Chicken Soup With Toasted Garlic, Mushrooms, and Celery
Recipe type: Soup
Yield: Serves 4-5, with about 1 1/4 cups leftover crunchy chili oil
  • For the crunchy chili oil:
  • 3/4 cup unrefined peanut oil (grapeseed or avocado oil will also work)
  • 1/4 cup crushed red pepper flakes or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper
  • 1/4 cup black or white sesame seeds, or 2 tablespoons of each
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (optional)
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • For the chicken soup:
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as refined coconut or avocado oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced crosswise into rings
  • 1 pound mushrooms, such as maitake, oyster, or shiitake, (if using shiitake, remove the stems and quarter)
  • 8 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced on the diagonal, plus 1/2 cup celery leaves
  • 2 to 3 cups cooked chicken meat
  • 1-2 tablespoons fish sauce, to taste
  • Juice from 1/2-1 lime, to taste
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, tender stems and leaves
  • Crunchy chili oil, for serving
  1. Make the crunchy chili oil: Heat the peanut oil, red pepper flakes, Sichuan peppercorns, and garlic, if using, in a small pot over the lowest heat possible. Let it come to a simmer (all the bits in the pot will start to sizzle) and cook until the red pepper flakes are a dark brick red and the sesame seeds are golden brown and toasted (if using black sesame seeds, you will start to smell them toasting), 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt. Set aside. (As for the extra chili oil, let it cool completely before transferring to a glass jar and refrigerating.)
  2. Make the soup: Heat the neutral oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook, swirling the pan occasionally to ensure the garlic is evenly cooked, until the garlic is lightly fried and turning golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic and drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Season generously with salt and set aside.
  3. Add the shallots to the same pot and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are lightly fried and turning golden brown but are not yet crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, seasoning them with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re beginning to brown and are totally softened, about 4 minutes. Add the broth, bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the flavors get to know each other and the broth tastes a little shalloty and a little mushroomy. Once the broth is as good as can be, add the sliced celery and chicken. Cook until the celery is just tender and the chicken is warmed through, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste the broth, then season with the fish sauce (start with 1/2 tablespoon) and lime juice, adding more to taste until the broth tastes great. (I found that I needed somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-2 tablespoons of fish sauce, but I was using unsalted chicken broth.)
  4. Serve with the celery leaves, cilantro, a generous spoonful of chili oil, and toasted garlic.
Unrefined peanut oil adds a roasty-toasty note to the crunchy chili oil; that said, if you don't want to buy it just for this recipe, a neutral oil, like those listed in the recipe, will also work.

I like to add a bit of umami powder (essentially, dried ground mushrooms plus some other umami-rich ingredients) to the chili oil, to mimic the flavor that MSG gives to store-bought crunchy chili oil. Alternatively, you could season it with a bit of MSG (I swear it's not bad for you — there's science to back this up.) Or, if you want to skip the step of making crunchy chili oil, you can use lao gan mai (aka spicy chili crisp, aka angry lady sauce), which is available in most Asian grocery stores and on Amazon.

Leftover crunchy chili oil keeps for at least 1 month refrigerated. It is excellent on everything from roasted vegetables to scrambled eggs to blah-tasting Asian takeout and/or leftovers; there's little that it won't improve.

If you have a mandoline — I use (and love) this one, plus this cut-resistant glove for safety — use that to slice the garlic, shallot, and celery; you'll get much more consistent results.

My absolute favorite way to cook the chicken for this soup is sous vide. The results are tender and it's shockingly easy to do. I use these instructions from Serious Eats, cooking 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts at 145°F for 1 hour and 15 minutes, then chilling them down in an ice bath before shredding. That said, if you don't have an immersion circulator (if you're in the market for one, I love ChefSteps' Joule), leftover roast chicken is a good alternative, as is using some of the meat from a rotisserie chicken or poaching a couple breasts.

This soup is good as leftovers, provided you store the extra cilantro, celery leaves, and fried garlic separately from the soup itself, adding them just before eating. (You can also freeze leftover soup, keeping the same consideration in mind.)
Recipe by A Modest Feast at