Friday, November 6, 2009

Forget Chicken Soup for the Soul - This is for the Stomach!

I have it on pretty good authority that the chicken soup I make rocks.

I’m not sure what’s so special about it. The ingredients are actually pretty basic:
Chicken bouillon
Chicken stock

That’s about it. I do have one special ingredient that seems to add a richness to the soup: soy sauce.

There are five components to what we taste: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. The first four speak for themselves. The last, umami, is something special. It’s the savory part of what we eat, the richness. Soy sauce is laden with umami and I think it adds something really special to the chicken soup I make.
An interesting aside, anchovies are just about pure umami. No wonder I like those little fellows! I am devastated that the local .99 Cent Store hasn’t had anchovies in stock for a few months. Now I have to buy them at full price in the grocery store.

Chickens were on sale this week for $.69 lb when you buy the family pack. One will go into this chicken soup and I can always figure out something good to do with the other chicken. In fact, as I write this Fayme is putting that chicken into the rotisserie oven. Say what you want about those silly Ronco commercials you see on TV, I wouldn’t be caught dead with a Pocket Fisherman, but we’ve gotten a lot of use out of the rotisserie oven.

To get started I plop the whole chicken into the crock pot along with a coarsely shopped onion and a few chopped carrots. The onion and carrots will be cooked to within an inch of their lives so they’ll be strained out in the end after they’ve given up their flavor to the stock. Add a few seasonings, salt, black pepper, oregano, thyme, and we’re all set for a few hours on the low setting. Although I won’t use them in the soup itself, the neck and giblets are in the crock pot, too. For a cooking liquid I put in a can of chicken stock and a bit of water.

After the chicken has cooked long enough that the meat is coming away from the bone I take it out of the crock pot and put it into a separate bowl so it can cool enough for me to take the meat off the bones. This is a challenging evolution because at this point the chicken is falling apart at the seams. Go slow and be careful lest the chicken end up splashing hot broth all over you or end up on the floor.

When the crock pot has cooled a little the cooking broth is poured through a strainer to get out all the chunks and the resulting liquid is refrigerated so the fat will rise to the surface and be easy to skim off.

Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle it’s pretty simple to just go through with your fingers and take all the meat off the bones. I don’t worry too much about getting a little chicken skin along with the meat but I am careful to take out all the gristle, small bones, and other non-edible parts. As you can see in the picture, I like big pieces of chicken.

Now we’re on to making the actual soup. For quantities on all these vegetables you’ll have to live with, “just use the right amount.”

The onion I used was way bigger than I originally thought so I ended up adding in more celery and carrots to even out the ratios. Ultimately I used the entire celery stalk and the whole 2 lb bag of carrots as well as 4 or 5 cloves of garlic.

I like a fairly rustic soup so the pieces are cut large. For the celery, when I get down to the tender stalks in the center I really don’t even bother to cut them or take off the leaves (good flavor there).

A bunch of mushrooms made it in there, too. They cook quicker than the other vegetables so I put them in later.

Here is where I discarded the fat off the stock from the crock pot and added the stock to the pot of vegetables. There’s lots of good flavor in this stock and we don’t want to lose that. Since it won’t be enough liquid for cooking I added in water and canned chicken stock to get to a good level.

I also added in some additional spices like oregano, thyme, salt, fresh pepper, etc. whatever sounds good to you will work well.

After the vegetables have cooked it’s time to add in the chicken meat. This is also where I put in some chicken bouillon to taste and the soy sauce. Be careful not to make things too salty. Both the chicken bouillon and the soy sauce are fairly salty so just be sure to taste as you go. This is a good time to add in the mushrooms if you haven’t already. Once the chicken has been added you won’t want to cook too much more. Keep cooking and that wonderful chicken meat is going to break down and get mushy.

I like noodles and since this has ended up being a pretty good sized pot of chicken soup I’m going to use this whole bag of extra wide egg noodles. Cook the noodles per the package directions but leave them slightly under done. They’ll continue cooking in the hot soup and you don’t want them to get too mushy.

That’s it, we’re done, let’s eat!

That’s it, I’m done and stuffed. No, I didn’t eat both bowls, Fayme is full, too. Hopefully our neighbor and her teen age son are full as well; they got a good sized container.

Thanks for reading!

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