Friday, September 19, 2008

Mom's Broth and Chicken Soup

So Matt has been crazy crazy sick this week. For most of the week his throat could only tolerate yogurt and jello. But I did make him a batch of chicken soup. This chicken soup is my mother's recipe, and it is the best soup to have when sick. Although I make my mother's broth when I have chicken parts leftover (usually from the carcass of a roasted chicken), I haven't had the soup in years and years because when I've been sick, I don't have the energy nor patience to make this soup from beginning to end (and as is usual, I'm without a stash of broth in the freezer whenever I get sick). But if you're healthy, it's the best thing to cook, makes the house smell great, and makes the sick one feel a little better. And if you make 2 quarts, and you have two people, put one quart of the broth in freezer for easy soup next time you're sick. The first half of this recipe makes a darn good broth, which you can use for pretty much anything you would use stock or broth in. SO make a double batch, freeze it, and enjoy.

You start with 2 pounds of chicken. Choosing chicken is the only tricky part. Mom would usually use the necks and backs from chickens. But I haven't fabricated or roasted a chicken all summer, so I didn't have any pieces kicking around in the back of the freezer. I have seen from time to time at Whole Foods in their freezer section packages of necks and backs, but I was out of luck on this recent trip. The key is you want pieces of chicken with a good amount of skin and joints, for maximum collagen extraction. This means intense flavor and a silky mouthfeel. Wings can be good for this as well. For this batch however, since I struck out on the necks and backs, I chose one pound of drumsticks and one pound of thighs. I could have just gotten two pounds of leg quarters and divided them myself, but the price differential didn't make it worth it. If you want a deeper, richer flavor, roast the chicken pieces before making the broth.

So...pull out your trusty Big Pot. Mine is a Le Creuset Dutch Oven(cherished Christmas present from Mom last year). Of course, I understand that most folks don't have one of these miraculously appear under the tree for them (heck, I cooked with out one until last year, and my mother prefers her All-Clad, everybody has their preferred Big Pot).

Now that you have your Big Pot out, fill it up with 2 quarts of water and the 2 pounds of chicken pieces (raw or post-roasting). Add an onion cut up into chunks, a couple ribs of celery broken into a few pieces, and a carrot broken up into a few chunks as well. For seasoning you add a big pinch of dried thyme (or a couple sprigs of fresh if you have some), a few whole peppercorns, two peeled and smashed garlic cloves, 2 tsp of salt, and a bay leaf. Slowly bring everything to a simmer and continue to simmer slowly. Total simmering time is about 2 hours. At the half-hour mark, find the bay leaf and discard (if you leave it in too long it gets too strong and overpowering). At the one hour mark, remove chicken pieces from pot and take the meat off of the bones. Let chicken meat cool before putting in bags or containers for fridge/freezer. Return bones and skin to pot. Simmer for another hour. You can skim off any white foamy stuff during any point of the simmer for aesthetics (clearer broth), but it does not make a difference in the taste. Unless I was using the broth for a dish for company where the broth was the main star, I'd stay on the couch to do my Systematic Theology reading and not bother with the skimming.

At the end of the 2 hours of simmering, strain the broth either in a fine-mesh strainer or a colander lined with cheese cloth. Let broth sit and cool. When cool, scoop the layer of fat off of the top of the broth and discard. At this point, you can proceed with making soup or put the broth into containers and into the fridge or freezer. I always vote for the freezer unless you know for certain that you will be using the broth in the next day or two. This way, if you don't use the broth right away, you don't accidentally waste it by feeling like an idiot 10 days later when you come across it in the fridge (not that I've done that, I'm just saying hypothetically....). Defrosting from the freezer is fast and easy in the microwave, so it's just as convenient. Just remember that broth must be completely cool before placing in the freezer. the soup is super easy. You'll be using one quart of the broth for this soup. Mince up a little onion (about 1/4 cup), and one rib of celery. Mom usually put a little minced carrot in too, but I'm a big celery and onion fan and prefer them to be the stars in this soup. Put a little olive oil in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, add the onion and celery and saute for about a minute or two. Add broth and bring to a strong simmer. Add 1/4 cup of orzo or pastina and continue at a strong simmer for appropriate length of cooking time for the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, chop up some of the chicken meat you removed earlier. You'll want about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of chopped up chicken, depending on how much chicken you like in your soup. In the last couple minutes of cooking, add the chicken.

If you want, add a little red pepper flake. This is good if the goal of the soup is to clear out one's sinuses. Also, if you want to make it more garlicky for the same purpose, add a small clove of minced garlic to the saute with the celery and onion.

Serve plain or with a little grated parmigiano.

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