Savory, with just the perfect hint of sweetness from the apples, and crunch from the toasted pumpkin seeds, this soothing soup is one destined to sway even the most devout curry-haters. The easiest way to remove the skins from squash is with a strong vegetable peeler. If you’re serving vegetarians, just omit the poached chicken and substitute vegetable stock for the one flavored with poultry. If you have some leftover cooked basmati rice in the fridge, reheat it in the microwave (add one tablespoon of water for every cup of rice) and place a generous spoonful in the bowl, just before ladling the piping hot soup on top.
For the poached chicken
- 1 large yellow onion, unpeeled, scrubbed, root end removed, and quartered
- 2 stalks celery, cleaned and sliced with leaves
- 2 carrots, scrubbed and sliced
- 1 parsnip, scrubbed and sliced
- 3 sprigs parsley
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 whole chickens (3 pounds each), halved down the back, reserving the necks and giblets (no liver)
For the soup
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 4 large leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced to measure 6 generous cups (use the whites and light green)
- 4 large cloves garlic, minced
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 3 large jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced (if desired, leave in some seeds for extra heat)
- 2 large butternut squash (about 5 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
- 2 medium-large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, seeded and diced
- 2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 generous tablespoons curry powder (preferably Madras)
- 3 1/2 quarts (14 cups) Chicken Stock or doctored, best-quality, low-sodium canned broth
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 1/2 pounds button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
- 1 cup (8 ounces) thick crème fraiche
- 10 ounces frozen peas, thawed
For the toasted pepitas garnish
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup raw hulled pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- Salt, to taste
To poach the chicken
Place the onion, celery, carrots, parsnip, peppercorns, chicken and giblets into a 6-quart heavy-bottomed pot and cover with cold water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to very low and gently cook the chickens, just until tender, about 30 minutes. Using a slotted utensil, remove the chicken to a large bowl so it can become cool enough to handle. Set the saucepan with the poaching liquid aside, for now.
To start the soup base
Melt the butter in a 10-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and brush one side of a sheet of wax paper with some of the butter. Stir the onions, leeks and garlic into the butter and lay the greased side of the paper directly on top of the vegetables. Reduce the heat to low and sweat the vegetables, until softened and somewhat reduced, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and discard the paper. Season the vegetables with salt and black pepper to taste, then stir in the jalapenos, squash, apples, potatoes and the curry. When well combined, add 3 1/2 quarts of chicken stock (not the poaching liquid) and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the vegetables, covered, until very tender, 35 to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms
Heat a large 12 to 14-inch deep-sided skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and cook them, stirring occasionally, until all their released juices evaporate and they turn golden around the edges. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper then remove the skillet from the heat.
To strain and puree the solids
When the simmering vegetables are perfectly tender, uncover the saucepan and season the mixture with salt and pepper. Working in batches, ladle the soup into a large wire sieve, positioned over a large bowl and puree the solids with some of the liquid in a food processor, fitted with the steel blade, or in a heavy-duty blender. (If using a blender, it’s not safe to fill the container more than half-full with a hot substance, so do this in several small batches.) When smooth, empty each batch of puree into another bowl and continue until you’ve finished processing all of the solids. (You’ll end up with one large bowl of puree and another of stock.)
To finish the soup and replenish your stock supply
First separate the chicken meat from the skin and bones and tear the meat into bite-size chunks. Set aside. Return the chicken bones, including the skin and all other parts, to the pot of poaching ingredients (feel free to throw any stray chicken backs or necks, from the freezer, into the pot, as well) and bring the liquid back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the liquid for an hour or two, occasionally pressing down on the solids. When done, strain and chill the liquid, covered, so the fat can rise and be removed. Freeze the chicken stock, in labeled containers, for another day.
Meanwhile, wipe out the pot used to simmer the soup and pour in the pureed vegetables. Add enough of the stock to reach the desired consistency and divide any excess stock into 1-or 2- cup increments and freeze, to use as a cooing liquid for rice (labeled “curried chicken stock”). Stir the peas, cooked chicken, sautéed mushrooms and crème fraiche into the soup and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper.
To toast the pumpkin seeds
Line a plate with a doubled sheet of paper towels and set it aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, and when hot and bubbling, add the pumpkin seeds. Raise the heat to medium-high and toast the seeds, stirring constantly, until nicely colored, about 4 minutes. If the seeds start jumping or coloring too fast, reduce the heat and keep stirring, to prevent overexposure to heat in any one spot. When satisfied with their color, immediately pour the seeds onto the paper towels. Shimmy the plate, to help remove any excess butter, then transfer the seeds to a bowl and sprinkle them with some fine salt, to taste. Stir the seeds to disperse the salt. Keep the seeds at room temperature, until serving. (To keep leftovers tasting fresh, store them in a sealed container in the refrigerator and warm them briefly, in a low oven or in the microwave.)
Reheat the soup gently until piping hot, and serve ladled into warmed soup bowls, garnished with some toasted pepitas. Pass extra toasted seeds at the table.
Timing is Everything
The chicken can be poached and the meat removed from the skin and bones, one day ahead and kept refrigerated, well covered.
The soup can be fully assembled two days ahead and kept refrigerated, securely covered.
The soup can also be frozen, for several months, when stored in labeled heavy-duty freezer containers.