Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice

Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice soup inspired my passion for soup. I’ve made big pots of this soup a few dozen times and I don’t remember if I ever started with a recipe or just a picture. This is comfort food and my daughter’s favorite soup. It works for a crowd and I always use my 20-quart heavy bottom soup pot. It freezes well and leftovers taste even better.

Lundberg’s wild rice blend makes a great side dish. The mix of grains has a crunchy and soft texture and the color is more interesting than white or brown rice. As rice goes, it is expensive, but worth it. It also works great in a soup. The crunchier or sturdier grains retain their bite so that the rice does not dissolve into an asian porridge. The starch from the grains also naturally thickens the soup and enhances with earthy flavors.

My approach follows the traditional steps for a vegetable soup. A mirepoix of sweet onions, carrots, and celery are sautéed in butter and olive oil. Butter brings out the sweetness of the onions and olive oil helps prevent burning. Right before adding the liquid I throw in a handful of chopped garlic and stir just enough to open the flavors but not burn. Then I add a generous portion of homemade chicken stock and bring it all to a boil. I stir in the rice and let it simmer an hour which is just enough to cook the rice. So far this is all traditional. I also include minced ginger and hot Italian sausage (browned as crumbles). These items give a hint of spice which I always find adds depth of flavor. The soup is still far from spicy but these additions are good.

The chicken is cooked the night before. I buy chicken breasts on the bone and bake them till just cooked through. I shred the white meat after it has cooled and take all of the bones for the stock. Once the rice has cooked for an hour, I pour in my bowl of shredded chicken and heat throughout. Lastly I include either whole milk or heavy cream. Heavy whipping cream is more luxurious and ratchets up the level of “comfort” in the soup. Whole milk works fine and I use it when I have milk in the fridge already opened. Everything gets returned to an almost boil and the soup is done. I typically don’t include a roux for thickening. The rice and heartiness of the soup result in my desired texture. Many recipes do include flour for thickening and that is a good option. A good roux creates a smooth texture.

This was cooked for a recent gathering of faculty friends. They brought their families and we had 30 people in the house. Soup is my favorite way to feed a big group. I put out a few loaves of good bread, cheese, crackers, beer, wine, and apple juice. 2-3 big pots of soup are placed on the counter and everyone helps themselves over the course of 2-3 hours. It’s nice to have a few options to try.  Soups can be made ahead and generally won’t ruin if simmered for extra time.

One of my regrets in life is that we don’t socialize more with faculty friends. Life is perpetually full and it is common that a whole semester drifts by without attending one nice off campus gathering of faculty. This is a shame. One of the greatest benefits of working in academia is that you are surrounded by brilliant and interesting people. Everyone has eclectic interests ready for hours of wonderful conversation. And faculty love to sit around and talk to each other. Include food and alcohol and you’ve got a great party!

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