The Way of Cooking: Chicken Soup Revisited

Happy National Homemade Soup Day! Truth to tell, I didn't know such a day existed until my sis-in-law, Tra, sent us an e-card to commemorate this happy day! (Thanks for the head's-up, Tra!) We can't let an occasion like this pass, especially when there is a soup-in-waiting in the fridge as we speak.

We've touched on the healing properties of soup, especially chicken soup, earlier, and how centuries of folk wisdom is now backed by clinical study (see
Chicken Tinola post). Chicken soup is the first thing I think to make for anyone in crisis, whether it's illness, death in the family, or other emotional stress. When someone has no appetite, simply sipping some chicken soup broth can be reviving and sustaining.

Even when travelling last month, I had a chance to make chicken and vegetable soup with another sister-in-law, Angie, in Seattle on my way back to Hawaii. With the rain and damp that typifies the great Northwest of the US, and after 5 days of travelling and eating unwell, it was a luxurious comfort to sit down to a bowl of homemade soup. Angie started the soup off in the crockpot with a whole chicken, a couple of fingers of ginger, and a couple of carrots. After a night of bubbling and simmering, the chicken and vegetables were removed and the broth decanted to a shallow container to cool; then refrigerated at least 4 hours to allow the rich fat layer to congeal for easy removal. Since we used a whole chicken this time (as opposed to just chicken backs, as in the Chicken Tinola recipe), we kept the de-boned breast and thigh meat to return to the soup pot (store separate from broth).

An hour prior to dinner, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, corn, celery, green beans, kale and fun pasta shapes (we used "Shrek" pasta from a box of macaroni-and-cheese) were added to a boiling broth, along with the diced meat. With some Tafelbrotchen (water rolls) and Brezeln from the authentic Deutscher Baeckerei, Hess' Bakery, in nearby Lakewood, everyone enjoyed the hearty soup, even restaurant-critic-in-training, 5-year-old, Masato.

When my dad arrived on Oahu a couple of days after my return, we had chicken and veggie soup again to stave off any airline-borne "cooties." This time, zucchini, watercress, carrots, potatoes, corn, and whole wheat penne complemented the broth (from stewing hens) and chicken meat. Generous slabs of skillet-baked cornbread rounded out the meal. Chicken vegetable soup is as versatile as it is nutritious
you can use just about any vegetable or combination of vegetables to create a soup you will love.

Enjoy your soup today!

The Broth:
2 stewing/soup hens (about 3 lbs/1.5 kg, total weight)
OR 5-6 lbs (2.5-3kg) assorted fresh chicken bones from your butcher
OR 1 whole chicken fryer (3-3.5 lb/1.5-2kg)
1 hand of ginger, scrubbed well and sliced lengthwise (peeling is optional)
1 lb. carrots, scrubbed well and trimmed at the top and bottom (peeling is optional)
1 medium onion, scrubbed well and dark brown layers removed, halved lengthwise

The critical factor in broth-making is, of course, the bones for flavor, the skin for flavor and unctuousness, and the joints/tendons for body. You can make soup with fresh chicken carcasses alone, but not with just meat alone. Place chicken/bones, ginger, carrots and onion in 6-7quart slow-cooker, and cover with water. Set on HIGH for at least 3 hours or until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove any "scum" that rises to the surface. Turn slow-cooker setting to LOW, and leave for at least 8 hours. Turn off slow-cooker and carefully remove the chicken and all solids to a colander placed in a large soup pot. or wide cake pan. When cool, debone chicken and keep meat in separate container in fridge. Strain broth through a sieve into the same pot or pan into which the broth solids earlier drained. When broth reaches room temperature, place in a tightly covered container to store in fridge overnight.

Remove most (85%) of fat layer from the chilled broth, then return to soup pot or Dutch oven. Add diced chicken meat, 2 cups water and bring to rolling boil for at least 10 minutes before adding other ingredients.

To Finish Soup:
Add 3-4 lbs (1.5-2kg) of diced vegetables and/or shredded leaf greens as you like or according to what is in season. I try to get as many colors of the rainbow as possible into the pot, each
providing important nutrients and vitamins:

1. First choice is always to use fresh vegetables, of course. Eating what is in season and local, and preferably organic, will keep your body in tune with your environment. The good news is that many frozen vegetables, including peas, corn, squashes and leafy greens are just as nutritious frozen as they are fresh, and in many cases
especially with the corn and peas taste better flash-frozen than trucked "fresh" miles away from where they were born. So don't be shy about using frozen vegetables to supplement scarce fresh veggies out of season, but do try to get some fresh vegetables in as well.

2. Add root and other longer-cooking vegetables early on. Save leafy greens and vegetables that turn to mush (e.g., potatoes, cooked beans like red kidney or black beans, and hard squashes like kabocha) for the last 30 minutes of cooking.

3. Choose from:
Root vegetables: carrots, parsnips, turnips/rutabaga, potatoes, etc.
Green vegetables: green beans, peas, edamame, chayote, broccoli, etc.
Gold veggies/Squashes: kabocha, butternut, upo/loofah, wintermelon, corn, etc.
Cooked Beans: kidney, lima, black, navy, etc.
Leaf vegetables: spinach, kale, watercress, mustard greens, etc.
Mushrooms: button, crimini, oyster, shiitake, chanterelles, etc.

4. Add 2 cups of fully cooked small pasta shapes (optional).

5. Add seasoning to taste: sea salt, ground black pepper, and up to 1-1/2 tsp. of chervil, or herb of your choice: fresh oregano, marjoram, savory (especially nice if soup includes beans), thyme, basil.

Simmer on medium-low until vegetables are tender and cooked through, about 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on what vegetables you add. Taste again to correct seasoning. Serve hot, with bread
    • and salad.

Soup with sweet potatoes (pre-cooked leftover), watercress, peas, zucchini, carrots, beans, corn and whole wheat penne (leftover).