Mulligatawny started its windings in southern India, where it is a refreshing stew of peppers, onions and fruit, seasoned with curry powder and stewed with rice. When the British were in the subcontinent they became as keen on the soup as were the locals. Naturally, the Brits brought the recipe home with them and made it a bit heartier by using poultry stock and adding chicken. In addition, they threw in their own nearby fruit, the apple. Thus, an Indian soup adorned many a table in the Isles.
From there mulligatawny showed up throughout the English-speaking world, including, eventually, the US. Though it never gained quite the avid following it enjoyed in the UK, the soup was popular enough for the Atlantic Coast Line railroad to serve aboard its dining cars through the middle of the twentieth century. The railway’s recipe made it into James Porterfield’s Dining by Rail cookbook and finally, into this journal.
The Tamils invented the soup, yet it picked up ingredients and evolved as it made its way in the world. Mainly, though, it’s an Indian/English collaboration. It developed its refreshing profile in India, and the British made it more substantive, perfectly suitable for a meal. As such, it’s a great preparation for early spring, when the weather fluctuates from warm to cold, and back again.
Served hot, it keeps at bay March winds and April showers and is British comfort food. When the sun parts the clouds and hints at the approaching swelter, mulligatawny is best served barely warm or even chilled, the apples, rice and curry vibrantly soothing the heat.
So we’ve visited, what, three continents? It’s quite an expedition, acquiring treasure along the way. Where’s mulligatawny now? At last report, it was onboard a dining car in eastern North America, speeding toward immortality.
Chicken Mulligatawny Soup
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 onions, diced (*1)
- 1/2 green pepper, diced
- 1/2 cup uncooked rice (*2)
- 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- pinch of cayenne powder
- salt, to taste
- 1 cup chicken, cooked and diced (*3)
- 1 cup tart apple, peeled and diced (*4)
- juice of a lemon
Place a large saucepan over a medium flame. Add the butter and, when melted, add the onions, green pepper and rice. Cook, stirring frequently to avoid coloring, until the onions are tender, about five minutes.
Stir in the curry powder. Add the flour slowly and stir constantly, to make a roux. Cook for ten minutes.
Pour the chicken stock into another saucepan and bring it just to a boil. Add the boiling stock, carefully and slowly, to the vegetables, stirring constantly. (*3) Keep stirring until the mixture is boiling and smooth. Add the cayenne pepper, salt and the pre-cooked chicken, if using. Simmer until the rice is done, about twenty minutes.
Add the apples and lemon juice. Simmer until the apples are tender, about ten minutes, and serve.
1 – Two large shallots are even better. Who’s right, me, or three continents? Yeah, obviously.
2 – Given the soup’s Indian origins, basmati rice is a great choice.
3 – Cooks aboard trains needed to make full use of every ingredient, thus they specified using pre-cooked chicken, likely harvested from parts of birds used mainly for other meals. Very efficient, yet substituting boneless, skinless chicken thighs results in better flavor and moister meat.
Just before serving, use tongs to pull the thighs from the soup. Transfer them to a cutting board, shred them with forks and return the meat to the pot. Simmer for thirty more seconds to bring the chicken back to temperature, then serve.
4 – One Granny Smith apple works well for this, and I left the skin intact, as it adds an interesting color, while tenderizing along with the rest of the apple.
Moreover, place the apple in a bowl after you dice it. Pour the lemon juice over it until you’re ready for it. The juice will prevent the apple from oxidizing while you prepare the other ingredients. Dicing the apple ahead of time is a good idea (mise en place) and the lemon juice is an ideal instrument for preserving the color.