Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chicken soup 101.

What's better than a good 'ol bowl of comforting chicken soup in the fall?

Well probably a lot of things, but for the sake of this post, the appropriate answer is "nothing!"

I decided it's time to bring back some recipe fun on this blog, and chicken soup seemed like a good way to start.

Just a heads up, this might be a rather long post, because I have a lot to say. :)

Chicken soup is so versatile... you have your chicken and noodle, chicken and rice, chicken and veggie, etc. Pretty much anything can go in a chicken soup.

But wait! Before you start adding all those delicious goodies to the soup, there is one crucial ingredient that should be given some good TLC - the stock. I try to use homemade stock, but of course, in a pinch, there's always the "go to" store bought stock (or broth). However, the benefit of preparing homemade stock is that you can control all the ingredients that go in AND, as opposed to broth, which is usually what you find in stores, stock is full of nutrients from being cooked with veggies and the chicken bones.

Ok so how do you make homemade chicken stock? First you gotta have a chicken. Generally, I'll roast a chicken for dinner the night before so I'm good to go when it's time to make the stock. You could always pick up one of those roasted chickens at the grocery store too (if you prefer to not prep your own raw chicken or are short on time). Either will do... the important thing is just to have the bones of a chicken. Be sure to get most of the meat off the bones so that you can add it to the soup later. Once you have your chicken carcass (sounds kinda gross), place it in a big pot (I use a big cast iron pot), cover it with water, and bring to a boil. While the water comes to a boil, clean and cut one or two carrots, celery stalks, and onion (just one or two big cuts will do). These are going to help season the stock, as well as give it some additional nutrients. Drop in the veggies, along with a whole garlic clove or two. Now time for seasoning... add in a good helping of salt (maybe a teaspoon or so?) and pepper. Cover and let the chicken simmer on low heat for a good long while - at least 2-3 hours or more. *Keep an eye on it to make sure the water isn't evaporating.* Once the stock has cooked, strain out all of the bones and veggies.

And voila - you've made homemade chicken stock! Store in the fridge for up to five days or in the freezer for a month or two. I like to make a large amount so I can use half and freeze the other half for another day.

Now that we have our nutrient rich stock, let's get to cooking the chicken soup.

Today, I made chicken and rice soup. To begin, start by heating your stock and pour in about a 1/2 cup rice (any type will do - I prefer a long grain brown rice).

While bringing your stock up to boil, prep the veggies. In my fridge, I had carrots, celery, a butternut squash, and a rutabaga. I diced the veggies, along with an onion from the pantry, in to nice size chunks (I prefer bigger, hearty chunks).

Place all of the veggies in the pot and reduce the heat to a low simmer.

Now time to add more flavor... salt and pepper to taste, as well as thyme and one or two bay leaves (either of these may be omitted if you don't like the taste). I like to add freshly minced garlic as well, but I didn't have any, so I sprinkled in some garlic powder. If you like spice, a pinch of red pepper flakes could be added.

Once you've added everything in to the pot, let it simmer for 30-45 minutes until the veggies are fork tender and the rice is cooked. You might be wondering, "what about the chicken?" Well, I add the chicken closer to the end of the cooking time since it is already cooked and I prefer not to cook it until it's too tough. Today I didn't actually have leftover chicken, so I just roasted a breast in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes and diced it up into bite size pieces.

Once the soup is done, ladle up a bowl and serve with a nice slice of cornbread. :)

As mentioned above, there are LOTS of variations to a chicken soup. For instance: you could add any type of pasta (egg noodles, macaroni, spaghetti, tortellini, etc) or rice (white, brown, wild, etc). And the vegetable options are limitless: carrots, celery, onion, parsnip, rutabaga, turnip, butternut squash, spinach, mushrooms, peas, green beans, potatoes, etc. Be creative - this is a great time to try new veggies.

So there you have it, cronies... chicken soup!

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