Wednesday, 21 May 2008

My First Entry - Chicken Soup

Ok... now that I've decided to begin my career as a food blogger, where do I begin? I don't feel so well right now, so I decided to make a pot of chicken soup for myself. Seemed like the thing to do... Chicken Soup is also a basic staple of cooking - once you know what goes into chicken soup, it is easily converted to veggie soup, chicken stew, chicken noodle, beef stew - anything you like!

This is the same basic recipe I use for my Slow Cooker Chicken Stew and Thick and Hearty Chicken and Dumplings. I've met with a bit of resistance from people making my recipe, because of all the "wasted" veggies, and here is where I will explain the reasons.

First, we'll start with the chicken. My recipe should really be entitled, "How to make homemade chicken stock into chicken soup". If you have an older cookbook (or one that's based on an older version - like Joy of Cooking) you may have a recipe for 'stock'. Newer cookbooks usually leave that recipe out - since we can use canned broth or bullion. Stock is simply water that has something extracted into it - in our case, chicken and vegetables. This is accomplished by long boiling. Back to the chicken... it is important to use dark meat chicken for 2 reasons.

  1. The dark meat of the chicken has more flavor, due to the higher fat content of the meat. People like fattier foods for this very reason. Now before you go all 'health-nut' on me, let me explain. The fat is where the flavor lies, but after we get all that flavor into our stock, the fat is removed by skimming. The same holds true for baking chicken. Even if you don't eat the chicken skin or fat, leave it on during baking. It keeps the chicken moist, and imparts flavor, but then the skin is taken off revealing succulent, tasty meat beneath!

  1. The bones. Back to my cookbook reference, your stock recipe will tell you to use chicken bones left over from baked chicken. If you don't have them, the recipe will tell you to cook raw bones in oil to release the flavors before making stock. The bone marrow is considered a delicacy in many cultures and is fought over by the children. All of this flavor is needed to make a rich stock, and again - any fats will be skimmed off at the end. A chicken breast just doesn't have what it takes - no fat, no bones, not much flavor. Especially when you consider how much water we're using.

OK - enough about the chicken, on to the veggies. If you look at my recipe, you'll see that I use 1 batch of veggies to boil at the beginning, throw them all away, and use a second set for the final soup. This looks terribly wasteful - why throw away all those good veggies instead of eating them? Let me give you a real life demonstration. Why do we steam carrots (for instance)? Picture a perfectly steamed carrot - just tender enough to pierce with a fork, still a bit crisp. Most of the nutrients have been retained - that's why we steam, and don't boil - the nutrients and flavors don't leach out into the water and get thrown away. Now picture an over-done carrot. Limp, light colored, squishy, and without flavor. It's all been boiled away.

So... what if it's the carrot water we wanted to save? If you wanted to make carrot-flavored-water, you'd boil the life out of that carrot, then have nicely flavored water. That's exactly what we're going for here. We want to keep the juices... the veggies have nothing left to give after long boiling - if you ate them, they'd be squishy, life-less and vitamin-less. It's all been boiled away - into our stock.

The only other comment I have about veggies, is why I don't peel them. It's amazing how much flavor we peel away to prepare vegetables. Of course, we can't eat onion peels - they're dirty, may contain bacteria, and are tough and gross in our mouths. But the flavor can't be beat, and since we're throwing all the solid vegetables away, and we're trying for a rich bold stock, we want all the concentrated flavor we can get! So, I just cut the initial batch of veggies into chunks without peeling. (At this blog, a different result is had using the same basic techniques - she makes concentrated stock. Note the whole veggies - the same as I've described them here.) You'll see a marked difference if you make 2 batches of stock - for 1, use chicken breast and peeled vegetables, and only cook it long enough to tenderize the veggies then eat them. For the other, follow my methods. You'll never go back.

Basic Chicken Soup

Just one more comment on the veggies. Every basic soup stock requires onion, celery and carrots. This applies to chicken, beef, fish and vegetable stocks. (Get a hold of a traditional cookbook - it will back me up) Even if you aren't partial to celery, for instance, it isn't the flavor of celery that you will taste. It's the combination of those 3 vegetables that come together to create the well-rounded, over all flavor of a good stock. Now, on to the recipe.

3 lbs chicken parts (preferably dark meat, frozen or thawed)
10 cups water
7 carrots
5 stalks celery
2 onions
4-8 cloves garlic (depending on how much you like garlic - 4 cloves will just add a touch of flavor)
2 chicken bullion cubes (this adds many various seasonings and salt - i haven't been able to discover exactly which herbs they contain, so I still use them)
1 t. salt
1 T. parsley (dried)
1/2 t. ground pepper

  1. Place chicken (frozen or fresh) and water into bottom of a large soup pot. Chunk these vegetables, unpeeled, into about 2" pieces and add - 3 carrots, 2 celery, 1 onion, 4 cloves garlic (cut them in half. No need to peel the onions either, and add extra garlic 'paper' from the outside of your bulb). Add 2 bullion cubes - no need to crush.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer for about 2 hours. The chicken will be done after about 1 hour, but we want to be sure to get all the veggie juices.
  3. Pour through a colander over a very large bowl. Remove the chicken, throw away the veggies. Shred chicken when it is cool enough to handle, throw away any fat, skin and bones.
  4. Cut remaining carrots into quarters lengthwise, then slice, mince celery, chop onion.
  5. Rinse out your pot to remove any veggie skins, then put the stock, veggies and remaining spices over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook just until the veggies are tender - about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

This is the basic chicken soup. Use this exact same recipe to make beef soup - just change the meat (be sure it is in small pieces - better with bones!).

Of course, if you're just after the stock, to use in another recipe, it's ready to go after you strain out the veggies and chicken. For my "sick-day-soup" I doubled the garlic and added chunks of un-peeled ginger to the first boil to add helpful nutrients. Refrigerate the stock (before or after finishing the soup) to firm up the fats on top, then skim them off if you like. I don' t usually bother - there's not that much. For Chicken Noodle, just add about 2-3 C. of egg noodles with the veggies once the soup is boiling- they should take 10 minutes to cook.


Anonymous said...

Corn starch or rice flour really help give a creamier texture, I make stock withthis every weekend, so it must work.

Carrie said...

This is chicken soup - it's not designed to be creamy. That's why I have other recipes for stew, or dumplings. Besides, I don't like the texture of cornstarch - too syrupy.