The origin of chicken mull soup
Words and Recipe by Jessica Rothacker, Heirloom Café in Athens, Georgia
Much like Brunswick Stew, several places throughout North Georgia and the western Carolinas lay claim to the origin of Chicken Mull.
Our favorite origin story, though, brings it to the firemen and churches of the greater Athens, Georgia region. A dish known to feed many for very little cost, its base is chicken broth, shredded or ground chicken, milk, saltine cracker crumbs, salt, and pepper. Yup, that’s it. It’s hearty and filling and great for something like a church fundraiser.
Commercially, the now closed Chase Street Café (on the other side of Broad Street from our part of Chase Street) served a famous bowl of mull on Thursdays as part of a Q and Stew Weekly Special. Heirloom’s Joel Penn introduced our crowd to Chicken mull, and our version has developed into a rich broth thickened with saltine crumbs, made creamy with buttermilk, given texture with smoked turnips, fortified with shredded chicken, and brightened up with a splash of our house hot sauce. (Texas Pete hot sauce will work just as well in a pinch.) While it may not be exactly like its predecessor, we think our version is just right.
3 quarts water
1 whole chicken
1 medium yellow onion, quartered
1 stalk celery, rough chopped
1 large carrot, rough chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 pound turnips, peeled, diced
2 cups buttermilk
1 ½ cups crushed saltines
1 ½ tablespoons hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine chicken, onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf, peppercorns, and water in a medium stockpot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the chicken is tender enough to fall off the bone, 45 minutes to an hour. Turn off the burner, remove the chicken from the pot, and strain and discard all remaining solids from the stock. Set chicken aside to cool enough to handle it.
If you have a smoker, smoke the turnips for 25 minutes at 225 degrees F. If you don’t have a smoker, preheat your oven to 375, toss the turnips in canola oil with ½ teaspoon of liquid smoke, and roast for 30 minutes, until slightly tender.
Bring the strained stock back to a boil and add the turnips, buttermilk, saltine crumbs, and hot sauce to the stock. Reduce heat to a medium simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, allowing the saltine crumbs to thicken the stock as it reduces. Once the chicken has cooled, pull it off the bones and shred it. Stir the chicken into the pot. Check the soup for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dash of hot sauce on top and saltines for sopping.