This is my family’s favorite chicken soup, one I make when someone at home is feeling under the weather or needs a little nourishing restoration. I try to keep some on hand — broth and shredded chicken frozen separately — for a comforting dinner when I can’t manage to cook, as well as an my own reviving elixir should I be the one to get sick.

This version was originally inspired by a breakfast soup served at the beloved Austin all-day eatery Elizabeth Street Cafe. A few years ago, I was working as an editor at Phaidon, and my boss asked me to edit a manuscript from the popular Vietnamese-inspired restaurant. One of the recipes to jump out immediately was this comforting, congee-like chicken and sticky rice breakfast soup. Eating it made me feel nourished and restored.

I made the soup over and over, tweaking here and there and finally creating my own version, an amalgamation of the Eastern European and Asian traditions: looser, brothier, but still every bit as aromatic as the original.

Make Ahead: The stock and chicken breasts may be cooked up to 4 days in advance. Refrigerate, separately and tightly covered.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.

Storage Notes: The soup can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. If you use glutinous rice, the soup may thicken slightly during storage; you can loosen it up by adding additional broth or water. The stock may be frozen for up to 3 months.

Where to Buy: Fish sauce, kombu, Thai basil, glutinous rice, yellow rock sugar or palm sugar, sambal oelek can be purchased at Asian grocery stores or online.


Ingredients

  • One (4-pound) whole chicken
  • 1 large yellow onion (11 to 14 ounces), unpeeled and halved
  • One (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, halved lengthwise and smashed
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 4 whole star anise
  • One (4-inch) cinnamon stick
  • One (8-by-4-inch) piece kombu
  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, tied with butcher’s twine, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon yellow rock sugar, palm sugar or brown sugar, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup (6 1/2 ounces) glutinous white rice, or your favorite rice (see NOTE)
  • Mung bean sprouts, for serving (optional)
  • Fresh Thai basil leaves, for serving (may substitute regular basil leaves, optional)
  • White onion slivers, for serving (optional)
  • Chile-garlic sauce, such as sambal oelek, for serving (optional)
  • Sriracha, for serving (optional)
  • Jalapeño or serrano chile pepper thinly sliced, for serving (optional)
  • Lime wedges, for serving (optional)

Step 1

Cut the chicken into 8 pieces: 2 breasts, 2 wings, 2 thighs and 2 legs; reserve the backbone for another use such as making stock (see NOTES).


Step 2

Heat a large, heavy skillet such as a cast-iron pan over high heat until smoky. Add the onion and ginger, cut/exposed side down, and dry-roast until both are blackened on one side, about 7 minutes. A nice char on the vegetables will get deeper flavor in your stock. Transfer the charred vegetables to a plate.


Step 3

Reduce the heat to medium and add the cloves, star anise and cinnamon. Toast, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes.


Step 4

Transfer the charred vegetables and toasted aromatics to an 8-quart stockpot. Add the chicken pieces, kombu, cilantro, salt and peppercorns. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook, skimming off and discarding any foam that rises to the top, until the chicken breasts are firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.


Step 5

Using tongs, transfer the chicken breasts to a medium bowl and cover with a plate or a piece of foil to prevent the meat from drying out. (If using all dark or all white meat, remove about a third to a half of the chicken.) Set aside until cool enough to handle, then discard the skin and any remaining bones, and shred the meat. Transfer the meat to a lidded container and set aside or refrigerate until needed (bring to room temperature before serving).


Step 6

While the chicken is cooling, partially cover the pot and continue to gently simmer the stock. Stir occasionally, skimming any foam that rises to the top, until the vegetables look nearly falling apart, 2 to 3 hours. Add more water, as needed, to ensure the chicken and onions remain submerged. Remove from the heat and let cool until warm. The stock will be fragrant and a deep, dark golden color.


Step 7

Ladle the stock through a large cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh sieve set over a clean pot or large bowl. Rinse out your stockpot and return the stock to it. Discard the aromatics and vegetables; separate the chicken thigh and drumstick meat from the bones and shred (discard the skin).


Step 8

Bring the stock back to a lively simmer, taste, and season with 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce and 2 teaspoons of the sugar. Stir, wait a few minutes and taste again, adding more fish sauce and sugar, if needed. Add the rice and cook until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Add the shredded chicken — light and dark meat — to the soup and let it warm through, about 2 minutes.


Step 9

Ladle the soup into bowls, and, if using, garnish with cilantro, sprouts, basil, onion, sambal oelek, sriracha, jalapeño or serrano chile, and a squeeze of lime. Serve with lime wedges on the side, if desired.

NOTES: If you don’t want to cut up the chicken yourself, you can buy a pre-cut chicken at your favorite supermarket or ask your butcher to do it.

Glutinous (sticky) rice continues to thicken if it sits in liquid for an extended period of time. It turns brothy soups into thicker, congee-like ones, which makes them even more soothing and comforting. If you prefer the soup brothy, you can loosen it up with a little more water or broth when reheating; use a different rice, which will also soften but not nearly as much; or cook the rice separately and add to individual servings of soup.


Nutrition Information

Calories: 169; Total Fat: 3 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 99 mg; Sodium: 437 mg; Carbohydrates: 6 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 2 g; Protein: 29 g.


Recipe inspired by “Elizabeth Street Cafe” by Tom Moorman and Larry McGuire with Julia Turshen (Phaidon, 2017).

Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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