Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chicken Vegetable Soup Three Ways

I don’t really have a recipe for SIMPLE CHICKEN VEGETABLE SOUP. I just use whatever’s handy that sounds good at the moment. So I’ll just describe the process instead of giving a formal recipe. After you roast chicken and take the meat off the bones, put the bones, along with the meat that didn’t come off in the nice big chunks, in a big pot, along with about 6 cups of cold water. (Use cold water when you want the flavor to go into the broth, hot water when you want the flavor to stay in the meat.) Add a small onion, a peeled but whole carrot, a stalk of celery, salt and pepper, and whatever seasoning you like. Some poultry seasoning is easy and good. Bring it to boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour to an hour. While it’s simmering, take about a cup of the broth and pour it in the pan you cooked the chicken in, and use it to scrape up any juices and browned bits that stuck to the pan. Carefully pour the liquid back in to the pot. Repeat if necessary. You want to get all of the flavor that seeped out into the roasting pan while you were cooking the chicken. (Of course, this doesn’t apply if you grilled the chicken.) When the broth is done, strain it, saving both the broth and the solids.

When the solids are cool enough to handle, pick any meat off of the bones and add it back to the broth. There will probably be a cup or so of meat, depending on how closely you cut off the big chunks and also on how the store cut the split fryer breasts to begin with. Chop the cooked carrot and add it to the pot. You can chop the cooked onion and celery, too, if you like, but I usually don’t bother. I just toss them.

Add a chopped onion, a couple of chopped carrots, some chopped celery, and whatever other vegetables you have. A chopped tomato is good, if you happen to have one (I use fresh in the summer, or, in the winter, one I froze the previous summer. Or I skip the tomato.) Some frozen chopped spinach, or chopped kale, or chopped chard adds some nice color. Sliced mushrooms, if they happen to be on sale. Broccoli florets. Sliced or chopped zucchini or summer squash. A few green beans, cut about 1/2” long. Peas, either fresh or frozen. You get the picture. Whatever you have on hand and feel like using. Ditto with herbs. Some thyme, or parsley, or basil, or rosemary would be good, if you have them. I seldom add any more herbs. That’s up to you, too.

Let everything simmer together for about 15 minutes to half an hour. The vegetables should be not only done, but soft, though not necessarily mushy. Taste it and add more salt and pepper if needed. Now you can go either of three ways. You can leave it as it is and eat it as CHICKEN VEGETABLE SOUP. You can run everything through the blender and then add some cream to make a CREAM OF CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE SOUP. If you do blend it, do it in batches, only filling the blender about half full and holding the lid on with a towel. The heat from the soup can make it splatter all over the kitchen, making a huge mess and burning you while wasting a lot of the soup. Or you can add some eggs and make CHICKEN VEGETABLE EGG DROP SOUP. To do this, bring the soup back up to a full boil and add some eggs, anywhere from four to a dozen, depending on how thick your soup was to begin with. I usually use two or three eggs per person, but I like a really thick soup, almost a custard. Once the eggs are in the soup, beat them with a fork, being sure to get the yolks, then simmering until the eggs are done. With four eggs, you should have shreds of egg throughout your soup. With twelve, it should be almost a soft custard.

That’s a lot of directions for a simple soup, but it really is simple. If you’ve read this column for long, you know that I tend to be long winded when I’m describing a process. 

By the way, if you cut the meat off the bones before you cook it, so that you basically have boneless skinless fryer breast meat to use in recipes, you’ll make the soup the same way. Just cook the broth the full hour to begin with. Or, whether you cut the meat off the bones before or after you cooked them, you can freeze the bones instead of making the broth right away, and make a big batch of broth later. For that matter, you can save the bones after you make the soup and add them to other bones to make bone broth. There won’t be as much flavor in the bones, since they’ve been used once, but they’ll still have lots of minerals and such to add to a long-simmered bone broth. 

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