Chicken soup

chicken little … Chicken soup

We're gonna go basic on a very

Useful life skill: converting a whole small animal into an absolutely enormous quantity of very nutritious, very tasty food.

Throw it in the fridge and feed

Yourself with it all week.

This is chicken soup 101. I've got a 4 pound, 2 kilo chicken here. Pretty standard. And I rinsed the bag off in the sink so that now I can do this. Just drop it into my biggest pot. Cut the package open. This keeps the mess contained and all of the juice in here is edible and great for the stock.

Look inside the cavity where the internal organs used to be and you're likely to still find some of them in a little bag. These are the giblets. The gizzard, the neck, the liver, the heart — all excellent for the stock so just drop them in the pot. Get rid of all that packaging. If you have some old vegetables around — like I've got this shriveled half an onion that's been in my fridge for a week — sure, throw that in too, but I would not waste good stuff on the stock. I'm cutting off the dirty tips of the roots but keeping that whole so I can just lift it out later. Time to fill this up with water — slowly, so that we do not splash raw chicken juice everywhere. I usually use filtered water from my fridge because it tastes better, but let's see if.

I can actually perceive the difference in the finished soup with tap water. The culinary school types tell you to start a stock with cool water. That does result in a slightly less cloudy stock, but it doesn't make a big difference. The public health types tell you to cook with cool tap water because hot tap water is more likely to have some dissolved lead or other badness from antiquated pipe systems in it, so that's a reason to start with cool water. Heat on high, put the lid on to retain energy so it all heats up faster, and then when once it's really bubbling I'll reduce the heat to a spirited simmer, cover that and just let cook for an hour or two. Plenty of time prep my vegetables. I like zucchini in brothy soups because zucchini has a lot of mucilage and that thickens the soup a little. Okra would do an even better job of that.

Remember that vegetables shrink a lot when they cook, so make your chunks bigger than you want. Celery — I'll only need one of these. Dirt can hide out between the ribs, so I'll rinse these under the sink. Nice and clean. The leaves in the core make a great garnish at the end, so I will save those for later, and then I'll just slice up the ribs. In the bowl with those. I've got a couple small onions. I'll cut those in half, peel, snip off the blossom ends, and for soups I like to cut onions into little half moons.

Those look pretty and they are slurpable, but if you just want the flavor and not much texture, dice them up fine. Cut off the root to release the layers and they all break apart. In the bowl with the onions.

I really like some garlic in chicken soup.

I'll cut off the root ends, smash to release the skin, pull out the cloves and chop them up a little bit. I definitely want carrots — probably just half of these. Up to you if you want to peel them, but if you don't, you have to scrub them a bit. Get rid of those peels, and now I can slice those into rounds.

I hope it goes without saying that you can use any vegetables you want, not just these particular ones. But I would advise using a lot of vegetables — at least as much raw weight of veggies as chicken. To me the chief virtue of a fresh meat stock is that it makes large quantities of healthier, cheaper and more sustainable vegetables taste fantastic. Last thing I've got is parsnips. Definitely gotta peel these when they get this big. Parsnips are kinda like a cross between carrots and potatoes but with a strong herbal note. I'll cut off the fat ends so that I can quarter those before slicing them, and then the thin ends I can just slice into rounds. That's it for all the chopping.

That's gonna make taking the meat of the bone really easy. Be careful to drain the hot broth out of the cavity before you move this, or else you might scald yourself. There's one of the leg quarters — that's gonna be luscious. I can pull that old onion out — that's just going straight to the compost. Fish around for all the other solids.

You can strain this if you want,

You can skim off the "impurities" as the culinary school types call them.

But remember there's nothing in this pot

That wouldn't be in a whole roast chicken that you would eat.

It's all edible, except for the bones.

Skimming is mostly for cosmetics and you don't have to do it. But if you want to get out all those little particulates, stir in an egg or two, then let it simmer a minute and all the egg proteins will flocculate, trapping any little bits between them. Then you can skim off the egg or pass everything through a strainer. They use a similar trick at your local wastewater treatment plant. Squeaky clean, though I left in the rendered chicken fat. The fat is delicious and proportionally there's gonna be very little of it in the final soup. Time to put the vegetables in. I put them in this bowl in reverse order of how long they take to cook.

That way I can easily put the slowest cooking vegetables in first, but I'm being too precious. It's just soup. I want is soft vegetables — I'm just gonna throw them all in at the same time. It should look at this stage like there isn't enough liquid, because a ton of water is gonna come pouring out of the vegetables as they cook. You can always add more water later. I'll give those a couple big pinches of salt to start with so the pieces can absorb some seasoning. But be conservative — we can always add more salt to taste at the end. Those veggies will take at least a half an hour of simmering to get soft, which is plenty of time to pick the meat off this chicken after it has cooled.

All the bones and skin and stuff I'll put on this plate. The chicken is super soft so the meat just slides right off. I highly recommend getting dirty and doing this with your hands — that way you can feel around for blubbery bits of fat you don't want to eat or chunks of cartilage like that one. Anything I don't want to eat just goes on the plate. The breasts you can just pull off the carcass. It's that easy if you simmer the chicken until soft. Pull off all the meat and there, that looks like a Giger painting. Get rid of that.

Up to you if you want to fight for the meat that's in the wings. There's not much. OK, there's all our picked meat, and because we cooked it soft, it's gonna shred in the soup. But I'm not making ropa vieja here. I don't want super long threads of meat in my soup. They're hard to eat. So I'm just gonna run my knife through this whole pile a couple times, cutting across those meat fibers so that when the pieces fall apart in the soup I'm not gonna have any super long strings. You could put this meat into the soup any time before you eat it.

It's fully cooked, obviously.

This would be a good time to

Put in any dry noodles if you want that — just don't put in very many, because they're gonna expand a ton.

Half an hour later the veggies look almost soft enough. I'll taste for seasoning. Needs more salt. It might seem like a lot of salt, but there's like a dozen portions in here. Plenty of pepper. I'm just doing a very simply flavored, Euro-American style soup here.

That's what I want today. But another day I might put in a bunch of lemongrass and ginger and chili and fish sauce. The one spice I will use today is turmeric. It's got a nice subtle flavor that you might actually notice in a dish this mild. Turmeric is probably very good for you, and it's going to give this the beautiful golden-yellow color that I expect of chicken soup. If you think this is cheating, look at the ingredients of any prepackaged chicken soup or chicken stock product — you will almost certainly see turmeric. Everybody does it. I'll taste a carrot to make sure everything is soft enough and we are good.

At the last minute I'll throw in those celery leaves we saved, and maybe some parsley, but you can always add herbs straight to the bowl and they will stay greener that way. We are done. Ladle that out. Maybe some more parsley, and what I really like is a little squeeze of lemon juice, or maybe a drop of vinegar. I like that, Lauren doesn't, so I add it straight to my own bowl. The flavor also stays fresher this way. Unbelievably delicious, nutritious, and inexpensive. I'll eat it out of the fridge all week long.

And hey, if you want to be really frugal, you can take all those bones and skin and other scraps and brown them off in the oven a little bit. A lot of their flavor is already in our soup, so the browning helps compensate. Throw those into a pot, simmer for a couple hours, strain, and it doesn't have the same fresh taste as a stock made with un-browned chicken, but it's got lots of flavor and body. You put in some whole grains, like farro, some vegetables, butter and herbs and, baby, you've got a stew going...