Recipe: Chicken broth
By Anna Trapido, 18 August 2023
Are you Team Chicken or Team Egg? Followers of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) have traditionally come to the table with an understanding of creation that supports God making a fully formed chicken without the hatching from a shell phase. Conversely, most (but not all) scientists support an egg origin involving the chicken’s evolutionary ancestor laying a fertilized egg which held within its DNA a mutation that resulted in the new species. As American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson succinctly tweeted to his 5 million followers: “Which came first: the chicken or the egg? The egg—laid by a bird that was not a chicken.” Gluttons for punishment can continue the conversation with the subset of molecular biologists who back the chicken brigade citing the presence of a protein – ovocledidin-17 (OC-17) – that is required for the formation of eggshells and is found only in chicken ovaries.
It is all eggs-hausting (sic). Fortunately, chef Wandile Mabaso of Les Créatifs, Johannesburg has cooked up an elegant solution that bypasses both belief systems. All the poultry and eggs served at the city’s hottest hot spot for cool people come from Portion 85, an eco-epicurean educational project in Knopjeslaagte, Centurion. The way chef-patron Mabaso tells it when he visits tables during service: “The hardbody chickens that lay the eggs go on to be the meat and bones that we use in our restaurant stocks, sauces and soups.” This contradicts everything I have ever understood about the distinct role of layer and broiler birds, but maybe when he says ‘hardbody’ he means chickens that were previously layers but are older and now past egg production. Perhaps I am being tiresomely literal. What we can say for sure is that the chickens and the eggs come from the same farm. And what Mabaso does with them is deeply delicious.
Once eggs arrive at Les Créatifs, the shells are pierced rather than cracked and the contents are painstakingly blown out to keep the oval exterior intact. The white and yolk contents are then used by pastry chef Kenosi Malebye while the empty, washed and sanitized shells become teeny-tiny vessels carrying a deliciously clear, golden chicken broth. Such is the depth of flavour and the miniscule volume of an egg when used as a soup bowl that this recipe is served as an amuse bouche. And sipped through a straw.
The plating is pretty, but all the effort would be wasted if the liquid inside the shell was not wonderful. Which it is. Let us take a moment to recognize the patience and skill involved in creating the intensely chickeny essence that is the beautiful broth at Les Créatifs. The chef has connected with the core characteristics of his ingredients and created something simultaneously starkly simple and generously luxurious. Ultra-modern and yet epically ancient. Like the chicken or egg question.
The chicken broth inside the eggshell is brought to the table on a bed of Portion 85-grown corn kernels. Problem solved. Without maize, there is neither chicken nor egg. So, they are both secondary to the plant. Mabaso suggests pairing his creation with Zarion Sauvignon Blanc. At which point all sensible souls cease to care about the question and concentrate on a perfect pairing.
Chef Wandile Mabaso’s chicken broth
Chef Mabaso makes this recipe in huge pots starting with four whole chickens and 18 litres of stock. I have reduced quantities for manageable home use.
2 whole chickens (Mabaso uses older, ‘hardbody’ birds with feet kept on because they are much more flavoursome and their feet contain natural gelatine)
9 litres of chicken stock (Mabaso uses stock – you can use water but the results will be less intense)
3 onions, finely chopped
2 stalk of celery, finely chopped
2 leek, finely chopped
2 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 Sprig of parsley
1.5 Tablespoons white pepper corns
- Place one of the whole chickens (including the bird’s feet) inside the pot with half the chopped onion, celery, leek, carrot, bay leaves, parsley (chefs call this combination mire poix). Add the stock – the bird must be covered at all times. Bring the liquid to the boil. Impurities will rise to the top of the liquid and must be skimmed off with a ladle.
- Reduce the heat and simmer gently for at least 3 hours. This can be done on the stove top or in an oven set to 90 °C. Chef Mabaso says that in the restaurant they leave it to cook slowly over night in the oven. Skim off impurities at regular intervals.
- After the first chicken, mire poix and stock mixture have cooked gently for at least 3 hours you will have a reduced, intense, chicken flavoured broth base. Strain this through a colander and discard the vegetatables. In the restaurant the meat from the bird is set aside for staff lunch. The liquid then goes onto the second stage.
- Place the second chicken (with its feet) into the pot. Cover with your stock made in stage 1. Bring the liquid to the boil then skim again to remove any impurities.
- Add the remaining bowl of mire poix vegetables and reduce heat. Set the pot to simmer again for at least 3 hours (or overnight as above). Skim off impurities at regular intervals.
- Discard solids and retain the rich, delicious essence of chicken.
- Serve hot or cold.
Footnote: What is the difference between a broth and a consommé?
It’s easy to confuse these two liquids because their ingredients and uses are very similar. The difference is in the process. When meats, vegetables and herbs are simmered in water, broth is what remains. Consommé is the liquid when stock is clarified through the use of egg whites. The broth at Les Créatifs is particularly flavoursome because it goes through an almost endless cycle of stock reduction.
- Dr Anna Trapido was trained as an anthropologist at King’s College Cambridge and a chef at the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine. She has twice won the World Gourmand Cookbook Award. She has made a birthday cake for Will Smith, a Christmas cake for Nelson Mandela and cranberry scones for Michelle Obama. She is in favour of Champagne socialism and once swallowed a digital watch by mistake.
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