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Chicken soup might be one of the easiest things to make. Buy the ingredients, throw it in a pot, cover it with water and let it simmer for 3 hours. Set it and forget it (well, almost). Simple enough. Yet, it is one of those dishes that can require just a little bit of finesse to make it extra special, the way your grandma used to make it.
First things first.
What kind of chicken soup are you? Which kind do you prefer? Do you like the deep yellow, salty kind (add a bouillon cube or two close to the end of cooking)? Do you like deep, chicken flavor but a light, clear broth filled with bits of chicken, vegetables, and other fixings (recipe below)? What about the rich darker variety found at a Chinese restaurant (for this choice, chicken bones are roasted before simmering the broth)?
For all of these varieties, the soup starts with the chicken.
One chicken is not like the rest. Preferably, choose a kosher chicken or a free-range organic variety. Your soup will come out with superior results.
Where can I find Free Range or Kosher chickens on Long Island?
At most supermarkets, where they are usually separated into special sections. Of course Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Fairway and Wild by Nature will have what you want, as will a Kosher butcher or a butcher that sells Prime Meats. But don’t let that deter you. If you can’t find Kosher or Free-Range, or if they are a bit too pricey for you, choose the freshest date possible and a chicken that is slightly yellow and even in skin tone.
How large a chicken? The more breast meat the better, right?
Bigger breasts are not better here. Rather, you want big boned. Choose a chicken that will fit snugly in your pot. For an 8 quart stockpot, a small 2.75 lb chicken is sufficient. You might want to supplement the chicken with a small package of wings (which are mostly bones) to give your dish extra flavor. Remember, it is the bones that will give your broth the most flavor, so another option might be to purchase only chicken backs. If you do not see the backs on the supermarket shelves ask your butcher or meat purveyor to see what he or she has in the back. You would be surprised that the backs are indeed available and super inexpensive (maybe even free!)
Do I have to watch the pot all day?
No, not after the initial 20 minutes of boiling the liquid. You can even use your crock pot or set your pot inside your oven on low heat and go about your business. Those methods will all yield good results, but here is the secret to clear, pure chicken soup greatness: stick around for the first 20 minutes after your soup comes to the initial boil to skim off the impurities.
Why is this important?
This is important because the proteins in your chicken and vegetables will come to the surface and create a foamy scum that needs to be removed. If you do not take the time to remove it, your broth will be cloudy and bitter.
Can I use skinless chicken in this soup?
Why? Are you worried about fat? The skin will add an element of richness, deep in flavor and any fat that accumulates in your broth can be removed with a fat separator or spoon. Again, it is the bones that gives the broth its character and depth in flavor. So stop worrying. You can always add a sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs if that’s what you like to the hot broth if you like extra chicken in your soup!
Can I use this soup in recipes that call for chicken stock?
Of course! Technically, chicken stock is a richer, more condensed broth usually made with roasted bones (similar to Chinese chicken soup), but this recipe will do just fine in your everyday recipes.
Can I freeze my soup?
Yes. Just make sure that your broth is room temperature (so that no bacteria will grow). If you have time, chill your soup in the refrigerator overnight to make sure you removed all the fat which will solidify on the top of your broth. Place your broth in small 1/2 cup freezer containers or in a clean ice cube tray. Remove frozen cubes after they are frozen to a Ziploc freezer bag. Your frozen soup (or cubes) will last for 4-6 months in the freezer. Remember that liquid expands, so leave a 1/4″ below the top of your container to keep a tight seal on your container.
Note on bouillon cubes: Be mindful of the sodium and MSG content in most bouillon products. They are usually loaded with them. If you want a natural yellow color, try stirring in a tablespoon of Annatto oil (find it in the Spanish section of your market or make your own) or a teaspoon or so of dry turmeric.
Note on salting broth: We prefer salting our pot of soup after we remove our chicken and vegetables. This way, we can better control our seasoning. Chicken soup is quite bland without salt, but it is one of those dishes that everyone weighs in on as far as sodium. “Wow! This is salty!” or “Can you pass the salt, please”, or “Taste it first, it tastes salty enough to me”. Watch and listen… you will probably hear these types of comments and find that everyone has a different level of sodium tolerance.
Bottom Line: Chicken soup is worth your time and truly takes minimal effort. It is worth mastering for those moments when a little comfort food will go a long way! Most of all, it will make your Mama proud!
The Best Chicken Soup
Makes 3 quarts of soup
- 1 2.75-3 lb. whole chicken (or other parts, see above) Choose a Kosher, Free Range or Organic variety for the best flavor. Giblets removed for another usage.
- 8 chicken wings (Kosher, Free Range, or Organic preferable)
- 1 turnip, washed with peel intact
- 2 unpeeled, washed carrots, cut in 1/2
- 2 celery ribs, cut in 1/2
- 1 small leek, root intact, washed thoroughly
- 1 medium yellow onion, washed and left with peel intact for color
- 1 bundle of fresh parsley, tied with kitchen twine
- 2 bay leaves
- 10 peppercorns
- Fresh Dill weed, tied in bundle, optional
- cold water (preferably filtered)
- salt and pepper to taste
Wash your chicken under cold water. Remove any giblets and packaged liver for another usage. Place chicken, chicken backs if you are using those and wings in an 8 quart, heavy bottomed stock pot. (We like Le Creuset brand) Arrange vegetables around chicken so that all items fit snugly in your pot. Add bay leaves, whole peppercorns and parsley (and dill if using) bundles. Cover chicken and vegetables with cold water.
Bring filled pot to the boil and start skimming off all the foam that will begin to accumulate. After about 20 minutes, the foam will subside. Lower your heat to a simmer, cover pot and simmer for about 3 hours. You may place pot in 250′ oven if you wish. Occasionally check your soup making sure that all your ingredients are submerged in liquid. If they are not, add a little bit more water.
Carefully remove chicken and vegetables to a strainer which is sitting inside a large bowl. Press down on your vegetables and herb bundles to release and save juices and then discard them. Place chicken on a plate, tent with aluminum foil and allow to come to room temperature. Once cooled, you may want to remove and discard skin, bones and any unsavory items and set aside pieces for soup or save for another usage.
Strain broth through a fine mesh sieve. If you do not own one, place a paper towel or coffee filter inside a colander and strain through to capture any little bits not welcome in your soup. Your broth will be clear and sufficiently yellow. Taste your soup for seasoning and add the appropriate amounts of salt and pepper to your liking.
De-fatting note: Chicken soup yields a fair amount of fat and grease. The best and easiest method is the overnight process. You may refrigerate your broth after bringing it to room temperature. All of the fat will rise to the top and can be easily removed at this point. A second method, if you choose to eat your soup right away, is to place all the liquid in a fat seperator or measuring cup and pour out soup until you get to the unsavory grease.
Serving suggestions (the sky is the limit here):
- Matzoh Balls or Dumplings, better known as Kreplach
- Noodles: Egg noodles, Tortellini, Ramen, Soba or Lo Mein
- Fresh herbs: dill, parsley, thyme, cilantro
- Greens: escarole, romaine lettuce or bok choy
- Mini Chicken Meatballs, roast pork, thinly sliced beef or seafood
- Vegetables: carrot, celery, potato, peas, turnips, jalepeno pepper or parsnips
- Seasonings: soy sauce, sesame oil, cayenne pepper, white pepper, freshly squeezed lime
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I’ve written about some other helpful Long Island Resources:
- listings of Long Island Grocery Stores, including specialty shops and those that deliver
- listings of where to purchase Prime Dry Age Meats on Long Island
- listings of where to purchase & how to pick a lobster ( + other seafood) on Long Island
- listings of Grocery 101: Basic Staples Lists
- listings of Grocery 101: Essential Store able Groceries for Emergency Weather Conditions
Some other articles either from me or other Examiners:
- Chicken Soup and Swine Flu
- What is Organic Chicken?
- Kosher Valley. The New Chicken in Town