Is your body all achy? Do you feel fatigued to the point where simply standing up feels like a chore? And when you are upright, is your head pounding mercilessly? Are you feverish and find yourself …
Is your body all achy? Do you feel fatigued to the point where simply standing up feels like a chore? And when you are upright, is your head pounding mercilessly? Are you feverish and find yourself shivering uncontrollably no matter how many layers of sweaters you throw over your pajamas? Is your throat constricted and sore, making swallowing painful? How about your nose? Are you congested and blocked? Have you been transformed into a mouth breather against your will? Is your nose so runny that tissues are piling up, and your nostrils are rimmed with red rawness? Are you sneezing so often that you feel your head might blow off? Do you have a cough, and if so, is it wet or dry? Does it make your sore throat even worse, or are you bringing up gunk that is fearsome to behold?
Well, my friend, if you are miserably nodding your head, you have one of two ailments. You have contracted either the influenza virus or what is annoyingly referred to as the “common” cold. These afflictions share many of the same symptoms. Of course, the flu is more serious. Either way, you are feeling way, way under the weather; it would be best to pull up the covers and try to get some rest, and hopefully fall asleep, even if fitfully.
But what about when you awaken or, worse, if sleep eludes you altogether? The old adage “feed a cold, starve a fever,” has been traced back to the year 1574 when it was discovered in a dictionary, which noted that “fasting is a great remedy of fever.” The belief was that eating food may help the body generate warmth during a “cold,” and that avoiding food may help it cool down when overheated. Bunk! Recent medical science says the ancient maxim is wrong. It should be “feed a cold, feed a fever.”
To help prevent dehydration, it’s important to drink lots of fluid, preferably in the form of a mug of hot tea, perhaps chamomile or ginger, laced with a bit of honey and a squirt of lemon juice. The warm elements can sooth a sore throat and relieve congestion. But best of all is some form of chicken soup. The warm, steaming vapor rising from the bowl helps relieve a congested nose and throat. The chicken provides iron and protein, and you’ll gain nutrients from the vegetables used in the preparation of a strong, rich broth. My favorite chicken-based soup to serve an ailing family member or friend is the Chinese rice porridge called Congee. You begin with the most flavorful, rich homemade chicken broth; no shortcuts here, I’m afraid. Then you add rice and cook it in the broth for more than an hour and, as time passes, there is a mysterious and wonderful occurrence: the rice is absorbed by the fluid until you end up with a thick and creamy soup that is the epitome of comfort food. At some point in the preparation, freshly grated ginger root is added to the pot. Its gentle spiciness is an anti-inflammatory, and it is ultra-flavorful.
Congee is versatile in that you can add whatever vegetables or protein you like to enhance the final product. Sometimes I throw in a handful of rehydrated dried shitakes or fresh, sautéed cremini mushrooms, and my congee always contains either cooked chicken, roasted duck, or pork. To serve this palliative soup, garnish it with thinly sliced scallions and pungent chopped cilantro leaves. Finally, a drizzle each of soy sauce and Asian sesame oil anoints the soup and you (or your patient) dig in. If you don’t miraculously get well immediately, you will, at the very least, feel warmed, soothed and properly sated. Now try to get some more sleep.
I prefer to use short-grain rice for my congee, but I have seen recipes that call for long-grain white rice, glutinous rice, and what is called Japonica rice, all of which can be found at Asian markets or on the internet. I have included a recipe for teriyaki chicken thighs that make a lovely addition to the soup, if you do not readily have roast pork, duck, or chicken.
1 cup short grain rice (I use Italian Arborio or Japanese sushi rice)
8 cups chicken-rich chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated or finely minced ginger
10 to 12 dried, reconstituted shitake mushrooms, roughly chopped, or fresh shitake or cremini mushrooms, sliced (optional)
2 scallions, finely sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Asian toasted sesame oil
1 recipe for teriyaki boneless chicken thighs, coarsely chopped (see recipe below)
Rinse the rice under cold running water in a colander. Put the rice and the broth in a large heavy saucepan. Add salt and stir. Bring to the boil over high heat, uncovered. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer very gently for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, stirring occasionally. With time, the soup will thicken. If at any time it seems too thick too early, you can add a little boiling water or heated chicken broth.
Meanwhile, if you would like to add mushrooms to the porridge, sauté mushrooms on medium-high heat in a bit of oil until cooked through, or reconstitute dried mushrooms in hot water to cover for 15 minutes. Drain. Set aside. When mixture is a thick porridge, stir in the ginger, cooked chicken (if using) and mushrooms. Heat through. Serve immediately, garnished with scallions and cilantro. Pass the soy sauce and sesame oil for each person to drizzle on their soup.
Serves 2 to 3
This chicken is perfect chopped coarsely and added to any Asian-inspired soup or noodle dish.
1 and a half pounds boneless chicken thighs, opened and flattened slightly
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sake or dry sherry
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine) or sherry
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 and a half pieces of peeled fresh ginger root, grated or minced
2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
Mix all ingredients except chicken and oil in a large bowl. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add chicken pieces and let marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to six. Heat a stove-top grill or large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until almost smoking. Add chicken pieces, in batches if necessary, and cook until colored and firming up—about three minutes. Flip over and cook for an additional three to four minutes until cooked through. Remove from heat and serve immediately or at room temperature.