my staples: heroic chicken soup

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With our wild spring weather and the end of the term, everyone is getting sick.  Prepare for the worst, ye Doomsday prognosticators, and make a big pot of chicken soup before it’s too late!

I make all different kinds of chicken soup for different occasions, but this recipe is the heavy weaponry in my arsenal.  The recipe is fussy, but the soup — glossy and dark gold, redolent with meaty goodness — will kill the plague.  I think I’ve saved several lives with it, personally.  This is not your wan, pale, low-fat, girly-girl chicken soup.  A broth of roasted chicken legs is deepened with beef bones, sweetened with long-cooked root vegetables, and scented with a distinctive Ashkenazi Jewish blend of parsley, dill, and a bit of clove, so the flavor profile is complex.  And near the end of cooking, more root vegetables, diced into small pieces so they cook quickly and retain their vitamins, are added.

Serve the soup with matzoh balls or egg noodles or even rice.  Or saltine crackers.   Whatever makes your loved ones feel better, right?

dscf2850This soup can make use of your chicken bones and vegetable leftovers, too, especially good for those of us tired of local late-winter roots.  But I’m assuming you’ll be going to the store and buying the ingredients new.  Even so, you can shop ahead, since everything on the list will last in the refrigerator for quite some time, and the meat can be frozen.

Make a huge pot and give it away to sick people across the land.  Become Johnny Soupyseed.  Or Souperman?

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Heroic Chicken Soup

Shopping List

  • Meat:
    One big “supersaver” pack of chicken legs and a couple of bone-in breasts.
    Two beef soup bones.
  • Root vegetables:
    Four parsnips
    Two small turnips
    Four carrots and/or one large rutabaga
    Two leeks
    An onion, halved and stuck with two whole cloves
  • Herbs and spices:
    A handful of parsley
    Two bay leaves
    Some dill (frozen heads or dried dillweed ok, but really old dried dill tastes like rotting greens)
    Whole peppercorns

Step 1:  Browning

First, brown the meat and the vegetables in the oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. I use two pans: one for the chicken legs and one for the breasts/soup bone/vegetables. The oven smokes a bit, so turn on your fan.

Add the chicken legs to one roasting pan. In the second roasting pan, add the onion halves, the soup bones and the chicken breasts.

Set aside half of the root vegetables (i.e., two parsnips, one turnip, two carrots/half a rutabaga, one leek) for adding later in the soup. The other half should be cut into very large chunks and added to the roasting pan with the soup bones.

Add a bit of vegetable oil to both pans and toss ingredients, to minimize sticking. Roast until significant browning occurs. Watch the root vegetables carefully and turn them after about 5 minutes, since they will brown much more quickly in the fat than the meat, and remove them when they are browned. The chicken legs should be turned after 10-15 minutes.

As for the breasts, roast them until nice and roasty and cooked through.  Alternatively, throw them in the pot with the other stuff and poach them in the stock. Basically, you are using the breasts for soup meat, so you don’t want to overcook them. When completely cooked, set aside in a covered bowl for adding to the soup when serving. Moisten with a little broth if they get dry. Throw the denuded breast bones into stock pot.

Step 2:  Making the Soup

When root vegetables are brown, add them to a very large stock pot with the herbs and spices, and fill about 1/2 full with water.

Add the chicken legs and beef bone to the pot when browned and start cooking soup on a medium-low burner. It doesn’t matter if the chicken legs are fully cooked, since you’ll be cooking them in the stock. You just want some nice browning action to enrich the taste of the soup. Scrape the drippings from the pan with a wooden spoon and add them, too. Add more water, if necessary, to fill the pot no more than 2/3 full.

Half-cover the pot and simmer soup for about three hours, more if you like. Do not, for the love of God, bring soup to a boil. There is NO NEED for a cloudy stock, and boiling will always make a cloudy stock (see picture above for a cloudy stock, sigh). Keep heat on low the entire time and skim foam and fat that floats to the top.

Step 3:  Garnishing the Broth with Extra Stuff

About an hour before the soup is done, make egg noodles or matzoh balls according to your favorite recipe. I add cayenne, chopped parsley and celery leaves to my matzoh balls for a kick and color.

The rest of the vegetables should be cut into pretty bite-sized pieces and added to the soup with salt and pepper to taste about 30 minutes prior to serving.

Chop the chicken breast into pieces the same size as the vegetables, and add immediately prior to serving.

Save some celery leaves and parsley to garnish soup bowls.

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