Chicken Soup Secrets
A couple of weeks ago, my brother came over and we cooked up a big meal for our parents. Among other things, we made chicken soup. When my mother saw how the soup was cooking, she exclaimed that it was genius. Why? I was using a pasta pot with a built in colander. The vegetables and chicken (bones and all) were in the removable colander. Take it out, and you have broth left in the pot. Chicken meat and vegetables that you might want to add back into the soup are now easy to separate. I also use this method for other soups and stocks. Until my mother commented upon it, I assumed that this was commonly done in people's kitchens. Maybe it is, and my mother is simply out of touch. Maybe it isn't, and I was just making a weird assumption. It is hard to tell what goes on in other people's kitchens.
Nevertheless, the pasta pot is a great tool for soup-making. Smaller pasta pots are fine for just making pasta, but larger ones are better for making soup. If you're not picky, they can be picked up for about $25. For just a bit more, you can pick up a nice one that will last you a good long time. So... how do I make chicken soup? I start with chicken. I rarely just toss a whole chicken in. You can do that, and it won't be bad, but I like a bit more substance to my soup. That means more bones and more connective tissues. I usually use a package of chicken backs. They have the added benefit of being really cheap. My brother uses chicken feet, a practice I endorse and may adopt. Either way, these are in addition to a whole chicken (brined or, at least, salted) or equivalent parts. Cutting through some of the longer bones (like drumsticks) with a pair of kitchen shears may help release more chicken-ness into your soup. Then you add your vegetables. My must-haves include carrots, onions (yellow - including the onion skins will help your soup get that lovely yellow color that you want), celery, parsnips, and turnips. My other must-have is a chopped up apple or pear. It works. Leeks are nice, sometimes. If I'm feeling crazy, I might add some tomatoes, and if I want a very thick soup, I'll add a sweet potato. For herbs, I generally go with parsley, sage, and dill. I go light on the dill. Sometimes I add a bit of thyme. Spices? Pepper is the obvious choice (more on that later this week), but we can play around with other spices like nutmeg, allspice, and mustard seed. Turmeric adds a nice richness in both taste and color. A wee bit of sichuan peppercorn can provide a great counterpoint to the other spices you use. If I have some parmesan rind sitting around, that might get tossed in, too, to boost the umami flavor. Add your salt. Don't be shy with it. Now you have to add your liquid. Unless you want this to cook all day, don't just add water. I usually use vegetable stock from my freezer. I'll also, invariably, add some wine (and/or apple cider if I have it). If I want my soup to be extra-thick, I may pull out some of the cooked vegetables and broth part way through, puree them in my blender, and then add them back into the pot. Remember, though, that with all the extra stuff that you are putting in here it is possible to overpower the flavor of chicken. You don't want to do that. Always make sure your ratio of chicken to other things is high. Go ahead and use that strongly-flavored spice... just don't use too much of it... or add some extra chicken wings if you do. These are my chicken soup secrets. Use them wisely.