Thursday, September 12, 2013

chicken soup and chicken stock

I feel like a post about chicken soup is long overdue. And not just because I burned the crap out of my hand making it last night and feel like the soup owes me, but because it is delicious, incredibly easy, inexpensive, filling, AND... best yet... it does double duty when you strip the bones of all their delicious meat and repurpose them to make chicken stock. A two-fer! What could be better?

The only bummer is that I don't have a picture of it, because right now it is sitting in my fridge, disassembled. (Quick: picture a bowl of steaming, golden chicken soup, flecked with veggies and chicken and a few remaining bits of dill.) I like to store the vegetables separately from the soup so they don't get too soggy. So I've got one huge tupperware with just broth, and another with the carrots, parsnips, and shredded chicken, and the matzah balls haven't been made yet.

My mom taught me how to make soup, and she, my sister, and I all make it pretty similarly; I have a few changes that I'll reflect below. You start with a kosher chicken. Salt is used in the kashering (making it kosher) process, so kosher chickens are that much more flavorful. You can go to the kosher butcher, which is an experience in itself, or you can just pick up a kosher chicken, already cut up, from Trader Joe's. (See? Easy.) Place the chicken in a large soup pot. Due to all the recent recommendations not to wash chicken, I skipped that step and went straight to the pot. Cover the chicken with water by about an inch. I usually throw in a peeled onion (cut the ends off, but you can leave it whole), some salt and several grinds of pepper, as well. Turn the stove on to high and bring it to a boil, then bring the light down to simmer the water for about an hour.

During this time, gross foam will rise to the surface of the water. Skim it off with a slotted spoon, paper towel, or fine-mesh sieve - whatever works best for you. Last night, the mesh sieve worked for me. I skimmed and dumped it into a bowl (you'll throw out the scum; it just makes it easier to have somewhere to put it while you're next to the stove).

After an hour, you'll add the vegetables and seasoning. This is flexible (and this is where I stray from the recipe, which calls for celery, which I hate). Use what you like. You're going to cut the veggies into bite-sized pieces, so you don't want them to cook for more than about 30 minutes. For one chicken, I used 4 skinny carrots (peeled and chopped), 4 skinny parsnips (peeled and chopped, and a bunch of fresh dill (throw it in whole). I also added about 2 tablespoons of Osem chicken bouillon powder and a little more pepper. Though it will be piping hot, spoon out a bit into a dish and blow on it, then taste it to see if it needs salt. Now's the time to add it. However, the Osem is salty, so taste first. Then let it simmer for another 30 minutes.

When the soup is done, I take a few steps right away. First, I remove the chicken pieces to a very large bowl to cool for a bit. Last night, I used tongs, and somehow some of the boiling soup ran down the tongs and burned my fingers. Not recommended. Using a slotted spoon next time. Next, I use the same slotted spoon to separate out the vegetables. The onion and dill get tossed, and the carrots and parsnips are saved for eating (refrigerate in a tupperware). Let the soup cool for a while on the now-turned-off stove.

After about 30 minutes, the chicken is cool enough to shred. Pull off and discard the skin and any fatty, yucky bits. The meat will basically fall off the bones and can be shredded by hand or with two forks. Reserve the bones to make chicken stock. I usually put a third to half of the meat with the veggies to serve with the soup. The rest, I put in a ziploc bag and freeze for any of a million uses: enchiladas or rolled tacos, pulled chicken, etc. Store the broth in the fridge once it's cooler. In the morning, once the soup is cold, some of the chicken fat will rise to the top. Skim it off (usually a slotted spoon will work) and either discard it or reserve it for making chopped liver. (I have personally never done this, but I don't like chopped liver.) If you are a purist, you can pour the soup through a cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh sieve to strain it for a very clear soup. This is definitely an optional step.

Eat the soup within a few days - heat the broth and add some shredded chicken and vegetables. It's also great with the addition of rice, pasta, dumplings, matzah balls, or kreplach; whatever you have on hand. I'll bet even barley or a similar grain would be nice to make a heartier soup. The soup also freezes very well, though should be eaten within 3 months. Again, I like to freeze the veggies and chicken separately from the soup. To get them ready to eat, you can pull the soup out and put it in the fridge overnight to begin to thaw, then just heat it straight on the stovetop. The veggies and chicken do not need to be thawed; pop them into the soup as it's heating, and they will heat through as well.

Now for part two... You can use the bones to make stock, which can be used as a base for other soups, sauces, gravies, or stews. It's just as easy as making the soup, and you probably won't even need to skim it since most of the scum will have cooked off the first round. Because you're going to discard everything but the stock itself, add all the ingredients now to make it really simple.

Place the bones in a medium pot and cover with about 6 cups of water. Add a few teaspoons of salt, about 10 whole peppercorns (or a bunch of coarse grinds of pepper), a couple of bay leaves, some dried or fresh herbs (herbs de provence, thyme, and dill are all nice), a peeled onion, a couple of whole carrots, and a few stalks of celery (if you want). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cooking it lower will make for a clearer broth. Simmer for about an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve (which will catch the peppercorns!), cool, and then portion and freeze. Some people like to pour the stock into ice cube trays to make tablespoon-sized blocks of stock which are very easy to use in small quantities. You can also just freeze it a cup at a time in ziploc bags. It yields about a quart to 5 cups of stock, and here's how the leftover bones and vegetables look after you've poured off all the stock:

Family tradition dictates that on the night the soup is made, you have make-your-own chicken sandwiches for dinner with good bread, crisp bacon, lettuce, cheese, and Russian dressing. I made the soup after dinner, so we didn't get to have sandwiches, and I was jonesing for them! Maybe tonight.

ETA a note from my aunt: "Aunt Lydia [my great aunt] told me years ago that her mother... always put the onion in whole with the skin on. The onion skin also gave the soup a golden color. Rose was a caterer and never wasted anything. So I always do that in honor of Grandma Rosie and Aunt Lydia."

What a nice family story that I never knew!

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