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For their own good
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Forget chicken soup for the soul. - Give me a bowl of steam-rising, noodle-swimming, chicken-chunkin' soup strictly for taste buds and tummy. This is the elixir that has the power to soothe, even more so than a collection of inspirational stories for dog lovers, anglers, teenagers, grandparents and, my favorite, scrapbookers.
Before the "Chicken Soup" book series harnessed the ideological power of chicken soup for self-help purposes, there was just the soup. In the beginning, it was made over an open fire by boiling a whole chicken and sturdy and aromatic vegetables in water. Seasonings varied from fresh herbs to ginger. As early as the 12th century, chicken soup's curative powers were revered.
The Campbell Soup Co. began mass-marketing the doctor's orders in 1934 and since then, the red-and-white soup can just add water has made many an appearance on sick days. The steamy curls of broth hit the nose first, and tentative sips of hot liquid can be felt all the way down. There, there, don't you feel better already?
You don't need to have the sniffles and sneezes to make homemade chicken noodle soup, broth and all. However, if that's what it takes to get you into the kitchen to cook something inexpensive and truly wholesome, so be it.
In this case, the chicken comes first.
Taking stock of stock
Making chicken noodle soup with prepared broth is certainly acceptable, and your choices are many, including organic and low-sodium, low-fat varieties. For a quick chicken soup, these are good alternatives.
When you make your own broth, however, you are rewarded with a richly flavored liquid that contains natural flavorings. When tasted alone, its attributes are subtle, but in the end product, it makes a great difference.
A word here about the difference between stock and broth. Technically, stocks are made from bones and broths rendered from bones, plus meat. So when you simmer a whole chicken in water and vegetables, the finished product is broth. A broth, once seasoned with salt and pepper, can be eaten as is, whereas stock doesn't stand well on its own. The terms are often used interchangeably in cookbooks and home kitchens.
To make broth for chicken noodle soup, I use a whole, natural fryer. Discard the bag of gizzards and stuff (or cook it up for a pet treat). To reduce the fat, I remove that big glop around the tail area.
I let carrots, celery, turnip, garlic, onions, bay leaf, peppercorns and fresh thyme flavor the broth, leaving salt and pepper for the finished soup. In about 90 minutes of simmering on the stove, it all comes together.
(You can use other combinations of herbs and seasonings to suit your tastes. I learned this combination from TV chef Tyler Florence.)
Remove the chicken to cool; fish out and toss the veggies. Next, strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, back and forth several times, to remove any impurities. Put the broth in the refrigerator to cool. As it cools, the fat rises to the top, and I skim it off.
The hard part is over.
Putting it all together
Making the soup from this point is a snap. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, the skin peels off easily and the meat falls from the bone. A 4-pound bird will yield about four cups of meat.
(At this point in the process, it struck me how economical chicken soup is, especially since many ingredients are already in the pantry or fridge. The most expensive part was the chicken. I paid $6 for a 4-pounder.)
To make the soup, saute diced veggies (usually the same combination you've used for the broth) in a large stockpot, then add the cooled broth, heating until it's bubbly. Throw in the seasonings.
Now you have to make a decision about the noodles. Wide egg noodles are standard, but vermicelli is tasty, too. Consider wee alphabet pasta for the kids.
Here's a warning: Do not overload the pot with noodles. The dried pasta will soak up broth and make a big mush out of the soup. Add just as much pasta as you think you'll need for the first go-around. If you've made enough soup for leftovers, cook the noodles separately the next day and add them. You can even boil them in half water, half prepared broth for more flavor.
Salt intake is an issue for a lot of people. By making chicken noodle soup at home, you - not the factory hundreds of miles away - control the sodium. I added about 2 teaspoons (less than 1/4 teaspoon per serving) to the nearly finished soup and that worked for most of my family. The only one not on blood pressure medication brought the pinch bowl of kosher salt to the table.
I guess chicken soup is good for the soul. Especially when the soul likes to cook.
MAIN COURSE Chicken Noodle Soup 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 4 fresh thyme sprigs 1 medium onion, chopped 3 garlic cloves, minced 3 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices 2 celery ribs, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices 1 bay leaf 4 quarts chicken broth, see accompanying recipe 8 ounces dried wide egg noodles 4 cups shredded cooked chicken Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste (see note) 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Place a soup pot over medium heat and coat with the oil. While oil is heating, strip thyme leaves from woody stems. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme leaves and bay leaf to oil. Cook and stir for about 6 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.
- Pour in the chicken broth and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the noodles and simmer for 5 minutes until tender. Fold in chicken, and continue to simmer for another couple of minutes to heat through; season with salt and pepper. Fish out bay leaf.
- Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: This soup might be bland for people used to eating saltier dishes. Add salt to suit your taste, but the soup will need at least 1 tablespoon.
Source: Adapted from Tyler Florence, Food Network
BROTH Chicken Broth 1 whole free-range chicken (about 4 pounds), giblets discarded or reserved for another use 2 unpeeled carrots, cut in large chunks 3 celery stalks, including leafy tops, cut in large chunks 2 large, unpeeled white onions, quartered 1 head of unpeeled garlic, halved 1 turnip, halved 1/4 bunch fresh thyme 2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- Place the chicken and vegetables in a large stockpot over medium heat. Pour in only enough cold water to cover (about 3 quarts); too much will make the broth weak.
- Toss in the thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns, and allow to slowly come to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 1 to 11/2 hours, partly covered, until the chicken is done. As it cooks, skim any impurities that rise to the surface; add a little more water if necessary to keep the chicken covered while simmering.
- Carefully remove the chicken to a cutting board. When it's cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones; hand-shred the meat into a storage container.
- Carefully strain the broth through a fine sieve into another pot to remove the vegetable solids. Use the broth immediately, or if you plan on storing it, place the pot in a sink full of ice water and stir to cool down the broth. Cover and refrigerate for up to one week or freeze. As it cools, fat will congeal on the surface. Skim off and discard or save for another use.
Makes 4 quarts.
Source: Adapted from Tyler Florence, Food Network
ACCOMPANIMENT Easy Dinner Muffins 1 egg 1 cup milk 1/4 cup salad oil 2 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 cup sugar 3 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease muffin tin cups (paper liners not needed).
- Beat egg with a whisk; stir in milk and oil. Mix in remaining ingredients just until flour is moistened. Batter should be lumpy.
- Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from pan.
Makes 12 muffins.
Variation: Add 1/2 teaspoon each of dried basil, oregano, garlic powder and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese to the wet ingredients before adding dry to make herb-cheese muffins.