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Mama’s Chicken Soup

November 29, 2012
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I think I must have been a Jewish mother in a former life, because there’s little I love more than making chicken soup for my family. I’ve finally nailed down my perfect recipe and it has ruined me for all other chicken noodle soups. Because today is a rainy slow day in the Southland, and because I’m home nursing a bit of a cold, I thought I’d share it with you. (btw if you happen upon my immune system somewhere, tell it I miss it and please come home?)

I know, right? what is Jen doing posting about cooking? That’s Laura’s territory. Indulge me ok?

Now this isn’t anything crazy or new or creative. It’s as basic and traditional as you can get, and while I’ve never actually analyzed it for nutrition content, I’m guessing there’s really nothing “light” or “low-fat” about it. To be honest, it doesn’t really have much in the way of a recipe, to speak of. It’s also not going to be fast. Typical weeknights need not apply. But, like any good show of love, the time spent is well worth it.

I grew up with something my best friend and I called, “step-mom soup”. Both of our step-mothers, while excellent (seriously, so good) cooks, somehow stumbled when it came to home-made soup. It always came out watery, bland, with dry meat and soggy vegetables. It totally intimidated me away from trying to create soup. After all, if my step-mom couldn’t do it, then how could I!?!

But I have done it, friends. And while it might not be a revelation to anyone else, I’m damn proud of that one accomplishment. Here it goes:

First, I take a raw whole chicken, dress her up in a rub of olive oil, some salt and pepper, maybe basil and rosemary if I’m feeling frisky, and stick her in a crock pot with a quartered onion pulled apart and shoved around her (and ok, probably a little violating her as well. sorry chicken). I add maybe 4 cups of water. It’s not crucial how much, more water will yield a higher volume of stock/broth. But you can always dilute down later if necessary, or make a little more as I’ll get into below.

I cook that bird on low for several hours. Overnight works, if you want to make the soup that day. Otherwise all day and you can make the soup the next day.

Once the chicken is done, and falling off the bone, I take the whole thing out. Be super careful here because it’s probably going to be very awkward, falling apart, and HOT. I transfer the chicken, in pieces to a big bowl and let it cool. Transfer the rest of the liquid to another bowl, by way of a mesh strainer to get out the onion and skin and other random bits.

**

In a nice big pot (I use a 6.5Q stock pot) I heat up some olive oil and soften up some diced onion (new onion, either a whole or a half depending on my mood) and then add some chopped celery and carrots (again, quantity based on eyeballing and guts.) Once those are nice and colorful I add the stock. Let that simmer.

**

When the chicken is cool, separate the meat from the bones and other random viscera. Shred the chicken meat by hand and add to the pot.

Usually, I will keep out the breasts to use for something else. White meat doesn’t work as well in soup as dark meat, plus it’s perfect for enchiladas or chicken salad. If you are feeding more people or like really meaty soup, feel free to add it in!

Here I do one of two things. Normally, if I have enough stock from the crock pot I will just toss the non-meat chicken parts. However, if you find that you don’t have enough stock and the soup isn’t strong enough to dilute, you can always boil these again to make some more stock. It won’t be as strong but it’ll be better than water.

Once you have everything in the pot, and the broth down to a good flavor, squeeze the juice of one medium sized lemon into the pot.

**

You can simmer this for a while, it doesn’t really matter. But about 10 minutes before you want to eat it, add the egg noodles. I usually just kind of pour them in till the pot looks full. We like soup with a lot of stuff in it. As a variation, I also LOVE adding quinoa instead of noodles, but my men-folk aren’t as into that, so noodles it is in our house.

**

And there you have it. The most simple, yet time consuming, chicken soup EVER! 🙂 A few tips:

  • Don’t be afraid of salt! taste the broth often and if it’s watery or bland add salt little by little to bring out the flavors of the broth.
  • If you refrigerate the chicken stock after the crockpot but before the soup phase, it will separate (fat on top) and become very gelatinous. Don’t worry, that’s the good part! 🙂 it’ll melt down in the pot. This is what makes the soup taste better than step-mom soup.
  • Pulling the meat off the chicken when it’s warm/hot is WAY easier than doing it after the bird’s been refrigerated. It’s worth doing that step before you pack it away for the night if you’re using the two-day method.
  • This should be obvious but always, ALWAYS use egg noodles, not regular pasta.
  • Don’t skip the lemon. You’ll think it tastes perfect until you add that lemon juice, but afterwards, you’ll have an “aha” moment.
  • This soup freezes, refrigerates, and reheats phenomenally well. It goes a long way in our house!
  • Save the crackers, this soup is best with crusty french bread and butter.
  • This soup makes your house smell so freaking delicious.
  • And finally, I have it on good authority that if morning sickness causes you to be chicken-averse, you can still enjoy this soup sans chicken parts. 😉

This is one of those things that I hope my boys will always remember about their childhood. Something I can always give them when they’re sick, or hurt, or sad, and of the age when they won’t let me hold them any longer. I hope that the soup will warm them when they need it, and remind them of their mother’s love. Even if they never realize it. That might be a tall order for a soup to fill, but it’s a damn good soup. 🙂

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