Chicken Soup, Revisited

I know I have previously written about making stock and bone broth, but really, chicken soup deserves its own place of worship and praise in my gastronomic pantheon.

I have felt under the weather for a couple of weeks now as Tobias and I have been recovering from a bout of bronchitis, while trying to move me in, unpack my things, put together new furniture (together, we need decidedly much more book shelf space than he did alone!), and not run ourselves into the ground from exhaustion.  And so, chicken soup appeared like the necessary prescription, especially given the conveniently available leftovers from dinner last night.

Many people my age, and younger (perhaps those older as well, but I have not asked many – it seems I should) haven’t ever tasted proper chicken soup – or not tasted it recently enough or in their adult life to remember.  I blame that on the supermarket proliferation of boxes of (often boneless/skinless) chicken portions, or the standardized broiler chickens: young birds of a meat-production variety which are fattened up for roasting rather than tougher old birds which used to be occasionally found in shops.

The fate of the bird when it arrives in the kitchen is thus changed, from a cheap purchase to be made something of (and requiring a long boiling/stewing process to achieve that end), to a cherished crisp and tender dinner centerpiece in form of roast chicken.  There is no harm in that as and in of itself, roast chicken is possibly one of my favourite things to eat when I am feeling slightly under the weather and want something comforting rather than my usual pick of the elegant-and-spicy.  The sad thing is, as I’ve mentioned before, when the breasts and legs of the roast chicken are eaten, the carcass is often discarded, and no chicken soup comes into existence.

The other side to this is that a lot of the people I have spoken to, have said that they do not like chicken soup.  When questioned further, however, many of those say that they haven’t ever really had it (see above), and what they don’t like turns out to be concoctions made on the base of bullion cubes, or canned “chicken and noodle” soups and the like, universally revolting in my not at all humble opinion, and bearing little or no resemblance to the real thing in all its golden and aromatic fat-glistening-surfaced glory.

The two factors together with people generally having less time to cook these days than in the days of our grandparents, contribute to the drop in the popularity of chicken soup, and that is a true shame.  For comfort in the cold part of the year, or when you feel ill or fragile, few things compare to it, in any of its incarnations – from the very plain French bouillion and the somewhat traditional (for me) matzo ball chicken soup, to the ginger-and-anise scented Chinese recipe with shiitake mushrooms, or the chili-and-coriander Mexican version, and the Thai chicken and coconut soup.  Or, like in this case, a plain broth made from oregano-and-garlic roast chicken (half the bird-thighs and legs intact-and all the bones), eaten greedily out of the bowl right off the kitchen counter – I had gone to taste the soup for readiness and decided to not walk away from it before I had some, with just a couple of thin crunchy rosemary-scented strips of Vilma’s crispbread on the side.

Mmmm.  Cold-weather food heaven.

But whatever your persuasion, my point is that the ease of preparation and the ultimately glorious payoff, along with the fact that whole chickens (especially if you buy a whole frozen bird and defrost it yourself) are relatively inexpensive, are reason enough to try.

The basic instructions, as mentioned before, are here.  For this specific batch, I have not only used the carcass, but all the leftovers from the roast chicken that Tobias and I had for dinner last night:  essentially all but the generously-cut breasts of the bird, the garlic cloves and herb sprigs it baked with, and all the onions it baked on.  I have also saved the juices and dripping (I hate gravy with a passion), and poured that into the pot alongside the chicken leftovers.  I have added a scrubbed and cut-up carrot and later, 1 large bay leaf and 5-8 peppercorns about an hour before doneness.

I have since (since the plate pictured above was devoured in a tongue-searing hurry) drained the soup through a colander to get the chicken bits and bones out of it, replaced the carrots and garlic back in the soup, and left the chicken to cool before I pick it apart for meat.  Not sure what that will be used for, but stock-cooked chicken meat is universal enough to be a lovely freezer staple – for a future risotto, pasta, or heated up in a bit of butter and seasoned, and tossed into a salad.

Regardless, it was time well-spent not doing a whole lot and letting the soup cook for about 3 hours as I lazily and occasionally checked it after skimming while reading and socializing.  And now dinner is ready (and some of it eaten) and I can relax, read, write, and perhaps wander over to the kitchen for another bowl of gorgeously aromatic, searing-hot liquid gold.

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