Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup gets my vote as the most enjoyable of disgusting soup choices.

There is something so pleasing about the whole experience of making this food item for yourself.

1. Opening the can.

You grab your trusty can opener and head for the can. That can that has stayed the exact same for god knows how long. Momentary doubts cross your mind: What is the shelf life of this soup? Just how old is this particular can? Is that a hint of bloating?

You push aside your petty fears and open the can, wondering if the cat heard the can opener and is even now about to set upon you with his little cat claws and guilt-inducing yowls. A decision must be reached: whether to complete the entire trip around the lid of the can with the opener, thus chancing the top falling into your soup concentrate, and thereby transferring the unpleastantness that may have collected on top of the can into your future meal, or to leave the top connected by a little eighth-of-an-inch metal strip. While the more sanitary choice, leaving it attached is also dangerous: as you struggle to lift the still-connected aluminum top, inserting your just-clipped thumbnail underneath the plane of metal, you open yourself up to an injury which could result in tetanus and eventually death.

2. Emptying the can

Another choice: do you grab a spoon from the top drawer and help the viscous contents of the can out and into the saucepan, or do you perch above the pan, can upturned, waiting for gravity to run its course and the perfect, can-shaped lump of concentrated soupness to wriggle its way free, falling into the pan with a resounding and satisfying splurp! The second choice is obviously the more aesthetically pleasing, and you have found after years of emptying Cream of Chicken soup into saucepans that the perfect technique calls for the can to be just fractionally higher than one can above the bottom of the pan. This way, when the contents hit the bottom, they actually retain the shape of the can, right down to the ribbed indentations left by the can itself.

3. Adding the Liquid

Here is the stage where your creativity and joie de vivre can really be called to the forefront. You are left with some options by the directions on the can. You must add a can-ful of liquid. But the directions offer you the option of adding water or milk, or some combination of the two. To even consider adding only water is nothing short of laughable. You think to yourself that this is tantamount to eating breakfast cereal with water, and shake off the notion with a small shudder. The way to go is with pure milk but with a twist: to use less than the whole can recommended by the Campbell's people. You use maybe 3/4 of a can, and stir the gloppy soup concentrate as you slowly pour in the milk, the heat of the burner up to just a little bit more than Medium. Not hot enough to stick the soup to the bottom of the pan, but not cold enough that you will be left stirring for what seems like hours, inserting your finger into the soup and being disappointed at its tepid temperature as you suck the liquid from your finger, worrying quietly whether it's all right to consume non-heated soup glop.

4. Stirring Minimally

But the real coup de grace in Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup making is to stir the soup only minimally while it is cooking. That way, you are left with little globs of unexpected high-powered chicken flavor. While the rest of the soup is made to suffer, seeming drab and bland by comparison, it is worth it for these little nuggets of delight, which call to mind the floating mines which would show up in the Gilligan's Island lagoon periodically.

5. Enjoy!
Now, you are ready to relax and enjoy your soup. You pour it into your favorite bowl, but then realize that the hot soup within has presented you with another problem: the bowl is so full of hot soup that it presents a real spill danger as you try to carry it to the family room coffee table, where your favorite cartoon is about to begin. To stand here in the kitchen, slowly taking spoonfuls of your soup and blowing on the spoon, feeling a little bit silly, until enough has been drained that you may carry the bowl safely to the table? Or to seize the soup by the horns, so to speak, and hope to reach that certain Zen-like food carrying state achieved by waiters in better Chinese food restaurants and martial arts films, in which you can attain the perfect balance, not spilling any scalding soup on your fingers, and make it to the table before your fingers can no longer take the heat of the bowl.

If past experience is anything to go by, you will opt for the latter choice, making it to the table with no spillage, and just as your fingers cannot bear the heat any longer you will place the bowl down on the table, just a little too quickly, slopping some of the creamy soup onto the only important papers in your entire house.

Sit back, enjoy your well-reserved reward, and try not to think too much about what chicken parts can actually make it into Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup.

Sincere apologies if that whole thing was a little obsessive.


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