Mexican Chicken Soup, Or The Tragic Tale of The Demon Rooster

If you think I'm going to recount a happy tale where my Mexican mother served me this chicken soup with its clear delicately flavored broth with corn on the cob(!) with potatoes, zucchini and a wonderful green squash named chayote whenever I got sick with the cold, where she cooled my childish fevered brow and sang me sweet Spanish lullabies as she held me in her arms, you are most sadly mistaken.
Because whenever any of us had a cold and my mother needed some chicken for caldo de pollo—Mexican style chicken soup, there was no need to pick up a cut-up fryer in a neat little package at the local supermarket. All she had to do was ask my dad to head out to the back of the property with his cuchillote (coo-chi-yo'teh)—big fat knife in hand, grab one of the chickens, usually the rooster who was the meanest of the bunch, and cut its uppity little head clean off.

And thus begins this grisly tale of murder, mayhem and good food. If you are of a person of squeamish weak-stomached sensibilities, read no further. If not, then by all means read on, but be afraid, be very afraid, especially if your name is El Gallo Grillo, The Demon Rooster who became the best Mexican Chicken Soup I have ever tasted.

How was El Grillo to know that cool bright January morning in 1977 that this day of all days was to be his last? It seemed no different than any other day. Donning his resplendent robe of iridescent black plumage, he did the sort of things that any tall, handsome Andalusian Cock of the Walk would do: strutting around el corral like a mariachi singer while loudly "proclaiming" his undying love for himself, romancing his harem of hens who followed him like brainless groupies, and his favorite past time of all: attacking any animal, vegetable or mineral who dared intrude upon his domain or challenged his barnyard sovereignty.

How I wish that my father had done to him what he usually did to other outlaw roosters: get them drunk on cheap tequila to perform a crude but necessary surgery, namely amputate their razor-like talons. Often I held them down as he cut using a sharp steel knife. Before you think that this is nothing short of barbaric, no rooster ever died as a result of this procedure and it prevented any from getting severely injured in a cock fight, which is the sad reality if there is more than one Alpha Male hanging around. (Let this be a cautionary lesson to any Alpha Males reading this post.)

I guess ending up in a pot of caldo de pollo was a high price to pay for attacking the real
El Mero Mero (The Big Kahuna) de la familia—my papá, especially when El Grillo tore the trousers of his favorite suit and bloodied his legs.

He didn't mean to kill him, but like King David of old when he slew Goliath, my papá, taking a rock to protect himself, threw the perfect strike that would have made Dodger baseball player Fernando Valenzuela proud and he hit El Grillo on the head. Suddenly, that demon rooster toppled over and uttered his last cluck. So my papá had no choice but to take out his cuchillote and finish the job.

Later that afternoon my sisters and I came home from an outing and found El Grillo, minus his head, floating in a galvanized tub of hot water. We knew what this meant—we had to change out of our finery and start plucking every last feather off of his sorry carcass. Our parents' ace-in-the-hole reply when we howled in protest? "Bueno, chiquitas, if you're old enough to take an interest in boys, you're old enough to pluck the feathers off a chicken. Ahora pónganse a trabajar—Now get to work!" And like good Mexican girls that we were we did exactly what we were told.

I still remember his pathetic chicken legs sticking out of the pot of soup that my mother made. I was sickened by the sight of it back then, but I realize now that those patitas of his packed a ton of flavor to the Mexican style chicken soup—no need to add any bouillon at all. And the soup? None better—the perfect alchemy of the foods of Spain (chicken, garbanzo beans, rice) and Mexico (almost everything else).

Frankly, I must admit, for all of his fierceness, for all of his banter and macho pride which bordered on hubris—for a chicken—El Grillo really was a magnificent creature. When my family gets together we still talk of him with an odd mixture of affection and guilt for having eaten him—plus a bit of grudging respect.

How I miss those fat organic chickens with their amazingly rich broth. And the fresh fertilized eggs with their bright yellow-orange yolks. No more listening to the El Grillo and his ilk singing it up at 4 o'clock in the morning. All I have now are memories and a true love for good food and for the quietly heroic people of rural Mexico who, like my parents, have come to this country and still have chickens and goats in their backyards, whether they live in Los Angeles, Houston—or even Orange County. (Do The Real Housewives of Orange County keep chickens in their backyards, I wonder?)

El Grillo, I know you can't hear me, but if it is any consolation, diablito este—you little devil, you made a sabrosísimo—yummy soup and give you my gracias.
Mexican Chicken Soup with Corn-on-the-Cob
The trick to making this clear flavorful broth is to boil the chicken twice. Try it—you won't lose a bit of flavor, and you'll never have to eat cloudy, scummy chicken broth again. Plus, you won't have a lot of fat shining back at you. As always, you can choose which vegetables you want in the soup. When serving your family or guests, make sure to have some left over Mexican rice, cut lemons or limes, chopped serrano chilies for heat or hot chili salsa so they can add it to the soup if they wish.
(Note: If your are cooking an anemic chicken from the supermarket, you can cheat a little and add a bouillon cube when you add the vegetables to the soup if you want.)

What you need:
Large pot for soup.
A platter or roasting pan
Chopping knife
Ingredients:
1 whole chicken, split in half
For Soup:
About 11 cups water
1 carrot, uncut
½ large onion
3 or 4 cloves garlic
2 celery stalks, cut in half
About 8 pepper corns
1/4 bunch of fresh cilantro with stems attached; OR, fresh parsley
3 ears corn, cut about 2 ½ inches each
2 medium sized white boiling potatoes, chopped (optional)
1 or 2 carrots, cut into thin disks
1 cup thin-sliced onion
½ cup garbanzos (chickpeas), (optional)
2 zucchinis, sliced into disks
1 cup cooked white rice; OR, 1 cup leftover Mexican rice (optional)
Instructions:
Put washed chickens in the large pot, and add water just cover them. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium. When the water is cloudy and scummy, remove the chicken from the pot and place it on the roasting pan or platter. Empty out the water and wash the pot. Next, add 11 cups of fresh water to the pot. Rinse the chicken under the tap, carefully removing any scum with your fingers. Return the chicken to the pot.
Add celery stalks, cilantro, uncut carrot, garlic, ½ onion, salt and pepper corns to the pot. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium-low and simmer covered for about 25 minutes. Add garbanzos and simmer for 35 minutes more.
Remove chicken and return to roasting pan. Remove celery stalks, the uncut carrot, the 1/2 onion and cilantro, and toss them out. (Do not toss out the garlic and the garbanzos). Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes, covered, or until the corn is tender-firm or tender, but not mushy. Cut chicken into manageable pieces and return to the pot.

30 comments:

MichaelG said...

I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and I love your delightful, gentle, loving writing. Your blog has such a sweet tone. I made your Albondigas yesterday and ate it again tonight. It was wonderful and your green salsa was an appreciated accompaniment. I have plenty of soup to freeze for the cold foggy nights here in Sacramento. Keep up the good work. Thank you and Happy New Year.

Emma said...

Brilliant! What a wonderful story. I am totally craving my mom's caldo now. Oh, and when I was a kid, we had chickens in the backyard. There was a Bantam rooster we had for awhile, a mean little jerk, who would attack me every time I set foot outside. I cannot stand to see an animal suffer, but after being attacked three times I started carrying a broom with me and would beat the heck out of him. IT DIDN'T STOP HIM! Are they demonios or just mensos?

La Traductora said...

Dear MichaelG--
Thank you for your kind words. I hope that this soup will keep you warm for more foggy cold nights to come.
Emma, my darling--
I have given it some thought. Chickens are both--demonios AND mensos. But like the proverbial question of the chicken and the egg, are they demonios because they are mensos, or mensos because they are demonios? Truly, a question for the ages if you are a chicken, no?

Dlaine said...

I came upon your page, and really enjoy reading here. Lovely, yummy foods too. I just started my own journal. Stop by sometime. :) http://dlaine1219.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

your photographs are sooooo beautiful!

Westin 6yrs. old

Anonymous said...

Oh, how I laughed out loud when I read this story of the 'demon rooster'. Yet, sooo tasty! Funny how something so bad can be sooo good!

Emma said...

Demónios mensos. Harrumph. All these years later, I still get angry when I see Bantams...

Anonymous said...

I too have my own "chicken story". I was sent to feed the chickens, way out back, and this one rooster let me have it. As I recall, after one other attack, that pollo ended up in the pot too!
Today I suppose they are called "free range" chickens. Back then they were just next week's mole. Wink!

Akannie said...

Ahh....the tears of laughter are trickling down my cheeks. I have the meanest rooster in the world out back right now. I have 5 hens. I eat their beautiful nutritious brown eggs and probably need to cull and renew my flock, but haven't the heart to even think about killing them. Foolishness, I know. I'm sure that HE would give me a serious case of indigestion...because he is SO mean. We square off at each other every day, and though when he was small I would cuddle and pet him, he conveniently has forgotten all that.

The soup--I will make. It looks and sounds wonderful. Thanks for the suggestion of twice boiling the chicken. It makes sense.

You are my hero....

La Traductora said...

Dear Akannie,
I hope you haven't named your chickens--you don't want to be telling yourself, "I can't believe I'm eating Henny Penny's drumstick!"
Have you considered getting that nasty little rooster drunk on tequila? It might improve the flavor.
Gracias for your comment!

willow said...

Wonderful story. My children would spend two weeks every summer on their grandparents' farm in Kansas. One summer they learned out to catch the chicken and turn it into supper. Quite an experience for city kids!

La Traductora said...

Hello Willow!
Thanks for visiting my little old blog--I certainly adore yours!
What a lesson for city kids indeed!
Now more people are raising chickens, not just for the sake of going "green", but also in an effort, I believe, to embrace something more enduring and satisfying: a simple, yet down-to-earth, and ultimately beautiful life. It is something that most of us yearn for, and that some of us wish we could return to.

Carolyn said...

I am sooo glad you stopped by my blog to leave a comment! I was just reading some of your entries and I am very excited to try some of these recipes! I love the story about the rooster from 1977! That was a good year! I am going to go read about your flan now. Muchas gracias!!
Carolyn

La Traductora said...

Hi Carolyn!
I'm glad you visited my old blog. This soup is perfect for a cold rain evening like today. Hope you like it!

Laurie said...

Thanks for your kind comments over at Elusive Onions. I'm really enjoying your blog, but I particularly enjoyed your story about the demon rooster. Talk about local food! And a chicken soup story when I'm home sick with a cold. Your suggestion was certainly well timed. Looking forward to reading more. Laurie

RMS said...

What a fantastic blog!! I didn't know you had it in you even though we have known each other for years!!! You should write a cookbook it would be a real page turner!

La Traductora said...

Gracias for the compliment, but, chihuahua, for the life of me, I can't think who you are! Thanks for visiting, whoever you are, and take care.

RMS said...

Funny I had dinner at your house last week!!

natalie said...

I am trying this recipe today :)

natalie said...

Confusion! You say to throw out the garbanzos but aren't they in the picture??

Clementina said...

Hola, Natalie!
Confusion is right! No, you do not toss out the garbanzos. I have corrected the error (I hope). Thanks for pointing it out to me.
And by the way, I hope you'll like the caldo de pollo!

Lorena said...

as Tennyson said "Nature, red in tooth and claw." Hey Clementina, what do you think about this eating local business, locavore? If that is the case, this would be one of the few Mexican dishes I could actually make, and the thought of never eating an avocado or lemon or lime or papaya, is too much to bear, so as long as I live here, I am against the only eating local. What do you think?

Clementina said...

Hola, Lorena!
I suppose killing and eating your own chicken is as "local" as you can get, and I am very much in favor of it--within reason, of course. I don't think that I could live without limes and papayas, either. Or coffee, or tea, or chocolate, or chiles, or anything that makes life just a little more enjoyable.

aliciag said...

Your caldo recipe looks divine!!

I love your story about "the demon rooster!!" When I was seven years old, we had a very mean rooster. He was this huge beautiful red rooster but he was a total desgraciado. My brother wrung its neck one day because it kept chasing me.

Organic free range chickens are the best! I grew up eating fresh chicken. I would come home from school and one of the hens would be missing. I would get bummed which would last only a few minutes because as soon as I would walk in the door, I would be enveloped in the most lovely aromas of caldo, mole, fried chicken, or arroz con pollo.

Sarita said...

This reminds me of the time my sisters and I were horrified at the sight of our father running around the yard, hatchet in hand, chasing a chicken. After several laps around the yard, IT DROPPED DEAD, presumably from heart failure. None of us wanted dinner that night. ¡Hijole!

Amelia said...

I made this recipe yesterday after doing a simple google search for Mexican Chicken Soup. It was - hands down - the best soup I've made and quite possibly the best soup I've ever tasted. That's saying a LOT! Thanks much.

Clementina said...

Hola, Amelia!
Wow! I am so glad you liked it--my mother--and El Grillo--would have been very flattered. Come back again!

Idania said...

I stumble upon your blog, and made this recipe. I was a little weary, considering my boyfriend is extremely picky about fat staring him back at his face. I followed your recipe step by step, leaving out the chickenpeas, the final result...he LOVED it. I took some to my picky dad and he said, "te quedo muy bueno". I can't wait to try some of your other receipts. Btw, I didn't use a whole chicken, instead I used chicken breat with the bone in. Everyone needs to try this recipe..Yummy!

Clementina said...

Hola, Idania!
I'm so happy you liked this recipe. Just wait, in December or January I will be post a fabuloso recipe for BEEF soup with corn on the cobb and everything you see here for chicken. Your dad and boyfriend are going to love it--promise!

Monique said...

Hello. I came across your blog looking for Mexican Chicken Soup recipes. I am Mexican and Puerto Rican, but grew up VERY Americanized. I've never been one to cook, but now that I have a son of my own I want to expose him to the variety of foods our culture has to offer. My poor poor Salvadorian husband craves a lot of traditional meals that I only remember my late grandma making...I can't wait to begin my new journey of cooking traditional delicious meals for my family with your wonderful recipes! Thank you.