Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chicken Soup for the Stomach

I grew up on my mom's chicken soup with dumplings. This old Yankee version is not the same as the southern classic "chicken with dumplings", as our version contains no dairy products, just fresh winter veggies, chicken, and broth. However, I'm basing that on a single Paula Deen recipe, and have never tasted chicken with dumplings, so I could be wrong.

As a child, I was never really big on chicken soup. I'd eat Campbell's chicken noodle soup with saltine crackers when I was sick, or after being out on a cold winter day, but I would never chose soup over any other dish. I started getting into soups when my college would have myriad tomato-based soups (although never cream tomato, I still hate that kind, only the pureed tomato or veggie broth type, like tomato basil, or minestrone), and I started eating the cheese from my dad's french onion soup when he'd order it, and gradually started eating that. New England clam chowder is another story, I could and would eat gallons of that (then and now). Eventually I discovered squash bisque, and soup took on a whole new meaning. But while I gained a taste for soups in general, chicken noodle was just something to eat while sick.

Then I went home a couple weeks ago for a night, and mom called up when I was about to leave and said, "what do you want for dinner?" This is always a fun question, because they actually keep food on hand in their house- meat, fresh veggies, the kind of thing you have to go to the grocery store more than once every 10 days for. I said I had no idea, and by the time I got home, she seemed tired and said, it's chicken soup for dinner.

I thought, blah. But she was going to make dumplings, so I could deal.

You know where this is going. I liked the chicken soup so much that I had to email her several times the following week to learn how to make it myself- the fact that whole chickens were on special for 99cents/lb at Big Y definitely helped.

My Mom's Chicken Soup (my interpretation)

Boil a whole chicken in enough water to cover it. My chicken was about 6.5lbs. I added an herb blend (Penzey's Sunny Paris, I was also considering a Stonewall Kitchens poultry blend I have) and 2 garlic cloves. Bring the water to a boil, and let it boil for about 1.5hrs (I let it sit on the stove, in the water after turning the burner off, since I had other things to do). Normally you'd also season with salt and pepper, I did not (I did that later).

The liquid in the pot is now chicken stock:
"Chicken stock tends to be made more from bony parts, whereas chicken broth is made more out of meat. Chicken stock tends to have a fuller mouth feel and richer flavor, due to the gelatin released by long-simmering bones."

One key point, to save you some surprise and confusion: if you chill the chicken stock, it turns gelatiny. Very, very gelatiny. This is normal.

Remove the chicken from the stock, and transfer the stock to a container. Most of it will be put in the fridge for a later use, and about 1/3 of it used for the soup. Pull all the meat off the bones, discarding the bones and skin. Transfer the meat to a big pot (I just reused the boiling-the-chicken pot, with a quick rinse). Add about 1/3 of the freshly-made stock, and
6 carrots
6 celery stalks
2 onions
2 sweet potatoes
all of that diced into big chunks
and 3 garlic cloves (remember to pull them out at the end)

Then I added "enough" water. I hate this term, how do you know how much is enough? I basically added water to get near the top of the pot. It turned out to be not enough, so each time I reheat the soup now, I add a little more water.

Also add whatever herbs you'd like. I used the Penzey's blend again, but my mom likes dill. You can also add more salt/pepper at this point. Whatever you add, taste the liquid and see how it's going. Have some fun with your spice drawer/shelf.

Boil that until the veggies get softened enough, about an hour.

I made the mistake of pre-boiling the sweet potatoes before adding any of the other veggies or meat. I boiled them for about 20 minutes, and once the soup was complete, they verged on mush. You don't need to pre-boil sweet potatoes.

Then chill the soup. Due to my poor timing, the soup got done around 12:30am on Wednesday night, and even an hour later, it was still too hot to put in the fridge, so I took advantage of our screened-in porch and put it outside. If this isn't an option, don't start pulling the chicken off the bones at 10:30pm like I did. The soup chilled outside in high 20s weather for about 8 hours, then in the fridge for another 10hrs.

Chill the soup for at least 12 hours, for the fat in the liquid to harden. (my soup-fat did not harden after 8hours outside) This is how it looks
Very unappetizing, right? But it skims off the top really easily, it's about the consistency of butter.
This looks a lot better. This is 2 servings of soup that I took out to reheat (over medium-high heat until bubbling) for dinner.

I make the dumplings fresh.

Dumplings for 2
1 and 1/3 cup flour
2t baking powder
1/2-1t salt
1T+1t crisco (I actually used I can't believe it's not butter, since I bought it especially at my husband's request, and he ignores it)
The above ingredients are homemade Bisquick. 1 and 1/3 cup of bisquick will work if you have that- I just didn't have any)
dash of pepper
herbs of your choice- again, I used the Penzey's blend (about 1-2t), and my mom uses dill
1/3cup milk

Stir that all together, drop by spoonful into the boiling soup.

Cook the soup with dumplings uncovered for 10 minutes, then covered for 10 more minutes. If you have my luck, it will boil over many, many times.

The dumplings turn the soup opaque (but not really creamy, just thicker), and I think mine is yellow because I used I can't believe it's not butter, with its lovely yellow #5 or whatever, instead of uncolored crisco.

Because I skimped on salt and pepper while making the soup, I always make sure the shakers are on the table and full.

This isn't the prettiest meal, but it's actually really tasty. And I feel that making soup is an "anything goes" type of dish, so what I've written here is merely a guideline for your own soup-making adventure.

And what about the extra stock? Well, I actually end up adding a ladlefull of stock each time I reheat 2 servings of soup (and some extra water). I did use the rest of the stock up last night in a pork dish you'll read about later. I miss having that giant thing of stock in the fridge, so I may make another batch of stock/soup this weekend.

I'm sure you can also buy canned/boxed stock, but if you have the time, boiling your own chicken is a lot cheaper, and doesn't really require any effort on your part, aside from pulling the meat off the bones. I recommend doing this the old-fashioned way. Canned broth/stocks have their place, and it's not in this soup.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yum! I never thought of putting sweet potatoes in my chicken soup. We all LOVE sweet potatoes; think I'll give this a try this weekend since it's supposed to SNOW again. Yes, snow! Here in Texas! It's just crazy obscene.