Anyone who lives in Pittsburgh knows that the early weeks of fall are scattered with rainy, miserable, curl-up-on-the-couch type days. Days like this I find myself craving simple comforts--and nothing spells comfort quite like hovering around a hot bowl of soup on an otherwise crappy day.
Growing up, soup in my house was usually something that came from a can or a packet: Salty, bright yellow broth with noodles and little flakes of dehydrated meat. As I grew older, I discovered ramen noodles (even worse), with hardly any concept of what a real bowl of hearty, nourishing soup should taste like.
Feeling a little under the weather this week, I decided to start playing around with making my own chicken soup, deviating completely from what I was used to and going old school--The final product I made from scratch, starting with homemade stock.
Now check it out: Before you go and get put off by the idea of making your own stock because it sounds like too much work--trust me, it's NOT. It requires minimal effort, and, because you leave the veggies in big chunks, it also means minimal chopping. In the end you wind up with maximum flavor--way better than any boxed stock, broth, or bouillon you'll find in a store. Plus, in the grand scheme of things, it winds up being cheaper (most good, organic chicken stock goes for about $5 a quart--which is just crazypants. This way, you are left with 3 quarts of broth, plus a boatload of chicken. Sounds like a deal to me!) I encourage you to at least give it a shot one time.
You'll "Ooh!" You'll "Ahh!"...You'll never go back.
That being said, for kitchen-resistant people out there who genuinely hate to cook, I WILL offer some tips for making store-bought stock more flavorful at the end of this post. :)
I've never made soup before so I really had no idea where to start. I found this recipe from Tyler Florence and it seemed pretty solid, based on the reviews (all of which said NOT to skip the homemade stock part). I added some extra vegetables and chicken to make the soup heartier (the way I like it), made a few other minor tweaks--and used shredded cabbage in place of the noodles.
Chicken Noodle-less Soup
(Makes One Full Medium-Size Soup Pot. 4 Quarts, maybe?)
First, I'll start with..
Chicken Stock, the Semi-Fast, From-Scratchy Kind.
Makes about 3 Quarts.
1 whole free-range chicken (mine was somewhere around 4lbs), rinsed. Giblets too, if you want to add extra flavor/nutrients.
3 medium carrots, cut in large chunks. For the best (and most budget-friendly) flavor, stick with regular carrots over baby carrots (which I recently learned are just regular carrots shaved down to look all uniform and pretty--with less beta carotene than standard carrots. WTF, man.)
3 celery stalks, cut in large chunks
2 large white onions, quartered (skin and all)
2-4 cloves of garlic, cut in half (do not need to be peeled)
1 turnip, halved
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- Place the chicken and vegetables in a large stockpot over medium heat. Cover with Ice Cold water (about 3 quarts)- Don't add too much water, or else it will weaken the flavor. Toss in the thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns, and allow it to slowly come to a boil. Why ice cold water? It helps draw out more collagen, which give the stock more body, as well as making it more nutritious. Hot water would seal all the good stuff in the bones--the opposite of what you're trying to achieve.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked all the way. As it cooks, add more water if needed to keep the chicken covered.
- When it's done, use a pair of tongs or some combination of kitchen instruments and dexterity to move the chicken to a cutting board. Once it cools down a bit, pull the meat from it, discarding the skin and bones; hand-shred or dice the meat and stick it in a storage container.
- Next, strain the stock through a fine sieve/strainer thing into another pot to remove the vegetable solids (which you can then throw away). Use the stock in the recipe that follows, or, if you plan on storing it, place the pot in a sink full of ice water and stir to cool it down. Cover and refrigerate for up to one week (you'll need to boil it again after 3-4 days to kill any bacteria if you do this), or freeze.
A few words about this recipe:
It's generally best to stick with low-medium/low heat to make the stock--you don't want to boil the flavor out of it, and don't mess with it/stir it once it's in the pot. If you have more time on your hands, pull the chicken out when it's done, pull the meat from the bones, and throw the bones back into the stock for another hour (or several hours) to add even more flavor/nutrients (longer simmer time=more intense flavor). Resist the urge to salt it--keeping in mind it is just your soup base, not the soup itself (which you can add salt to closer to the end).
If you store it in the fridge for use during the week, you'll notice a layer of fat that congeals on top. That's a good, natural barrier from bacteria/refrigerator odor, so leave it on there, unless you plan on skimming and storing the stock for later use.
Last, if you plan on freezing it, one neat idea I found is to fill up a couple of ice cube trays with the stock--that way, if you ever want to use a small amount for cooking, it's already portioned out and you don't have to waste any (every time I buy the store bought stuff I never use it in time and wind up throwing it out).
Annnd...that's it. It may take awhile for the flavors to come together, but it's not like you need to sit by the stove for an hour and a half watching it. I used part of the time it was cooking to chop up the rest of the ingredients for the soup, which I will now present to you:
Chicken Noodle-less Soup: The Feature Presentation
2 tablespoons grass-fed butter (the original recipe called for extra-virgin olive oil but I'm phasing out of cooking with olive oil at this point, and instead, sticking with good ol' saturated animal fats)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 celery ribs, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
Shredded cabbage (as little/as much as you'd like)
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 quarts chicken stock (Ahem. Recipe above.)
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Place a soup pot over medium heat and coat with butter/oil. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme and bay leaf.
- Cook and stir until the vegetables are softened but not browned (about 10 mins, maybe longer). Pour in the chicken stock and bring the liquid to a boil.
- Add the cabbage and then the chicken, simmering for another couple of minutes to soften the cabbage and heat the chicken. Season to your liking with salt and pepper. Pull out the thyme sprigs and bay leaf.
- Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.
A few words about this recipe:
When I made it, I actually used all of the stock I made (not just the 2 quarts the recipe called for), which meant that I consequently upped the amount of vegetables, chicken (I just used all of the chicken I pulled off the bones), and thyme, and tossed in another bay leaf. I'm the kind of person who has no problem eating soup all week (Lunch: Check), so the larger amount was what I was after from the get-go.
If you're used to soup from a can/pouch, or used to store-bought chicken broth, you may find it to be a little bland--it's because this recipe isn't packed with salt/sodium the way the store bought soups/broths are. You'll find that by simply adding the right amount of salt/pepper, it will taste every bit as awesome as it damn well should.
Now, let's say you're lazy or lacking in kitchen skills/time, and don't want to make your own stock. Well, in that case, I can't promise that this recipe will have nearly the same cooked-from-scratch yumminess to it, (and it won't have the same chock-full-of-gelatin-and-nutrients profile) but you can make store-bought stock more flavorful by adding some cut up vegetables or the carcass/skin of a rotisserie chicken (the meat of which I assume you'd be using in the soup) and simmer for about 30 mins before straining it and throwing the final product together (if you skip the chicken carcass idea, you can just simmer the vegetables right in the stock, add the chicken and herbs, and voila! Super fast chicken soup.)
There's a bunch of other ways to prepare chicken stock though--some people like to roast/saute the chicken/bones first for additional flavor (producing a 'brown stock'), and some people like to just use bones exclusively (which is why it's a good idea to hang onto any chicken carcasses/bones you may have leftover from other dinners to freeze and use later for a stock--same goes with the ends of vegetables you're cutting up--waste not, want not!). You can make a quick stock like this in less than 2 hours, or you can make a long, more drawn-out version, simmering for more than 24. Lots of possibilities.
But basically, what I'm trying to say, is do what our ancestors did and use up every bit of the animals you eat.
Here are some additional links and resources:
Mark's Daily Apple - Cooking with Bones
Mark's Daily Apple - Homemade Chicken Stock
Wikipedia - Stock
Have any tips of your own? Post them here!