Every heart, now and again, needs warming. Whether I had a stuffy nosed toddler curled up in my lap, a feverish fourth grader bundled in bed, or a heart broken pre-teen venting in the passenger seat after a hard day…the first and best remedy was, and is, homemade chicken soup. This rich, golden broth has never failed to soothe, comfort and convey a sense of “everything is going to be okay.” Of the myriad ways to say, “I love you”, this is one of my favorites.
The most challenging aspect of deciding to share my soup with you, dear reader, was having to pass along a recipe. Not because I’m a recipe hog who doesn’t like sharing my secrets…I kind of don’t, but that’s not why. It’s because I don’t have a recipe. I don’t measure. I don’t think about it. I just make it. I grab my six main ingredients, the starting line-up, if you will, and then I go rogue. The recipe varies depending on what I have on hand and what ailment I am attempting to heal. If my kids are struggling with viruses and battling illness I tend to go heavy on the fennel and ginger (anti-inflammatory properties) and keep the ingredients simple and easy to digest. If it’s just the dead of winter and our bones need thawing I may decide a few potatoes and cream are in order. I guess what I’m trying to convey is a sense of reckless abandon. A sense of freedom. A sense that, try as you might, you can’t screw this up. Stick to the basic stock and a few must-haves, then go nuts. The recipe that follows is my basic soup. Your possibilities are endless. Enjoy.
Favorite Chicken Soup
1 whole chicken (whole/cut up/four thighs a breast and a drumstick….whatever)
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 bulb fennel, cleaned, chopped
2 inches of ginger root, grated/chopped/sliced (whatever your preference)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & pepper
1.Start by prepping all of your ingredients. Rinse and pat the chicken dry. Chop all the veggies. You have the option of leaving all the veggies in the stock and adding fresher veggies later, or discarding all cooking veggies, adding the fresh ones before serving. I like to leave them in. If you’ll be discarding the stock vegetables, leave them quartered instead of chopped.
2. I always brown any meat that I intend to cook slowly. Heat olive oil in a big pot over medium to medium high heat and brown your chicken. Remove & drain all but 2 tablespoons of oil.
3. Add all chopped veggies, stirring often to keep them from browning. I usually add dry herbs here. Thyme, sage and a bay leaf are my standards. You can add ground mustard seed, cayenne, red pepper flakes…be creative.
4. When onions are a starting to soften and become translucent add chicken back to pot.
5. Cover chicken with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2-4 hours. About every hour, skim the oil and fat from the top of the liquid.
6. It’s time to drain. Here’s where your options come in. You can:
a. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove all chicken, leaving behind all of the chopped veggies.
b. using a colander placed over a very large bowl or pot, drain stock completely. Be sure and use towels to protect yourself from heat and steam.
7. Spread the cooked chicken out onto a baking sheet or shallow pan to cool.
8. If you drained the stock, add it back to the pot and simmer. If you wish to add fresh veggies, now is the time. I usually add fresh carrots and more fennel, as well as any other vegetables I want to introduce. Potatoes, kale, zucchini, mushrooms, corn…there’s really no going wrong, buddy! If you wish to add egg noodles or rice, now is your moment. Red lentils are also amazing in this dish. Just a few handfuls does the trick.
9. While your stock is still simmering, carefully pick through the cooked chicken, adding the meat back to your soup. Be careful to avoid adding skin or small bones. Nothing can ruin the seduction of soup like choking on a chicken bone.
10. Once all of the chicken is back in the soup and veggies are all cooked, turn heat off and allow soup to sit for at least 10 minutes. It’s damn hot and needs a moment so the the flavors have a little time to get to know each other.
11. Salt & pepper to taste. Ladle up and serve with crusty bread.