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I N T E R V I E W



As I walked up to the door of the beautiful downtown brownstone
that Mimi Sheraton lives in, she greeted
me with a big smile. The home she and her husband
share is filled with a tremendous amount of warmth.
Ms Sheraton showed me around the house and her extremely beautifully
equipped kitchen. We then went to her office where
she showed me her impressive collections of chocolate
molds and antique kitchen tools. Her eyes sparkled as she
talked about writing The Whole World Loves Chicken Soup
and her love of the food business.

Talking with Mimi Sheraton was tremendously interesting;
her passion, knowledge and joy in sharing comes through
time and time again. Her book is filled with delicious recipes,
facts, tips and lore......it's a must for anyone who loves
chicken soup. And who doesn't?

Fern Berman

SC: What made you decide to write The Whole World Loves Chicken Soup ?

Mimi: Well I have collected recipes as I have traveled
all over the world and I am particularly
fond of making soup. I have collected recipes of all
kinds and began to notice how many were chicken soup.
The thing that intrigued me about it was not that
there were so many ways to make chicken soup but that
so many different cultures have the same mystique about chicken soup.
In just about every culture with very few exceptions
it's considered good for you, what you give to convalescence or what you give
to women after childbirth and I wondered
how such a myth or belief became so universal.

I became particularly interested when I called the owner of an Ethiopian
restaurant the Blue Nile to ask if there are there
any chicken soups in Ethiopia. He said yes,
but we only eat it when we are sick. I began to ask around more
and more and every one had the same
story about chicken soup so I thought well there
is a lot of law and a lot of myth and enough chicken
soups to make a book. So long before all the other books came out, I
started this 3 1/2 years ago and in the interim I think there have been
three or four books on chicken soup but I wanted to collect some scientific
reasons or research some mythological and popular law and then track down
all the recipes and beliefs.

I was also interested in what people might have to say about
chicken soup throughout the book there are quotes
from lots of different people and then of course I thought all
the basics should be in like what kind of pot, what
kind of water, what kind of chicken and the garnishes. That's more than
enough for a book. I had to drop about fifteen recipes (laugh). I think we
will move on to pea soup all over the world.


SC: How did you dream up the title?

Mimi: The title came about in a funny way which I do explain in the book.
There were a number of titles we kicked around and one night at a dinner
party here which was a dinner of six courses of chicken soup for the editor
of the book. Olivia Blumer, and a number of friends including Byron Dobel
who used to be an editor he's a wonderful editor who worked with New York
Magazine and Esquire he is now retired and paints but he is still a wonderful
editor and we were at the table and we were talking about what we
were going to call this book so Byron turns to me and says......
"what is the one thing you really want to say in this book"?......I thought for a
couple of seconds and I guess it's that the whole world loves chicken soup
and he looked at Olivia Blumer and said "that's it there is your title"!

I had toyed with the idea of the Encyclopedia of Chicken Soup. I wanted to
make it kind of funny but once you say encyclopedia there is a certain
implication that it's going to look a certain way. Then it ought to be alphabetical
but we thought that sounded a little grim. That's what I think makes a
wonderful editor. He pulls something out of you
when you are searching for the vein of your story.
He makes it come out of you and that was it.


SC: What tips for making chicken soup would you like to share with the
people reading this interview. For instance when you pick a chicken there
are certain things you said you should do.

Mimi: Break the plastic and smell it. You have to smell a supermarket
chicken that's wrapped up. I wouldn't take it home any other way. If there
is the faintest hint of ammonia or if there is the faintest unpleasant
smell. You have to look very carefully through the wrapper even before you
poke a hole in it to make sure there are no brown spots, no dark spots and
no bruises. Ideally you don't get a supermarket chicken if you have access
to a butcher or butcher department in a supermarket who has fresh whole
chickens. Especially if you are making a clear soup that depends very much
on the broth rather than say a gumbo which has so much stuff in it.
Or a soup that has dried peas or beans or cabbage something else to give it substance.
If it's a clear soup you really should have a fowl or a capon
for a very elegant expensive broth. A capon makes a wonderful broth.

But the chicken is really the fowl that I believe a chicken soup was
invented for. I feel the reason chicken soup is ubiquitous is that for
hens past the laying stage there is nothing to do with them to render them
edible other than simmering for a long time in a lot of water. Otherwise it
would be wasted meat because it is so dry and so tough. There are very few
cultures that are going to throw out 6 lb. of chicken. They just wouldn't do that.
I really think that's the why and wherefore of chicken soup.
Everybody makes it because everybody has these old chickens. They do a lot
of different things a lot of different garnishes a lot of different flavorings
but like most soups it's an economy and it's something you feed
the whole family. So the fowl 5 1/2lbs or 6lbs if you need a little bigger
is the best kind of chicken to get And if possible
I like it fresh killed........and I prefer it kosher killed for soup.


SC: Why?

Mimi: Because it's been bled and you get a much clearer and lighter soup.
But I would rather have a fresh killed non kosher chicken than a wrapped up
kosher frozen chicken. I'd prefer them fresh.
One can get it at Jefferson Market and Balducci here in NY.

I don't like what they call a roaster for a soup I find the roasters that I buy
(I think Perdue has one) are fatty, I don't think they are much older
although they are bigger. All I was getting was three inches of fat at the
top of the soup and none left over in the water part so......I thought I
would rather use twice the amount of the 3 1/2 lbs. chicken and maybe add
veal bone, veal knuckle bone for a little extra body.


SC: Yes, in your Jewish soup recipe, The King of Soups, you use a veal
knuckle bone . Does it add a richness?


Mimi: Of course, it makes it much fatter So, if people want the least
possible fat they shouldn't use a marrow bone certainly.

The other thing is the pot. You should have a soup pot, a straight sided
tall narrow pot so that you can use a minimum amount of water to cover the
chicken. And in some cases it's better to quarter the chicken if for some
reason you can't cover it in the pot you have. I prefer an uncut
chicken..... it's totally ideal for soup but I sometimes cut it if I don't
want to make as much and want to cover it. I quarter the chicken because
you can cover with less water.


SC: Why keep the chicken whole? What is the difference?

Mimi: It takes longer to cook which is a plus and it's clearer primarily
because you don't break the chicken open at any point........
I have a diagram in the book.


SC: Are you still making chicken soup?

Mimi: Yes. I'm still making chicken soup believe it or not. I make all
kinds of soup. It's what I like to have in the freezer because we work at
home and it's a great lunch. During the snowy season it was wonderful
to have soups.

This book was tested in 1994 the year of the 17 blizzards so there
was always snow out and inside steaming like a laundry full of chicken soup all
day long. It was wonderful. I sent them to neighbors, the maid took some home.

What we ate a lot of was boiled chicken because not all the soups are
served with chicken and we're always dieting. The white meat especially we
made into salads. We made it into all kinds of things.
So we ate a lot of it......and we like it so that's fortunate .


SC: I know when I eat chicken soup I like to eat the boiled chicken with
Hellmans® (Best Foods®) Mayonnaise on white bread.

Mimi: I love Hellmans® (Best Foods®) Mayonnaise. I usually toast
the bread and put mustard on it.


SC: I was at Julia's (Child) house in Cambridge and she made lunch for
me which was really lovely. She made chicken and she made bread so we made
chicken sandwiches with mayonnaise.

Mimi: I play with Hellmans® sometimes.........I beat fresh
lemon juice in it when I am using it for a salad ........
thin it with a little olive oil and usually streak it with a little
mustard for a sandwich........but just
putting a little fresh lemon juice, trickling it in and beating it as
though you were making mayonnaise, add a little olive oil just makes it
wonderful for a shrimp salad or a crab meat salad..........I am getting
afraid of raw egg yolks and that's very good because Hellmans® is cooked.


SC: That makes a lot of sense

Mimi: Oh then there's the water. In New York I certainly don't consider it
a problem but there are some areas where water
has a terrible taste and that would certainly be imparted in the soup.
If I lived in such an area I would use bottled spring water........
not imported water inexpensive gallon jugs and obviously not
sparkling. When people at San Peligrino® heard I was doing this book
they called and offered to send me a case of San Peligrino® if I would
make chicken soup with it and I said that is so ridiculous.


SC: Anything else important...

Mimi: Cooking at a very slow simmer is very important.
The pace which I describe, and which French describe as the smile, is the
surface of the water should just be sort of bubbling and twinkling it
should be just under a boil, because if you boil it rapidly it will get
cloudy and it will cook too quickly. And, of course if it's not rapidly
enough it will take forever.

Then, it's just up to what flavors the cook wants as far as the vegetables
or herbs. This would depend a lot on the ethnic soup you're making.

If you were making an Asian soup you would always have some ginger and
scallions, it would not have carrots, celery, leeks or bay leaves.......and
it certainly would not have parsnips and petroushka. Celery would probably be
used in France but all the other leeks would be used in Eastern Europe,
Germany, Russia or Poland because it's one of type of vegetable they have
in winter. They're full of minerals, it's an important part of their diet
in winter. They like the flavor, but they are getting more than flavor
and it also develops a certain character for the soup. I particular like the
root of the Italian parsley which is called petroushka, it looks like a very
anemic white carrot.......like a tiny parsnip and it's very close to a
parsnip in flavor. Again, in New York, Balducci's, Jefferson Market or
Fairway is most likely to have it because of their
concentration of Jewish and Eastern European customers.


SC: I was going to ask about petroushka. You had mentioned it in one of
your books, "In My Mother's Kitchen."

Mimi: It is oddly not eaten in Italy and it's the root of Italian parsley.


SC: I notice you have sugar in some of the recipes. What does the sugar
do besides sweeten it?

Mimi: Well there is a certain acidity sometimes from vegetables and
chicken, Colette wrote that no dish that cooks at least an hour shouldn't
have a little pinch of sugar and I find in making stews, spaghetti sauces
or soups, that's almost always true but sugar used in a tiny
amount.......almost the way you use salt.......like a pinch of sugar. And
of course if you've made it too salty, then a little sugar will
counteract that . Not if it's very very salty because then you would need
so much sugar that you would have some sort of sweet and sour thing.
But salt and sugar in moderation correct each other.


SC: One more question about ingredients......bones.
I know some people will take the bones from what they have cooked and
make another stock . They put the bones back in the soup and let it cook.

Mimi: Yes I've seen that. There may even be one recipe in the book,
perhaps an old Italian one that I described but didn't give a recipe for.
You can be sure a lot of those old people cooked every bit of everything
out. When a fowl cooks for three hours there is probably not much
left in the bone to keep cooking. I know with bigger bones, Davis the health
Guru of the 40's and 50's talked about wiping bones with vinegar or soaking
them in vinegar before you put them in the soup
because that releases the calcium


SC: You started to talk about this earlier about so many cultures eating
chicken soup when one gets sick. But is there something about Jewish
soup (called Jewish penicillin) or is it across the board?

Mimi: It's all across the board in whatever style they cook it.
The Chinese have a hierarchy of chicken soup. They have a
chicken soup for every purpose. There is a chicken soup made
with a black chicken called silky chicken. You can buy it on Canal Street or Grand Street.
The meat, the skin and the soup is kind of grayish.
They use a very small chicken and either cook it in very little water or in a steamer.
They add ginseng, negla seeds, (which are tiny red seeds), ginger and scallions.
If a guest comes, their idea of showing that they are doing something
special is throw another chicken in the pot with the soup so the soup
is even richer, so they have as much mystique about chicken soup certainly as the Jews,
which is another link between the Jews and the Chinese
and why Jews like Chinese food.

But I do think it's in all cultures and I think part of it has to do with
the color that it comes from a white meat. A pale golden white soup
makes it look purer, whiter than a beef soup. And in fact it does have
less fat than a beef soup but I don't know what lighter means in those terms.
I think a lot of it is psychological, having to do with the look of lightly
colored foods. Margaret Visser in her book "Much Depends On Dinner"
talks about white food easier to digest for convalescence, children and
women. In our own times white liquors
for example are considered lighter. White wine other than color isn't in any way lighter than
red wine it doesn't have fewer calories it doesn't have less alcohol
and the whiskies, vodka, white rum, gin are considered lighter
than scotch and bourbon for no reason.
Color it's purely psychological. So chicken as a white meat is easier
to digest than beef just because it's leaner and more tender.
And in many cultures golden is considered an attribute.
The golden in chicken soup is heightened in many cultures by the addition
of saffron or a lot of carrots or by cooking the onions in their skins
and in some cases by roasting the onions in it's skin in the oven until
it's a brownish gold and then put it in the soup.
That also makes the soup a little sweeter because
the onion has caramelized. But it's mostly color.
I tried putting the yellow onion in with the skin and it did make a more deeply golden soup. It's because gold and gold
is a prized color. Some cultures put in pumpkins and squash, especially in
the Middle East. Pureed Orange Lentil is a wonderful soup in the book.
There is a Red Lentil Middle Eastern Soup With Saffron,
it's wonderful kind of sleeper in the book so that if you don't tell
someone this one is terrific, they might not be drawn to
try it......but when I was on the Today Show I brought four soups up.
After when the crew came up to eat I
thought they would go for the gumbo but they went ape over this red lentil
they kept coming back......probably because it has Vermicelli in it. I
think anything with pasta they immediately go to. But it had an incredible
taste because it certainly had saccharin and red lentil and lots of onions.
It's very yellow, very golden because of the lentils.

What else makes chicken soup so popular is that it is a vehicle
for many nutritious and delicious garnishes,
all kinds of filled dumplings, all kinds of pasta shape, rice potatoes,
little crunchy soup nuts.....we used to call them pattashue
and they call them in Germany baked peas and in Italy, escarole.
I had a wonderful one at Spiaggia in Chicago, the chef made a chicken soup
with escarole and white beans it was fabulous and you drizzle a little olive oil
over it before serving it. I learned later that
he cooks chicken soup with a piece parmesan rind in it I had never heard of
that......it's actually very Emilia-Romagna (northern Italy). I wasn't
sure if it was wax coated but it isn't.........it's a rind that develops
naturally and the whole thing sort of melts and collapses.

The Chicago Tribune, asked me to rate chicken soup in Chicago. So, I
went out for the day. I went around with Pat Dailey to 10 different
places and in the case of Spiaggia and a few others they knew
we coming so they had some ready.
Besides the escarole and white bean, which is great, he made a wonderful
clear capon broth.......it's in the book. It's crepalini shaved and about
1/2lb of shaved white truffles over it so the soup had an unusual flavor.
Only when the story came out in the Tribune, it had some recipes from
Rick Bayliss' chicken soups and I did see that he cooked the rind in it also.
I have been through all of Giuliano Bugialli's books, I have been all through
Marcella Hazan maybe it's in these books but I missed it and certainly I
went right to Lynne Rossetto Kasper's book. I have not seen any reference
to it, so when we were all at that UN dinner Paul Bartalotta
was there cooking......that's when I got him and that's the first time
I saw him after I read this. Paul trained where he cooked, in Imola in San Domenico,
that's where I first met him many many years ago before there was at
San Domenico in New York, he was a chef.
He developed this trick there or learned it from them.
It gives the cooking a symmetry flavor......linking from meal to meal.
VIt shows up in different ways. It's a very interesting kind of thread.
He sprinkled some freshly grated parmesan cheese into the
soup......but I'll tell you, the white truffles do a lot for chicken soup.


SC: The recipe's you chose to put up on StarChefs, are they your favorite?

Mimi: I guess so. I tried to pick a well rounded group, obviously ethnic.
I didn't know if you wanted to use my favorite chicken soup that's Jewish
chicken soup with matzo balls? I tend not to do any tasting because that's
the one everybody knows and you can make some choices from the list.
I think the green minestrone with chicken and pesto is very good.
It would be very popular right now,
it's Italian and we're coming into the basil season.

Then I like the Chinese hot and sour.......and there are two very good
Mexican recipes and then the American......I thought the New England
chicken and corn chowder was very good because we are coming into corn season.
The only alternative after American I thought of was a cold avocado
and chicken soup if you think a cold summer soup is more appealing.

If Chowder is a better soup, then a very good Mexican one would be the
Aztec tortilla soup on page 71.

The other one I was going to suggest is an Israeli one with lemon and
cardamon. It's very heavy, very exotic,
I don't know how people feel about chicken bouillabaisse
but there is a very good one. I think the red lentil might be very heavy because of this season.


Go to Mimi Sheraton's: [ Home Page ][ Bio][ Recipes ][ Interview ]



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