Gluten-free Chicken and Wild Rice Soup!

I make a LOT of soup.  Soup is especially great when the weather is less than warm.  Like now, for instance.  There is snow on the ground, although the temperatures are finally above freezing during the day.  Sounds like perfect weather for soup, doesn’t it?  I’ve been kind of avoiding writing about certain kinds of soups.  What I mean is that I haven’t written about soups that are thickened.  There are quite a few ways to thicken soups.  You can use a slurry, a roux, cream can give body, eggs can give body as well(They are a little hard to hold for long though.), and sometimes the ingredients of your soup will cause it to thicken, potato, and bean soups do this fairly well.  What generally gives us trouble is when a soup is thickened with a roux.  Generally, a roux is equal parts flour and butter.  It doesn’t have to be wheat flour though, and in this case we’re going to take advantage of that fact.

What we’re going to be making is called a velouté. That translates as velvety, or smooth on the palate. The velouté is one of the five mother sauces.  In this case it’s not really a sauce so much as the base for our soup.  To make it into a soup we’ll be adding some different flavors, and more ingredients.  When I make this soup I generally go for a Cajun flavor.  I looked for a blackened seasoning, but couldn’t really find one I was comfortable with.  I made my own.  I had everything I needed, although I would have added a few other things if I had them.

2 TBSP paprika

1 TBSP cayenne

1/2 TBSP kosher salt

1 TBSP thyme

1 TBSP black pepper

1/2 TBSP  oregano

I would have added granulated garlic and granulated onion if I had them.  Mix everything well, and set aside.  We’ll get back to it.

Blackened seasoning (see above)

1 4oz package of wild rice (prepared according to the directions)

4 chicken breasts cubed, seasoned lightly with  blackened seasoning, and cooked

1 large onion diced

2 carrots diced

4 celery sticks diced

2 quarts low sodium chicken broth

2 bay leaves

2 quarts water

2 sticks butter

8oz (weight) flour or starch of your choice (I used potato starch)

salt and pepper as needed

Wild rice is not actually rice, but it is gluten-free and very tasty.  Wild rice is actually an aquatic grass. It is also very easy to cook, but takes a little bit of time.   I found a 4oz package of it.  Bring 2 cups of water and 1/4 tsp salt to a boil.  Stir in rice, bring it back to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer.  Simmer for about 45 minutes.  By that time most of the water will be absorbed, and the wild rice will be tender.  Drain any liquid, and cool in the fridge until you’re ready for it.

Next we want to move on to the chicken.  I had four breasts which I cubed into small pieces, tossed with some of the blackened seasoning, and cooked in the oven for about 10 minutes.  Later, I chopped them up a bit so that they would be small enough to fit on a spoon easily.   Set this aside in the fridge as well.

Next up, mirepoix.   You should have 50% onions, and 25% each celery and carrots.  You’ll need about 2 cups total.  Figure one large onion, three or four celery sticks, two or three carrots.  This should all be a nice medium dice.  Having everything exactly the same is not super important, but it helps to be close.  That way you don’t get a piece of raw onion in a bit with nicely cooked onions.  Whenever you’re cooking you should always try to cut things in similar sizes.  Since food is cooking together if your onions are all the same size they will all be about the same doneness.  Again, put all of this in the fridge, and we’ll get to it in a bit.

If you’re wondering, breaking a project down into manageable steps is a big part of getting things done in a restaurant kitchen.  I can have all of these containers on a tray in a cooler, and add things as I do them.  Then if I have to stop I can step away, do what I need to, and come right back to my soup when I have a few minutes.   The wild rice takes the most time to cook, so you can really just set a timer, and walk away to do something else.

Our next step is to get the broth heated up.  Two quarts of chicken stock, and two quarts of water, plus a couple of bay leaves.  In a large pot, and bring it up to a boil.  This will take some time.    You have everything else ready, right?

Now, what we’ve got to do is make our roux.  In this case I used potato starch.   I was expecting the potato starch to thicken more than it did.  I ended up making a slurry of potato starch and water to get the consistency that I was hoping for.  A roux made with wheat flour thickens at a nice one pound per gallon rate.  Other starches, and flours will have different thickening abilities.  You’ll have to play with them a bit.  Generally a starch like potato or corn will thicken more than flour.  Also if you’re using a wheat flour roux the darker the roux the less it will thicken.  You will get more flavor from a darker roux though.  Gluten-free roux will scorch before it will brown, so I wouldn’t try.

Since we’ve got a gallon of liquid on the stove to thicken, and the amount of roux we’re going to be needing is a pound (apparently) start by melting half a pound of butter over medium heat in a large skillet.  Once it is fully melted, add a half pound of your flour or starch(Yes, you should weigh your flour. This goes for you gluten eating folk as well.).  Whisk it into the melted butter. (Do NOT use your non-stick skillet for this.)  You want to keep stirring the roux.  You’re cooking the flour, but don’t want it to burn.  When it is ready it will have a nice nutty smell. At that point season your roux with the blackened seasoning you made earlier.  You’re not trying to make this soup super spicy, just a little.  At work since I can’t taste the soup I go by smell when I season the roux. When I can smell the spices I know I am good.  Remember, you’re going to be putting this into a gallon of liquid with vegetables, rice, and chicken.  Cooking the spices helps the flavors develop, but if you end up a little mild you can adjust, after the fact.  Next, pour in the mirepoix, and sweat the vegetables in the roux.  You’re looking for the onions to start to get tender.  They will simmer for a bit so they don’t have to get fully cooked at this point, but you do want to get them started.  Once the onions are starting to get tender set the roux aside, and let it cool.

Once your liquid comes to a boil scoop a bit of the cooled roux mixture onto your whisk, and mix it in a bit at a time.  As you do you’ll notice that the soup starts to thicken up, and you’ll see that the liquid will cloud up a bit.  If you’re using wheat flour it will look almost creamy, and I would imagine that if I had made my roux from the usual flour blend that I use it would look creamy as well.  Hopefully, you get a nice velvety consistency from your roux. If you decide you would like a little thicker soup (like I did) make a slurry of your starch and water, and whisk that in slowly.  Whisking will prevent lumps of whatever thickener you have decided to use. 

At this point simply add the cooked chicken and the cooked rice to the thickened soup.  Bring it back up to a boil, and turn it down to a simmer.  Taste your soup, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and maybe a bit more of your blackened seasoning if you want it! Let your soup simmer for about 20 minutes or so. If you want your soup to be a bit richer you could add cream while it simmers. Serve, and enjoy.

The cool part of this soup is that you now have a basis for making lots of other soups.  Shrimp bisque, for example, is only a few adjustments away.  You could even use a velouté asthe basis for making New England Clam Chowder, and I know you’ve missed that one!

Hope you enjoy your soup!

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