Friday, July 29, 2011

Your Grandmother’s Chicken Soup Recipe

For many years I was afraid to make chicken soup. It wasn’t something we had a lot when I was a child (and when we did, I think it came in a can and it always involved noodles), and as I began cooking for myself soup-making itself was slightly intimidating. I mean, homemade soup? It’s an entire meal, not just one dish of a whole. What if I screwed it up? That’s a whole meal destroyed (or multiple meals when you take into account a whole pot of soup).

For years I avoided chicken soup, instead using my soup pot for boiling artichokes and upping my multivitamin dosage to deal with the evil that is the cold. When a sore throat had me down, I just microwave some chicken broth – a little protein without the work. Bland as hell, but it did the job.

Then a couple of years ago a friend scheduled a tonsillectomy, and in preparation had a bunch of us over to make soup she could freeze for her post surgery meals. By this point I’d mastered tomato soup (just add wine…and then more wine…that’s right, get in touch with your inner Julia Child) and a cream of asparagus. My soup paralysis was over, but my repertoire was still small. Besides she was going to be on pain killers, how much could she actually taste? I dutifully copied down my recipes with exact measurements and hauled my soup pot and produce over to her house.

When I arrived another friend was already there with her own hodgepodge of veggies and a package of chicken. We began to chop. For ever cup I carefully measured, she would drop in a handful of this or that into her pot. Potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots: in they went. And when I asked what she was making?

Chicken soup.

It was the first time I’d ever actually seen someone make it from start to finish. Soup making is rarely a short process – you want to let is thicken or cook down – so we spent the day watching movies and drinking wine while we chopped, sautéed, stirred and packaged. I learned that day that the key ingredient to chicken soup – good chicken soup – was time. Oh, and chicken. Everything else is up to you.

She wrote down the recipe for me, but it was more a list of possible ingredients and suggestions than instructions. Still, this was enough. Chicken Soup had been demystified and made accessible.

And with these ingredients, made very tasty.

About year, and many batches of soup later, I had a friend come over to deal with a laptop emergency. As he was trying to de-worm my computer I was cooking, and it’s only right to feed your computer tech, I dished up a bowl of soup and sliced up some crusty bread.

“How did you get my grandmother’s chicken soup recipe?” he asked.*

Your Grandmother’s (Or Your Mother’s, Or Your Aunt Minnie’s, Or Your Next Door Neighbor’s) Chicken Soup Recipe

(Remember: these are all more like guidelines anyway.)

The Ingredients:
  • 1 onion - diced
  • 1-2 Leeks - halved and sliced
  • 3-4 carrots – halved and hopped
  • 3-4 celery (ribs) stalks – thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic – diced
  • 1 package (3-4) chicken thighs (or breasts)
  • 1-2 containers chicken or vegetable broth (containers should be 28 to 32 ounces)
  • 3-4 small potatoes of your choice – cut into 1 in. chunks (I leave the peel on)
  • 1 handful parsley – chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

The Suggestions:

To the soup pot add the onion, leek, garlic, celery and carrots and drizzle with olive oil. Sauté over medium heat until the onions begin to turn clear. Add in the chicken, salt and pepper, and one container of the broth of your choice. Bring the mixture to an almost boil and then reduce down to a simmer.

Cover and walk away for 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove cover and check the chicken. If you can break it up with your spatula/wooden spoon/switchit then it’s time to add the potatoes and the parsley. Increase heat to a medium low and leave the lid off the pot.

Go do something else for another 10 to 15 minutes.

At this point you can add more broth (or water), if a lot of your liquid has been absorbed by your ingredients and let it cook a little longer to blend the flavors, or you can turn off the heat. Using two forks, shred the chicken into manageable pieces. Ladle into your favorite soup bowls and serve.

I suggest pairing it with crusty French bread and butter. Oh and wine.

Because everything is made better by wine. In this case a white would be appropriate.

Because you’re not adding noodles to this recipe** you can freeze it in individual sized containers and pull it out in the future when you don’t have time to prep the recipe from scratch.

For spice, serve with Aardvark hot sauce or Rooster Sauce.

*I think that all Chicken Soup recipes have the same point of origin…and no, it’s not the broth and the chicken. Although to be fair, there were two degrees of separation between the friend who taught me how to make chicken soup and the friend who was fixing my computer. Regardless, the recipe I was following that night was based on what I had in my fridge, so maybe his grandma’s chicken soup recipe really was in the all that and the kitchen sink style.

**If you are going to add noodles you will want that to be in the very last step and serve the dish after the noodles have cooked as long as their package instructs. You can also cook the noodles separately and add them right before serving. Personally I find that noodles get slimy too quickly in leftovers and I love the way that potatoes thicken the broth.

Please note: this will make for some mushy soup as the ingredients all cook for so long. This is the way I like my chicken soup because it feels so damn nice when you are under the weather. If you want your veggies to keep some form, let the chicken simmer in the broth and sauté your veggies on the side. Add them all together and allow to cook for 15 minutes or so to mingle the flavors.

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