I’m not dead yet – although this blog has been allowed to languish at the doorstep of death for a couple of months, to my shame. Between the vortex of the holiday season and the single worst upper respiratory virus I’ve EVER had, I can sympathize – I’ve felt like I was going to die myself a few times this winter. The chill, the damp, the darkness, it was all made worse by being constantly exhausted and dehydrated from coughing and blowing my nose 24/7.
Luckily, there was a light in the darkness: chicken soup with rice. The warm, savory broth, the tender chicken and veggies, it’s like a delicious booster shot, restoring you as it nourishes you. I’m not going to claim my chicken soup can cure any illness, mind you: only my mom’s version has that power.
Is there anything more welcome on a cold winter night, when the light is gone, your sinuses are stuffy and your throat is raw from coughing, than a steaming bowl of chicken soup? I don’t think so. In honor of the monster cold I’ve been doing battle with for a solid MONTH now, I present: my chicken soup recipe. Simple, yet possessed of a hearty, nuanced flavor that will give you the strength to fight off pestilence. It may not do anything for your soul, but it will damn sure make your body feel better.
A couple of notes: In the spirit of not wasting any part of the chicken that died to make this soup, I render my chicken skins and use some of that fat to sear the meat and brown the vegetables. For a lighter version, replace the chicken fat with olive oil. Second, while I serve this with rice, it goes just as well with pasta, orzo or just a slice of crusty bread. May it help you as it helped me.
- One whole chicken, broken down into parts, skin removed but reserved
- 2 ribs of celery, sliced thin
- 2 medium size carrots, sliced into thin rounds
- 1 large yellow onion, medium diced
- 2 firm-bodied tomatoes, medium diced
- 4-6 cloves of garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
- 2-4 fresh bay leaves
- A handful of fresh thyme sprigs
- A handful of fresh oregano sprigs
- Cheese cloth and kitchen twine, or a muslin stock infusion pouch
- ~32 ounces of chicken stock, home made if possible
- Salt and pepper to taste
- If your chicken is whole, break it down into parts: thighs, drumsticks, and breasts. I suggest cutting each breast in half, for easier cooking. Remove the skin from the thighs and breasts, and reserve. Leave the bones in the thighs and drumsticks. Either reserve and freeze the wings, neck and carcass to make into chicken stock (recommended) or discard.
- Generously season the chicken parts with salt and pepper on both sides. Wash and slice vegetables as directed. Take your bay leaves, thyme and oregano sprigs and make a soup bundle: if you are using cheese cloth, place the herbs in the center of a square of cheese cloth and fold up the corners, using kitchen twine to tie it off into a bundle. Or, if you feel like cheating, just buy a stock infusion pouch online, and bundle them up inside all tidy-like.
- Place a high-sided soup pot on a medium-high flame, and heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil until shimmering. When the oil is ready, place the reserved chicken skins in the pot, they should immediately start sizzling. Render the skins, turning occasionally, until they are brown and crispy.
- Once the skins are rendered, remove and discard, or if you’re like me, drain them on paper towels, salt lightly, and eat them. >_> Remember to share them with loved ones! Pour off all but two tablespoons of the liquid fat in the pot into a heat-proof container, and return the pot to medium-high heat.
- Once the fat is shimmering hot again, place the chicken parts in a single layer in the pot and let them cook on one side undisturbed for 3-4 minutes, then flip them and repeat on the other side. We want to get a nice sear on the chicken without cooking it all the way through: the surfaces of the chicken should be golden with brown spots when done!
- Once the chicken is seared, remove and reserve in a high-sided bowl to catch any juices that leak out. Using a stiff spatula or scraper, scrape up the fond, AKA burnt little brown bits on the bottom of the pot, but do not remove. They are your ticket to Flavor Town.
- Add your onions, celery and carrots to the hot fat – add another teaspoon or so of the reserved chicken fat if your veggies are sticking badly to the bottom of the pot. Season your vegetables with salt and fresh ground pepper. My advise is to go easy on the salt, and work your pepper grinder until your arm gets sore. You really can’t have too much black pepper in my opinion, but go as hard as you are comfortable with.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until your onions are translucent and the carrots and celery are soft, ~5-10 minutes depending on the strength of your burner.
- Add your garlic to the pot, and stir it in. Allow it to cook until fragrant, ~1 minute.
- Add the diced tomatoes to the pot and stir in. Allow them to cook in for 2-3 minutes, until they have gone soft and released their juices.
- Return the chicken parts to the pot, along with any juices that accumulated in their bowl. Add the chicken stock, until the chicken is just covered. Place your herb bundle in the pot as well, pushing it down with a pair of tongs until it is submerged.
- Turn your burner up to high heat and cover the soup. Once it reaches a low boil, reduce your heat to medium-low and let it simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Use this time to go blow your nose, take more cold medicine, re-hydrate and generally curse the virus making your life a gooey hell.
- Once the 45 minutes are up, remove the chicken from the soup with a pair of tongs, and place them in a large bowl. Using the tongs and a fork, remove the bones and any hard cartilage from the thighs and legs. Break the chicken breasts into smaller, fork or spoon sized pieces. The chicken should easily pull apart.
- Return the chicken to the soup, and use your tongs to pull out the herb bundle and discard it. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed. The acid from the tomatoes should give it all the bite it needs, but if you feel your soup lacks acidity, add a squeeze of lemon juice.
- Let the soup simmer for another 5-15 minutes while you make rice or pasta or what have you, and then serve by ladling soup over the rice/pasta/etc. Eat, and swear vengeance upon your cold.