When cold and flu season hit, chicken soup’s the order of the day. There’s a reason they call chicken soup Jewish penicillin. Lucky for me there are two places just a matzo ball’s throw from my house to get to an excellent bowl. In Queens every culture has its own version of chicken soup: Indonesian soto ayam hued yellow with turmeric and spiked with fiery sambal and lime, Korean samgyetang enriched with ginseng and garlic, and Filipino tinalong manok singing with ginger are just a few of my favorites. Now thanks to Natasha Pogrebinsky’s Bear I can add Mother Russia to the list of cold busters.
A while back Pogrebinsky told me about a dumpling soup she’d dubbed Russian ramen. With my post-Thanksgiving cold on the wane I took a stroll over to Bear from Court Square to give the chicken version a try.
In lieu of noodles there are delicate pelmeni—dumplings packed with pork, beef, and chicken—floating in a rich chicken broth. The stock is joined by a poached egg. It raises the question: “Which came first the chicken soup or the egg?” Clearly in this case it’s the long-simmered stock. Toppings include braised chicken, arugula, red leaf lettuce, lightly pickled cucumber, dill, and a little black sesame. Tkemali, a Georgian concoction of sour plums and chili, ties it all together.
“People just sort of started calling it Russian ramen,” Pogrebinsky told me over a bowl. “Maybe I started calling it that, I don’t remember who started calling it Russian ramen.” The origins of the name may be uncertain, but there’s no denying that Pogrebinsky’s soup is good medicine.
The Ukrainian-American chef makes several other varieties, including Siberian Express, which features St. George mushrooms; a sauerkraut version that’s very northwestern Russian; and a rich beef ramen that also includes pork.
“There’s endless combinations,” Pogrebinsky says recalling a duck and mushroom broth she made a while back.
One ingredient she’s considering adding to her Russian ramen repertoire is birch bark. She should call it Transiberian Express and serve it for Christmas. Until she does so I’ll be working my way through the other versions.
Bear, 12-14, 31st Ave., Long Island City, 917-396-4939