne: I don’t bother removing seeds from hot peppers anymore. I’d always been told that the seeds are unpredictably hot, but now I recently read in Cook’s Illustrated that this is a myth. In any case, it’s a pain, and I find the whole cayenne to be delicious, seeds and all.
- Mushrooms: I recommend a mix of mushrooms, but keep in mind that this soup has a lot of strong flavors: sausage, hot peppers, green chiles (in the tomatoes) and warm spices. I’d avoid delicate mushrooms that can’t compete with the heartiness of the rest of the soup. Here’s a source for common types of mushrooms and their flavors, oddly enough via Men’s Health.
- I used 70 grams of ultra-concentrated tomato paste for this recipe when we were living in Europe, and no diced tomatoes at all. If you find it, feel free to substitute it for one or both (though I do love the green chiles in the diced tomatoes we’re using here).
- A good buddy of mine once told me, “If you want your soup to taste like soup, use celery salt.” I’ve followed this advice ever since, with great success. I use ground celery seed when I want that burst of soup-y flavor without adding more salt.
- Of course, you could approach this recipe by cooking all the meat with the first round of veg, but I prefer to cook the meat before cutting it. This is just a personal preference—I like shredded chicken rather then sliced chicken, and I avoid doing a lot of knifework with raw meat when I can. Do as you please.
Ok, time to grab an apron and a chef’s knife and get cooking.
- 5 chicken thighs, skin removed
- 4 large, spicy pork sausages
- a couple of handfuls of fingerling or other waxy potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 leeks, cut into half-moons and *rinsed thoroughly*
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 or 2 cayenne peppers (to taste), chopped
- 5 ribs of celery, chopped
- 2 zucchini, cut into half moons
- 2 handfuls of your favorite mix of mushrooms, cut as appropriate
- 1 T flour
- 1 32 oz. carton chicken or veg stock
- 1 T oil
- 1 6 oz. can of tomato paste
- 1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes - we use the ones with hot chiles added
- chili powder or smoked paprika
- ground celery seed, or celery salt
- Throw the sausages into a cast iron pan and cook on medium high heat until completely browned. Then turn heat to high, add ½ c. water and cover. Cook for three more minutes, then remove sausages, retaining cooking liquid.
- Cook chicken thighs in the same pan with the retained liquid until done.
- Meanwhile, sauté the garlic, cayenne, carrots, leeks, potatoes and celery in your favorite cooking oil. Sprinkle with salt. When the leeks are limp and translucent, sprinkle flour over the whole mess and stir until all the flour is incorporated into the veggies. Add stock and stir.
- Toss in the zucchini and mushrooms. Then get busy with your can opener, and add your tomato products.
- Cut sausage into bite-sized pieces and add to the pot.
- Once your chicken is cooked and cooled enough to handle, shred and add to the pot.
- Add spice to taste and simmer until the the potatoes are cooked. Then dig in, and eat like it's January.