Chicken Soup 101
by Mark R. Vogel

The other day I was having lunch with a friend.  She typifies the average American when it comes to food:  She works a full time job and comes home to a spouse, a home, pets, and two young children, all of which demand her attention.  Preparing an elaborate meal or one made from scratch is just simply out of the question, at least on weekdays anyway.  I mentioned that I was making chicken soup that evening.  She lamented on how all of the canned soups she has tried have left her dissatisfied, so much so that she has practically given up on soup.  I offered her the option of making her own homemade soup but when I began to outline the particulars, (especially the amount of hours required to make a broth or stock), she quickly scoffed and looked at me like I was nuts.  What a shame that the dictates of our socio-cultural milieu and harried lives interfere with something as nourishing and genuinely satisfying as a good bowl of homemade soup. 

            Chicken soup is indeed one of the quintessential comfort foods of all time, in addition to being healthy and nutritious.  It's no coincidence that virtually every cuisine on the planet has some form of it in its culinary repertoire.  It has been proscribed to treat a host of ailments over the ages beginning with the ancient Egyptians who served it as a remedy for the common cold.  Sorry folks, but as good as chicken soup is, it's not imbibed with anti-viral properties.  But we don’t need medicinal folklore to justify consuming it.  It's delicious and comforting and as far as I'm concerned, that's all the rationale I need.  For me there's nothing like spending a Saturday or Sunday in fall or winter, especially a cold or snowy one, simmering a big pot of chicken soup.  Turn on some classical music, pour yourself a glass of wine, and unwind as the sublime aromas fill your home.  Now that's what I call aromatherapy. 

            So, for those of you who have suffered through more than your share of mawkish canned soups and want to give the real thing a shot, this article's for you.  Let's go through a step-by-step process of making good ole fashioned chicken soup.  It won't cure your cold, but it will warm your heart.

            The first and foremost step to creating delicious chicken soup is making a homemade broth or stock.  The broth or stock is the foundation of the soup and I cannot stress enough its vital role to the overall success of the soup.  It is also the most time consuming step in the endeavor.  A broth is produced by simmering meat, aromatic vegetables and herbs for an extended period of time.   A stock, by contrast relies on bones instead of meat.  Bones will imbibe a stock with collagen, a protein that imparts body and viscosity to the stock.  Meat however, will give it more flavor.  I like the best of both worlds and use both.  Use a large pot that is narrow and tall as opposed to low and wide.  The latter will cause it to evaporate too rapidly.

 

CHICKEN BROTH

 

8 lbs total of chicken, (legs thighs, and/or wings), and bones

6 quarts of cold spring water

8 oz. onion, roughly chopped

4 oz. celery, roughly chopped

4 oz. carrots, roughly chopped

3 cloves garlic

1 bundle of thyme

1 handful parsley, including stems

3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon peppercorns

 

            Bring the chicken parts to a boil and then immediately reduce to a very gentle simmer, uncovered.  Bubbles should be lazily breaking the surface. This is important.  A strong simmer will evaporate the fluid too quickly and not extract the collagen and flavoring elements as efficiently.  Skim the top to remove any scum or errant particles but do not stir.  Stirring will make the final broth cloudy.  Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, occasionally skimming, for at least 4 hours.  When finished, remove the chicken meat and shred whatever amount of it you would like to add back to the finished soup.  Pick through it carefully to ensure you’ve avoided small bits of bone or cartilage.  Strain the soup to remove the solids.  For a clearer, higher filtered broth strain again through cheesecloth and a chinois, (a fine-meshed strainer).  Discard the vegetables.  They have given their all and we will add fresh ones to the final soup.

            For the best tasting broth use only the dark meat and leave the skin on.  As stated, I employ a combination of bones and meat.  Yes, there are bones in the legs or wings but not enough.  Every time I make chicken wings I cut off the tips and freeze them.  Likewise, whenever I make a whole chicken I save the neck.  If I butterfly a chicken I save the back bone.  I combine these bones with the assorted pieces of dark meat for the broth.  (Some Asian supermarkets sell carcasses of chicken with the meat removed for making stock). 

            Now that we have our chicken broth, the rest is pretty straightforward:

 

CHICKEN SOUP

 

2-3 carrots, chopped

2-3 celery sticks, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Chicken broth/stock from above recipe

6 oz. pasta of your choice

Chicken meat from above recipe

Celery leaves, chopped, to taste

Fresh parsley, chopped, to taste

 

            Add the carrots, celery, onion, salt and pepper to the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered until the vegetables are soft.  Meanwhile cook the pasta separately to desired doneness.  Add the chicken meat to warm through.  I like a good amount of celery leaves and parsley in my soup but you can adjust accordingly.  I pick off the leaves from about ¾ of a batch of celery and match it with an equal amount of parsley and chop it.  Finish the soup with the herbs and additional salt and pepper to taste. 

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