Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup

"A person can develop a cold” - Adelaide’s Lament, Guys And Dolls

The past week of snow, air travel and icy winds followed by balmy temperatures can really strain one’s immune system. I caught a cold and this one really made itself at home, settling one by one into my usually resistant sinuses, throat and chest. Finally, tired of being tired and dragging around a bottle of hand sanitizer, I marched out to the Carrboro’s Farmer’s Market Saturday morning. I got some “Free Ranger” chicken backs and necks (they were out of feet) and the last bunch of winter carrots to make chicken soup. 

Bone broth is one of the latest health fads, though I fail to see any real difference between bone broth and homemade chicken soup.  Either way, both contain an amazing array of minerals, anti-inflammatories and digestive aids that help with both chronic conditions and acute viral infections. And there’s plenty of scientific evidence that chicken soup really does reduce and shorten the length of cold symptoms.

I went home with my treasures and I added thyme, plenty of garlic (also known to ward off evil spirits), onion, more celery, parsley, salt and pepper. I left the big pot simmering on the stove for 10 hours and let it cool overnight. Meanwhile, my house was filled with the rich homey scent of soup and a much needed infusion of moisture for my winter-worn skin and throat. 

Sunday morning I removed the bones and filled a bowl with the chicken pieces that had fallen off of them. I cut up the soggy carrots for the dog’s dish and discarded everything else but the rich broth.  And that is where the tricky part..or shall I say, the art of the soup - comes in. I resisted seasoning with salt until I tasted it. The broth needed to reduce or cook down by about 25 percent to concentrate the flavors. If you add too much salt at the beginning, the concentrated soup will be way too salty. 

I put some in the freezer, left some for a neighbor with a sore throat and then poured the remainder in a sauce pan. I added turmeric for color and its anti-inflammatory properties, lots of fresh pepper, some tri-colored sprouted whole grain rice, some of the reserved chicken pieces, peas because they are sweet and pretty, and finally salted everything to taste. 

I sniffled and slurped my way through lunch, my cough lessened and loosened and I was beginning to feel like my usual self. Maybe it was a placebo effect. But what a lovely way to trick myself into feeling better.

 

Chicken Soup

There are really only two ways to not achieve a perfectly lovely soup: too much salt and not enough flavor. To avoid potential salt problems, add salt sparingly until the broth is finished so as it naturally reduces, it will not concentrate that flavor too much. As for richness, don’t spare adding extra carrots, celery or garlic to the pot. If it is still tasting “thin”, reduce the soup after straining by boiling until the overall volume is decreased. 

One thing I do is to save chicken carcasses or unused parts like backs from whole roasted chickens in a container in my freezer. Another trick I have learned is that it is unnecessary to peel the carrots or even remove the tops. Just make sure they are free of grit. If you want a darker color for your stock, leave on the onion skins too--it is a natural dye!

2 to 3 pounds of bony chicken parts, such as necks, backs, wings or feet if available or the carcasses of a previously roasted bird

1 large onion, cut into quarters

3 medium carrots, cut into a few pieces

3 celery stalks, cut into a few pieces, tops included

4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 handful of fresh parsley

a few sprigs of thyme (or a teaspoon of dried)

8 peppercorns

1 teaspoon salt

Place the ingredients into a large pot or crockpot. Add enough water to cover by at least two to three inches (depending on the size of your pot). Bring to a boil, and remove any scum that rises to the top. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and let simmer (barely bubbling) at least eight hours and even up to 24 hours to leech all the minerals out of the bones and the flavors out of the vegetables and chicken. Make sure if you are not attending the stove, or putting it on overnight, that the heat is low enough not to boil out all the water.

Strain the bones and vegetables into another bowl or pot. Taste for seasoning, reduce if the broth seems too thin and then add more salt. Refrigerate or freeze stock that you won’t use immediately. Serve alone or with additional diced cooked vegetables, rice, noodles or chicken meat.

Makes about 3-4 quarts of broth.

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