“…the Count had restricted himself to two succinct pieces of parental advice. The first was that if one did not master one’s circumstances, one was bound to be mastered by them; the second was Montaigne’s maxim that the surest sign of wisdom is constant cheerfulness.”
– Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
Constant cheerfulness and mastering one’s circumstances – not bad advice, all things considered.
I was forced to read Michel de Montaigne’s essays some years ago (it was more an educational obligation rather than a situation at gunpoint) but one of the only things I remember from the French philosopher’s writings was the importance of optimism.
“We should spread joy, but, as far as we can, repress sorrow,” the great man once suggested. And I couldn’t agree more.
I was thinking of mastering my own circumstances as well as spreading joy recently when, faced with both a pack of bacon and a chicken which had to be cooked before they turned the use-by corner, I optimistically resolved to do both, at the same time and in the same way.
Michel de Montaigne and bacon in the same place – sure where else would you get it? Anyway…
With cooking to be done and no great inclination to do it, I dumped the chicken in a casserole dish and spread the bacon atop. It was a haphazard and higgledy-piggledy scenario which didn’t look like much of a dish at all. Count Rostov of A Gentleman in Moscow fame would not have approved in the slightest, him being a man of refined tastes and all.
Nevertheless, the casserole dish containing the chicken and the bacon was foisted in the direction of the oven, whereupon it broiled for half an hour before I removed the lid, to allow the bacon a chance to crisp and, after another few minutes, the rashers too were removed so the chicken could also become golden and irresistible. My goal, I had decided before, was a chicken and bacon mix for sandwiches on the morrow and this I had somehow managed to summon up the resolve to achieve.
Regular readers of this column will recall my cheaty stock plan from a few weeks ago when I used the sticky residue in the bottom of the casserole after a chicken was roasted to make a quick stock for a potato and leek soup.
This was again on my mind on this Saturday evening in question only this time I had double the incentive to use up the sticky residue seeing as how it was flavoured with both chicken juices and also bacon.
My inclination for cooking had suddenly returned and by way of a continued mastering of circumstance I decided the meaty residue would best be used as a base for a Mexican flavoured soup.
It’s funny how this soup became a victim (or rather a master) of circumstance. What came about as an add-on to the planned chicken and bacon mix would eventually become the star of the show.
It was one of those winging-it missions which, unplanned and improvised turned super satisfying.
“This is my new favourite soup,” Herself opined the next day, after savouring a bowl.
Really? I could hardly believe this claim although when I sat down to my own bowl, I soon understood.
Full of classic, warming Mexican flavours and with the addition of butter beans to bulk things out, the soup is just the ticket for a cold weekend afternoon, or any afternoon for that matter.
To accentuate the heady soup you could add crushed tortilla chips or sour cream or extra cheese or guacamole or all of the above but in another pique of experimentation, I made some crunchy croutons from a quarter of a sourdough bloomer which would otherwise have been consigned to an afterlife in the bin.
And wasn’t I glad of that idea too. Think of the classic French onion soup with the cheesy crouton but this one’s Mexican, with punchier flavours.
The recipe here includes the sticky residue method but if you’re not up for that, you can just use regular stock and it’ll be almost as good.
• 1 chicken
• 5 rashers of smoked bacon
• 1 carrot, chopped
• 1 onion, chopped
• 1 chilli pepper, chopped
• 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
• 3/4 tbsps of Worcestershire sauce
• 1 scant tsp of cumin
• 1 tsp of chilli powder
• half tsp of oregano
• pinch of thyme
• 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
• 1 tsp of sugar
• 350ml of chicken stock
• 1 tin of beans (I used butter beans but black or cannellini would also work), drained
• two of the bacon rashers, chopped
• seasoning to taste
• cheesy croutons (optional but recommended)
I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how to roast a chicken with bacon on top so we’ll skip to the bit when that’s done.
Remove the chicken and bacon and pour off half of the far from the roasting tin (ideally you’ll want one which is hob-proof).
Into that pile on the carrots, onions, chilli and garlic and fry and on a low to medium heat sweat for at least 10 minutes until softening.
Dump in the herbs and spices and stir fry for 30 seconds before adding the Worcestershire and tin of tomatoes.
Add the sugar and the stock and bring everything to a simmer and let it bubble away for about 20/25 minutes until it thickens slightly and then add the beans and the chopped bacon. Give it five more minutes to heat the beans through and then check the seasoning and it’s done.
Ladle into bowls and top with the croutons (which you cunningly made earlier) and the cheese.
How to do the croutons? Easy.
Tear or cut up a sourdough bloomer or baguette or ciabatta, dump the shards onto a baking sheet, toss with a glug or two of olive oil and bake in the oven until golden and crispy (160c for 15 mins – or thereabouts).
When they come out, season with salt and pepper and that’s then done.
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