This is a simple soup for two, a happy invention occasioned by leftovers. It is colorful and flavorsome to be sure, but it is the sort of thing one eats with a good friend, when there is the wish to feel cozy and a bit of smoked chicken in the ice box.
Cover the noodles with very hot or simmering water, and soak until soft and silky. The temperature and timing will vary with the noodles; use hotter water if they don’t turn silken within 1 minute. Once soft, cut into manageable lengths if you have not already done so, drain, and set aside.
Cut the watercress above the band holding the bunch together and discard the lower stems. Sort through and pinch off any thick stems and wilted or discarded leaves. Pump gently in cool water to clean, drain, and shake off excess water. Blanch in unsalted boiling water to cover for 5 seconds, drain immediately, and rush under cold water to cool. Press gently to extract excess water and set aside.
Cut the carrot on the diagonal into thin coins ⅛ inch thick. Stack the coins, spread the stack like a row of steps, then shred the coins lengthwise into slivers ⅛ inch thin.
Prepare fresh mushrooms or dried mushrooms, but do not reserve the trimmings or soaking liquid.
Slice the smoked chicken against the grain into long slivers ⅛ inch thin. Preparations may be done hours in advance. Seal the ingredients airtight, refrigerate, and bring to room temperature before using.
About 10 minutes before serving, put individual soup bowls in a low oven to warm and fluff the watercress to loosen. Combine the reserved steaming liquids, the chicken stock, and the smoked chicken skin in a large, non-aluminum saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer, then add the carrots and mushrooms. Cover and simmer for about 2 minutes, or until the carrots are tender-crisp. Add the noodles and simmer for 30 seconds more. Turn the heat to low, taste the soup, then adjust with salt and pepper or Roasted Szechwan Pepper-Salt to taste. Discard the chicken skin, then add the shredded chicken, and stir to heat it through. Add the jellied juices or the chicken fat, and stir until combined.
Divide the watercress among the bowls and ladle the soup on top, using chopsticks or tongs to portion the noodles between them. Garnish with scallion rings and perhaps a last flourish of pepper.
This is already a soup of leftovers, and it should not be left over.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.