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Sarah Lenz holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and a MA in Literature from Boise State University. She teaches English at the University of Findlay in Ohio. When not making noodles, she spends her time blogging at Prose and Potatoes and raising backyard chickens. Her husband Kent Lenz photographed the sequence of pictures within the essay.
Chanticleer Noodle Soup
When I was growing up, one of my dad’s favorite hometown restaurants was the Chanticleer Drive-In. The Chanticleer was one of a handful of restaurants in Ord, Nebraska, a small rural town on the edge of the Sandhill Plains. Most people dined there for lack of a better choice. My family and I were no different except that we had ferreted out the Chanticleer’s best kept secret: homemade chicken noodle soup. The chicken noodle soup was chock full of goodies: huge chunks of white and dark chicken, carrots, celery, onions, and noodles so big they crowded out the broth. In fact, if I added a few crushed Saltines to my soup bowl, I ceased to have soup at all.
The Chanticleer Drive-In was a family-owned and family-friendly greasy spoon. It wasn’t a drive-in at all, but a regular diner, but that wasn’t the only thing curious about its name. While I’d like to believe that the Chanticleer’s name was homage to a heritage breed of chicken, perhaps the very chicken that contributed to the soup, this was not the case. The restaurant’s name was, in fact, derived from local high school’s mascot, a white plumed, robust and muscular rooster. The drive-in had hideous bright red indoor-outdoor carpet—again a tribute to the local high school’s team colors. The whole place reeked of grease. One glance at the eclectic menu explained why. Above the front counter, a large, plastic CocaCola-sponsored sign with snap-in letters spelled out the menu. The menu boasted all manner of breaded and deep fried delicacies—tater tots, curly fries, criss-cross potatoes, jalapeños, mushrooms, chicken strips. The Chanticleer also served chicken gizzards, deep fried until the breading was crunchy and the gizzard itself rubbery. Perhaps this item was name-appropriate as well. Perhaps it spoke to the tenacity of the high school football team. Surely the perseverance it took to chew and swallow such a thing could make linebackers tougher. The menu contained other items that were anomalies: pizza burgers, burritos, refried beans, and of course, chicken noodle soup.
Although she enjoyed the food, my mother hated going to this restaurant simply because the only restroom in the entire establishment was located behind the kitchen. If a patron wanted to wash their hands before they ate or answer nature’s call, they had to walk through the kitchen. This struck my mother as improper and awkward. She did have a point. It was embarrassing. Plus, the journey to the restroom was perilous with all that hot grease splashing around. I was always scared I was going to get in the way, cause an accident—or even worse—see something I wasn’t supposed to see, something that the county health inspector would red-flag for sure.
On numerous trips to the restroom, the only thing I ever saw of interest in that stuffy, grease-splattered kitchen was noodles. In the back prep area, past the fryers, I saw them. These noodles were glorious, a golden mixture of eggs and flour with a wholesome dusky, sunshine-like smell. The dough was hand-rolled and cut into fat little caterpillars of noodles, dusted with a healthy coat of flour, and then laid to dry. Slightly damp, curling noodles covered every available flat surface in the prep area, countertop after countertop, after countertop. This was the secret of chicken noodle soup.
Except for the noodles, the other components of soup were basic. The chicken stock itself was made from Sysco chicken base or similar product. But the noodles transformed the soup. Because the noodles were hand rolled, they were thick and chunky—something you could really get your teeth around—and because they were fresh, they were incredibly flavorful, not just a backdrop for other flavors like commercial, machine-made noodles are.
The Chanticleer has long since closed its doors. It was a quick, but painful death when a McDonald’s came in across the street. Even so, I think longingly of the chicken noodle soup. Luckily, as long as I’m able to approximate those thick, hand-rolled noodles, the results are so similar to the Chanticleer’s that I’m satisfied. It turns out making your own noodles is not difficult, just time consuming. The time it takes to roll out the dough by hand becomes a sort of peaceful meditation, which call to mind the old-fashion quirks of an obsolete little diner.
This is more of a technique than a recipe, learned by touch, and by my mother’s coaching.
2 eggs, beaten (organic, free-range eggs preferred)
1 t. salt
2 eggs, beaten (organic, free-range eggs preferred)
1 t. salt
1 cup (approximately) all purpose flour
Beat eggs and salt together. Gradually add flour until desired consistency is reached. After initial cup of flour is mixed in you may need to add additional flour until you have dough that is firm, but not tough. Try to approximate the consistency of Play-Doh.
Turn dough out onto countertop and knead for 1-2 minutes. If you wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour, the dough will be slightly easier to work with because the flour absorbs the liquid in the egg, but it's not necessary, and there is virtually no difference in the end product.
Roll dough out by hand with a rolling pin as thin as possible. The noodles will thicken as they cook. Dust both sides of dough generously with flour. Starting at the widest edge, fold rolled out dough loosely into thirds and cut in noodle-wide strips across the folds. Unfurl the long noodles from their fold and cut into smaller-length pieces. Leave to air dry for 2 to 3 hours. Add to your favorite chicken soup recipe. These noodles take longer than store-bought pasta to cook, but the end result is worth every extra minute.