The first time I ate a bowl of chicken soup in Spain, I was a little surprised by the way it looked. I was staying in my rented Cortijo in the middle of nowhere, with my lovely, crazy landlords living in the adjacent house and popping in on me at weekends to make sure I was fine. In true Spanish Mama style, my landlady often bought me things to eat, just to make sure I was going to stay nice and well rounded.
One lunchtime she came over with a bowl of chicken soup. I was surprised because in the UK a good chicken stock is clear, transparent…and highly valued for these attributes. What I had been presented with was cloudy, almost a yellowy white in colour. It smelt amazing and the bowl was packed full of other goodies too. Pieces of chicken, fine noodles, chopped hard boiled egg and jamon and some pieces of fresh mint. I was also instructed to squeeze lemon juice into my soup. Then off she trotted, happy to have kept her (not so) starving tenant alive to see another sunny Andalucían day.
Of course, once I had tasted it, I was in love. Such deep chicken flavours, quite a salty (but not disagreeably so) taste and the tang of lemon and mint. The name of the soup, Picadillo, comes from the verb Picar. This means to chop finely or into small pieces. Hence the final additions of hard boiled egg and jamon.
This is not a recipe, more a method. Spanish chicken stock is made with whole joints of chicken (I use thighs and legs usually), salted pork bones and salted pork belly with plenty of fat on it. If you can´t get the last two ingredients use a couple of pork ribs and a piece of normal pork belly or a thick slice of pancetta. Add a couple of bay leaves, about 4 cloves, 1 or 2 dried chilies (optional) and cover with water. I also add in a few carrots and sticks of celery, but this is not typical. If you have not used salted bones, add salt to taste and check again at the end of cooking.
Now boil it fast for about 10 minutes, this is when the water will turn cloudy, then turn down the heat and simmer for at least an hour. Strain the stock and leave it to cool, you will then be able to remove the layer of natural fat from the meat which will set on the surface.
Remove the bones, bay leaves, cloves, chilies and discard. To serve a typical Sopa de Picadillo, boil up the stock, add some fine angel hair noodles and the chicken (pork belly too if you used unsalted) and cook until the chicken is warmed through and the noodles are cooked. Sprinkle over hard boiled egg and jamon (or use lardons or pancetta) and if you have some fresh mint to infuse in the soup it really adds a special touch. Don´t forget the squeeze of lemon too!
Like most chicken soups, it is claimed to be the cure for all ills, but you don´t need to be feeling under the weather to enjoy it.