On the Table: Chicken Soup for More Than the Soul
By Deborah Salomon
Health professionals long ago admitted that chicken soup may help people feel better, perhaps recover faster, from colds and flu. But it's still kind of a joke.
No wonder, when most chicken soup consumed by Americans, sick or not, comes from a can, box, pouch or cube. I shudder to think of the processes involved.
Not that proper homemade chicken soup is a snap. But, with the flu season raging, it wouldn't hurt to brush up on chicken soup skills. I have spent a lifetime perfecting mine.
First, you absolutely, positively need a whole chicken. The broth rendered from boneless, skinless breasts is weak, with a sweetish taste that comes from preservatives or heaven knows what. Necks and wings make a decent soup, but then you don't have meat for the world's best chicken salad - or to add into the soup. A 3-pound fryer is perfect; big roasters make a greasy mess.
Cook the giblets separately for the dog.
Second, you absolutely must wash the chicken thoroughly, inside and out, and soak it in heavily salted water for a few hours, to remove any traces of blood, which will give soup an off flavor. A roomy soup pot with cover is essential.
After soaking the chicken and washing again, cover with water and boil a few minutes until foamy scum rises to the surface. Pour off water, rinse chicken and return to pot breast side up along with two big peeled carrots, several celery ribs (or, preferably, the root end) with lots of leaves, a big peeled onion, a parsnip, a generous handful of washed parsley and a teaspoon of sea salt.
My "secret" is the parsnip. Do not omit.
Cover with fresh cold water, and simmer chicken, covered, for more than an hour until meat falls from the bones, adding more water if necessary. Remove chicken from pot with slotted spoon and let cool. Remove whole carrots, slice and set aside. Eat the parsnip. Pour soup through a strainer, then chill overnight to solidify fat which rises to the top. Flavor will develop during this "rest."
Good chicken soup gels when cold, a sign the chicken has been cooked down to the bones for maximum nutrition.
Finicky cooks may want to clarify broth - an extra step that's purely cosmetic: Return defatted soup to the pot, bring to a boil. Separate an egg; mix egg white with crushed shell (save yolk for another use) and add to broth. Simmer for a minute or two, stirring often, remove pot from heat and let sit 15 minutes. Pour soup through a strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth. The broth will now be crystal clear.
Taste, add salt and white pepper.
For medicinal chicken soup, I boil fine egg noodles separately, never in the broth. Add to soup along with the sliced carrots and a small amount of shredded chicken. A few snips of green onions or parsley contribute color and flavor.
Of course you can do so much more with this classic broth. Try buying frozen Chinese dumplings or potstickers. Boil them separately, add to broth with scallions cut into ribbons, a few snow peas and a splash of fish or soy sauce.
For a stunning chicken vegetable soup, grate carrot, zucchini and potato in processor. Cook the shards in broth, along with spinach or kale cut in ribbons.
For a quick gumbo, add a can of spicy diced tomatoes to broth; simmer for 15 minutes to blend flavors, add raw deveined shrimp, chopped chicken, frozen corn kernels, sliced smoked sausage and a few tablespoons of instant rice. Simmer until shrimp are cooked and rice is tender. Float a slice of garlic toast on top.
A different kind of chicken soup results from simmering the carcass of a whole roast (or rotisserie) chicken. In that case, I'd toss in any veggies on hand including green beans, squash, herbs, tired lettuce, garlic cloves, a bay leaf, even tomatoes. Simmer for an hour, strain through fine mesh, drink as a broth or use as a base for almost anything.
But when a cold or, heaven forbid, the flu strikes, listen to Mama: Make real chicken soup - a laborious process, but the ultimate labor of love.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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