Friday, January 11, 2013

Basic Skills: Chicken Soup

Well, it may already be the middle of January, but it still feels like 2013 just appeared yesterday.

To start off the new year, let's go back to the basics. I've already covered roasting a chicken, so now let's take the chicken to soup. 

You will now never - EVER - buy Campbell's canned soup again. 

If you're sick, even if you're feeling the slightest bit under the weather - this is the soup for you. 

If you are homesick, and wish for all the world that you're sitting at your grandma's old wooden table enjoying the tastes of old school amazingness - this is the soup for you.

If you want to impress a sick boyfriend and endear yourself to his living-out-of-state mother, who will henceforth call you an angel and think you can do no wrong - this is the soup for you!

Start off with a whole raw chicken. They can be called fryers, or stewers. And around these parts, they range in price from $1.89 a pound full price to $.99 a pound on sale. When they go on sale, we typically buy 2 and stick them in the freezer. It really doesn't matter how many pounds your chicken is. Bigger chicken = more chicken in the soup!
Put the chicken, neck, and organs in a big pot. Be sure you reach inside the chicken and pull out the little baggie of organs, neck, etc, and remove the plastic bag. Plastic does not taste good in soup. 

Fill the pot with water, just so it reaches the top of the chicken. 

Add chopped onion, celery, whole bay leaves, whole peppercorns, and salt. Turn the heat on medium, and boil for an hour, till the chicken is cooked through. 

Remove the pot from the heat and remove everything from the pot accept the broth - veggies and spices included. If you want to get really fancy, you can strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve or cheese cloth (you've just made chicken consomme!). Throw the veggies and spices away. You've gotten all the good flavor out of them already.

I know the chicken looks sorta icky. Deal with it. It's cooked, and it tastes delicious. Put on your big kid pants and pick that sucker apart. Using your fingers and a knife when necessary, remove the chicken meat from the bone. Discard the skin, bones, fat, and any organ meat that you don't want to eat. Chop the chicken up into bite-sized pieces and put into a bowl for later. 

That looks better, doesn't it? Yum. Head back over to the broth. By now, you can see the fat starting to accumulate on the top. Take a spoon and gently scoop the oil-looking fat off the surface. You don't have to get all of it, but you want to get a lot of it. 

Now, chop up some onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and any other veggie you might like to toss in. Put the broth back on the stove and toss them in. Cook for 20 minutes or so, until the hardest vegetable (in our case, the carrots) are cooked to your liking.

Put the cubed chicken back in the pot and give it a taste. Need more salt? More pepper? 

At this point you can take the soup several different ways:

1. Chicken Noodle Soup - Use egg noodles. If you have many people coming over to eat the soup, go ahead and throw them in the pot and let them cook in the chicken broth. If you plan on eating the soup over several meals, I suggest just cooking the noodles for each individual meal. Don't pout. Boil water and wait five minutes. These noodles take practically no cooking time. 

My logic here is that microwaved noodles turn mushy or dry. And they soak up all the broth if you portion the soup out individually and then turn mushy. I hate mushy noodles. 

2. Chicken Matzoh Ball Soup - missing your Jewish Grandmother? Use Smitten Kitchen's recipe to create Matzoh balls. Add to your soup. Pretty easy. 

3. Feeling up for adventure? Add some garbanzo beans, olives, and red pepper to go in a Mediterranean direction. Or perhaps a can or two of chopped green chilis, some hotsauce, and a few slices of tortilla for a more Southwestern flair. A bit of ginger, garlic, lime, and soy sauce will have you reminiscing about that NOVA special on Asia in no time. You can really do just about anything to chicken soup. 

Chicken Soup
Makes 1 large pot

1 whole chicken
2 onions, chopped
2 bunches of celery, chopped
3 whole bay leaves
12 whole black peppercorns
5-6 carrots, chopped
1 1/2 c. sliced mushrooms (1 package of sliced mushrooms)
salt & pepper to taste
--optional ingredients--
egg noodles
matzoh balls
whatever else you want to throw in

Remove the whole chicken from the plastic package. Reach in the body cavity to remove any organs, plastic stuff, or other strange odds and ends. Put the chicken in a large stock pot. Add water so that it almost covers the chicken. 

To the pot, add 1 chopped onion, 1 bunch of chopped celery - including the leaves, all the bay leaves, and the peppercorns.

Boil for 1 hour, until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from the pot and set aside to cool. Remove and throw out all the vegetables, spices, and any bones or chicken skin. 

Wait until the chicken is cooled and pull the meat off the bones. Discard the bones and any excess fat. Chop the chicken into small chunks. Set aside. 

Skim any excess fat off the top of the broth. Place in a glass jar to throw into the trash later. 

Put the pot of broth back on the stove and add to it the carrots, second bunch of celery, onion, mushrooms, and any other vegetables that need time to cook. Boil for 20 minutes or so, until the firmest of the veggies is cooked through. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Put the chicken back in the pot. Stir. 

If you want to add noodles, matzoh balls, or any other ingredients, now's the time!


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