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Mimi, the Bird Woman of Manhattan

November 14, 1996|MARGARET SHERIDAN

Mimi Sheraton stood in front of a range dressed in cocoa-brown sweater and slacks, poised and ready to make soup.

As students filed into Let's Get Cookin' in Westlake Village for a class on the subject of her latest cookbook, "The Whole World Loves Chicken Soup" (Warner, 1996), the onetime New York Times restaurant critic greeted friends and accepted compliments on her recent loss of 50 pounds. Then she called the class to order with the words, "Soup is my favorite thing to make. It's what I call cooking for the indecisive and impatient. Like me."

In the next three hours she demonstrated four soups and dispensed tips and advice. For instance: Use a straight-sided pot with a tight-fitting lid (her favorite is an enameled cast-iron model). When making meat or poultry stock, don't rub the carcass with herbs or spices ("It overpowers the stock. Serve those on the side").

The best bird for making stock, Sheraton said, is an older one, preferably 5 1/2 to 7 pounds. She prefers kosher chickens because they're grain-fed, bled and fresh. (Don't even mention the word "frozen" to her.) For flavor, dark meat is miles ahead of light. And use those wings, drumsticks and backbone.

Chicken soup should never boil, she said, but maintain a good steady surface movement or "smile" ("but nothing insane"). And if you want some shredded chicken meat in the soup, poach a breast separately and add it to the soup just before serving.

Is there good chicken soup in New York? She gave high marks to the Brooklyn Diner, the Blue Nile (an Ethiopian restaurant), Vong for its great Thai chicken coconut soup, Shun Lee West and Uncle Vanya's, where the pelmeni (Siberian ravioli in broth) are excellent. But she warned that most New York restaurants use canned broth--College Inn brand.

During her weekend blitz in Los Angeles, she tried a bowl at Barney Greengrass in Beverly Hills and shook her head over an aftertaste of iodine. She blamed it on L.A. tap water: "In making coffee or soup, you've got to have good water. Be careful when you visit cities. Chicago used to have awful water. Now it's improved."

Los Angeles?

"Terrible. I can barely brush my teeth."

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