I googled chicken soup recipes the other day. I was getting over a cold and craving it. I was also curious if there was some miraculous gourmet thing I could do to add some variety, like mix in sriracha or slices of foie gras or something else equally ridiculous. Instead, I found a million basic “just like Mom’s chicken soup” recipes. So I wondered: did Mom just not cook for most of us, or did she just guard that recipe like a templar guards the Holy Grail?
I blog about a lot of recipes, and, like most of the things I cook a lot of, they are dishes that were told to me by family and/or friends, and then evolved into something else because of variances in the pantry stock. “Well, I don’t have parsley… so, cilantro? Sure!” Happy accidents are my way of life, you could say. Sometimes it fails, but mostly it works out in my favor.
Segue into chicken soup. If you have been relying on Mama Whole Foods to provide, I encourage you to give it a go yourself. Plus, you’ll learn how to make your own chicken stock as it is essentially the same process.
I recommend a stock pot for this adventure. You’ll want the extra space, and there will be less evaporation of liquids (reduction in fancy chef speak). For the chicken, I usually get a whole chicken as they are $5 at my local market. If cutting up a whole chicken intimidates you, you can use about 2 dozen chicken wings for the same effect (or watch this video of our Owner/Chef Shelley Young).
1 whole chicken, about 5 lbs, cut up into individual parts
1 large white onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
5-6 carrots, peeled and halved crosswise
2 sprigs of thyme
Fresh parsley, stems reserved and leaves finely chopped
6 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Salt, to taste
½ pound of farfalle or elbow pasta
Add the onions, celery, garlic, and carrots to the stock pot. Put the peppercorns and bay leaf in a small square of cheesecloth, and tie up with kitchen twine along with the parsley stems and thyme sprigs. Place the chicken on top (leave the skin on), and add enough cold water to cover all ingredients by about one inch. Bring to boil, add about 2 teaspoons of salt, and then simmer for 1 hour, half covered. Skim any scum that forms on the top off periodically.
Cut the heat, and transfer the chicken to a separate plate to cool. Put the carrots on another plate to cool. Now for the only part I really don’t like in the process: straining the broth. I always seem to make a mess, but you may be better skilled at pouring than I am. I usually pour it through a wire mesh strainer into a large bowl, and press on the solids with a wooden spoon (gently, you don’t need every last drop). Discard the solids.
Chop your carrots into half inch pieces, however you like. I cut them on the bias and roll the carrot half a turn after each cut to get a more rustic cut. Then shred that chicken! Ok, I got excited, but for some reason it’s my favorite part. You’ll have plenty of meat, so discard any pieces that are discolored or tough, along with the skin and bones.
Pour the broth back into the stock pot and bring back up to a boil. You have some options at this point for additions. Sometimes I’ll add swiss chard or kale at this point for something green. Green oniona are also a great addition: I simmer the white parts first, then add the green tips at the end along with the herbs. Otherwise, this is where you’ll add the pasta of your choice and cook until it’s al dente (if it cooks too long, it will get too soft as it sits over time). Don’t forget to add salt to the broth if it needs it. Rice is also an alternative: simmer for 20 minutes for white rice, 35 minutes for brown.
Once your pasta or rice is done, add the chicken, carrots and parsley to the post, and heat for about 1 minute. Add any salt and pepper if desired. My mother always added grated parmesian cheese at the table, which adds a richness to the soup. A pinch of the truffle salt we carry at The Chopping Block is also a nice touch!
The best part about making your own chicken soup is that it freezes beautifully. I put mine into 8 oz containers, and then I have individual portions ready to go for lunch, emergency dinner or whenever I need a pick-me-up.
If you want to become proficient in homemade stock and soup making, we spend an entire day on this in our Culinary Boot Camp.