Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Soup by any Other Name...

If, after reading this post, you come to the conclusion that I come from a weird family, you'll be right. The soup I'm sharing today is a favorite of mine -- Dusty Noodle Soup -- and, like all family recipes -- there's a story behind it.

When my brother and I were really young we originally called this "Busia Soup" because our Busia (grandmother) made it for us. My mom was not a fan of this particular dish. In fact, she called it "Grease Soup" and told us she'd been subjected to it as a youngster during the Depression and she avoided it at all costs. Despite her personal disdain, my mom spent an afternoon with her Polish mother-in-law (our Busia) to learn how to make the broth and the thick homemade Kluski noodles so we could have it at home.

Even when my mom made it, we still called it Busia Soup. But pretty soon it earned a whole new nickname - Dusty Noodle Soup.

Family celebrations -- for the extended family on my Polish side -- were held at one particular local restaurant and this soup was always served first. It was my favorite part of the meal.

Okay, imagine this... my brother and I were the youngest cousins on this side of the family. Bored by these events, we wandered around the pre-set banquet tables while the adults cooed over new babies, chit-chatted, and drank highballs at the bar. Paul and I would find hide-and-go-seek places in the restaurant's corners and I remember an incident with decorative fake rubber grapes -- but that's a story for another time ;-)

In this pre-party playtime, Paul and I noticed that the restaurant, in an effort to be more efficient, had set up the soup bowls at each place setting. That wouldn't be so weird, except -- there was a handful of cold, sticky noodles sitting in every bowl. These noodles were waiting for the waitresses to come by with pitchers of steaming broth, which they poured after everybody finally sat down. Hmm. How long had the noodles been there? Overnight? When no one was looking, and before it was time for the waitresses to serve, Paul picked up a bowl and turned it upside down. You guessed it. The noodles didn't budge. That's when he and I came up with the moniker "Dusty Noodle" and from then on we referred to the restaurant as "The Dusty Noodle Restaurant."

We sat down to eat and Paul demonstrated his trick for our parents and older cousins - and it was good for a slightly horrified laugh. Years later, when I started bringing my then-boyfriend, now-husband to family events, we brought him in on the joke.

The extended family has grown and we don't get together that much anymore. And The Dusty Noodle burned down over a decade ago, so my own kids have never experienced the restaurant's version of this delicacy. But they think the story is hysterical. They know this recipe as "Dusty Noodle Soup" and despite the weirdness of it all, they love it (the vegetarian daughter won't have it, but it used to be one of her favorites). Just for the record - I keep my noodles in the refrigerator until it's time to serve. No dusty ones in my house!

I hesitate to call it Chicken Noodle Soup because that conjures up images of carrots and celery and other good-for-you veggies. This has none of that. This is simply chicken, broth, noodles. And I cheat by buying Kluski brand noodles. Almost as good as Busia's homemade ones, but way less time-consuming to prepare.

After reading this post, you may decide this one is *not* for you. Perfectly understandable. But it's a fast and perfect-for-a-cold-day soup and a major treat for me. I can understand why it was popular during the Depression. Except for the chicken bones, there's no waste and you get two meals out of less than $2 worth of chicken. Cheap, easy, delicious.

Dusty Noodle Soup

Chicken leg/thighs - about 2 - 3 lbs.
Chicken bouillon
Kluski noodles

Place chicken legs/thighs in a deep pot, cover with water -- and then some. I used about 2.5 lbs and covered it with about four extra inches of water. Add bouillon. I used about 5 cubes. Although the legs/thighs have more flavor than breasts would, the bouillon helps a lot. Set to high and bring to a boil. Lower heat but keep it rolling a bit for at least an hour until the chicken is cooked through and the meat starts to fall off the bones. I always start with frozen chicken -- keeping a couple pounds of poultry on hand means I can whip this up any time.

While chicken is cooking, prepare Kluski noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Keep the noodles separate from the broth, even when both are done.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the broth and allow it to cool before separating the meat from the bones. I usually add a little meat back into the broth, but keep the bulk to make chicken salad.

That's it. Soup stays in one bowl, noodles in the other, and they keep in the fridge for at least a week. In the spirit of the original Dusty Noodle Restaurant, I usually heat up the broth super hot, then pour it over the chilled noodles to enjoy.

I have to admit, this is probably not good for the arteries. But back during the Depression, I'll bet it kept a lot of families from going hungry.

Thanks for letting me share a little family history with you. I'll bet you have some weird and interesting food stories to tell. Anything as wacky as Dusty Noodle?

Author of Eggsecutive Orders, third in the White House Chef Mystery series

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  1. I love the stories that come with the recipes here. This is a great one. I like that this recipe is so quick and simple. Just one question, does using the legs/thighs instead of chicken breast just give it more flavor? Thanks for sharing both the recipes and story. :)

  2. Sounds like you have a fun family! I love soup and will have to give this one a try.

    I'm looking forward to your guest posting on Thursday at Pudgy Penguin Perusals .

  3. Hi Mason - absolutely. I always use legs and thighs because they provide extra flavor. Although this probably originated by boiling whole chickens, I find the breasts too bland. Thanks!

    Kaye - I'm looking forward to my guest posting too! Thanks!

  4. What a great story, Julie! And I want to hear more about those rubber grapes, too. What WAS it with the fake fruit back in the day? I think there was fake fruit everywhere we went in the 70s...I remember playing with it.

    Honestly, Dusty Noodles sounds like something I'd really like! Easy, tasty...and gosh, it's so cold down here that I'm ready for something warm to put in my mouth. Thanks for the tip!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  5. Kluski noodle soup is popular at many of our local restaurants, although I've never seen them serve it the Dusty Noodle way!

  6. Elizabeth - I remember those grapes like it was yesterday. This particular restaurant went through about three incarnations. The grapes were on display at the first location... lots of "mosaic tile" and a small fountain. Yikes. So 70s! But fun to reminisce.

    Janel - really? I haven't found Kluski noodle soup around here. But truth is I haven't looked too closely. It's just too easy to make at home.

    By the way, all - I BLEW IT!!
    Today's Fat Tuesday (I totally forgot!!) which means it's Paczki Day (pronounced Poonch-kee). I should have picked up some paczki and blogged about them! Oops... next year, maybe ;-)

  7. Thanks for the plug, Julie!

    What a wonderful story. Pouring hot chicken soup over pre-cooked noodles makes a lot of sense for efficiency. I like that idea for quick meals in the winter. I'll have to look for those noodles.

    Mason, I make chicken soup from scratch at least once a week. Long story. Anyway, you need bones to make a good broth. That's why chicken breasts don't make good stock. If you happen to roast a chicken and eat the meat, toss the leftover bones into your chicken soup along with some legs or a whole chicken. You'll get a very rich, delicious broth.

    And Julie, I'm not a nutritionist, but Dusty Noodle soup isn't bad for your arteries. If you're worried about the fat in the chicken, refrigerate the broth overnight, and all the fat will cluster at the top so you can scoop it right off and eat fat-free soup!

    ~ Krista

  8. Krista - thanks for explaining why the legs and thighs are a better choice. Makes sense. And you're right about the fat from the chicken, but there's so much flavor in the hard fat at the top that I can never resist adding a little to the soup when I reheat. I understand why my mom called it Grease Soup! But when I'm watching calories I do skim off that fatty top. A much smarter way to eat ;-)

  9. Lovely story. I adore your family!

  10. This reminds me of the chicken and noodles my grandmother used to make, only she cooked the homemade noodles (still flour-covered) in the broth so the broth thickened -- we ate this mix on top of mashed potatoes. Serious carbs for those big mid-day farm meals during the harvest season.

  11. Julie, why is it that the flavor is always in the fat? If it tastes so good, it can't be bad for us -- right?

    ~ Krista

  12. Thanks, Avery! It was a fun childhood...

    Patricia - Hi! Thanks for stopping by ;-) Serious carbs is right. But boy, smothered over mashed potatoes sounds pretty excellent right now. Hmm...

    Krista - Absolutely. My dad was raised on this soup, and other just as fattening dishes. Plus he slathered everything with butter. He was always trying to gain weight and never had even the teeniest cholesterol problem. So shouldn't that work for the rest of us? ;-)

  13. too funny... I have less flattering ways to call my mother's cooking... but that is for another day

    Love the family stories

  14. Love the name of the soup! And the soup does sound delicious.

  15. Hi Katy - it's definitely a descriptive name LOL!