Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hearty Chicken-Vegetable Soup

A hearty Kissing the Cook welcome to new subscriber Amanda. Thanks for joining us!

Years ago, the very first recipe I put together myself was for a chicken-vegetable-noodle soup. I had the idea of combining a Jewish-style chicken soup, which has the essence of the vegetables cooked into it and is really meant to be served clear (or, of course, with matzo balls), with a more American-style soup, which has the vegetables in the bowl along with the liquid. My reasoning was that if I started with a liquid that stood up on its own as a soup, and then strengthened the flavors further, it had to be a good thing.

Simplistic as my reasoning was (and still is, actually), the plan worked and the soup was delicious. The problem was it was a cumbersome recipe that took far too long to make to be practical. (I confess, with a proper shame, that I also committed the beginner’s sin of cutting up the stock-making chicken for use in the finished soup.) I felt it was now possible for me to rethink that soup, make it more practical, and have it taste even better. I am pleased to offer it to you here today.

If you’ve never made chicken soup from scratch before, I hope this recipe will show you how easy it really is and get you started. Yes, the stock takes a while to cook, but it’s something you mostly leave alone while you’re preparing other recipe elements, checking e-mail, or whatever. Just look in on it once in a while in a very general way and you’ll be fine.

Another very important note about making stock: every published recipe I’ve seen, without exception, forgets to mention one important bit of information.

After the stock has cooled overnight to allow the fats to separate and become easier to skim off, you’re going to find that the stock has the consistency of gelatin. This is not a mistake. It means you’ve made your stock the right way, full of body, flavor and bone-building goodness from the natural collagen in the chicken bones. (Some cooks go so far as to add chicken feet while cooking the stock to add even more collagen!) It’s also where stock differs from broth, which is made by simmering meat without bones and which therefore contains little or no collagen and remains liquid even when cool.

One more stock note: even if you’re not making soup right away, you can also just make the stock and freeze it in batches to use later in any recipe that calls for it. You just don’t get this fresh taste out of a can.

We’ll make our stock, chicken and vegetables separately, then combine them at the end and heat everything through. This recipe makes four hearty portions.

To make the stock:
Put 2 pounds of chicken drumsticks or other inexpensive bone-in part in a large pot with 2 quarts of cold water over medium-high heat. When it’s boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and add 1 sliced carrot, 1 chopped stalk of celery, ½ tsp dried parsley, 1 small bay leaf, 1-1/2 tablespoons of salt, ¼ teaspoon of whole peppercorns, ¾ teaspoon of dried thyme, and two cloves of crushed garlic. (Since we’ll be straining the liquid later, you can even leave the papery skin on the garlic for more flavor.) Cover and let simmer for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. (Depending on the chicken parts you use, there may be some scum rising to the top. That’s ok, just use a spoon to skim it off now and then during the cooking.) When it’s done, use a colander to strain out the solids, add 2 teaspoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, and then chill the liquid in the refrigerator overnight. Skim the fat off the top once everything is cool.
While the stock is cooking, there’s plenty of time to prepare the chicken, vegetables and potatoes, and refrigerate them to add to the finished stock after it has cooked overnight. (It’s also possible to make them the next day after the stock has already cooled, but that adds a lot of time to the process, since you’d no longer be taking advantage of the time spent cooking the stock anyway.) To prepare the potatoes:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is preheating, dice two medium potatoes (leaving the skin on if you like), and toss in a bowl with salt, pepper, and just enough olive oil to coat. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. (While the potatoes are baking, you can go on to the next step to prepare the onions.) Take the baking  sheet out of the oven, toss the potatoes on again on the sheet to prevent sticking and for even baking (drizzling with a bit more olive oil if necessary), and bake for another 20 minutes. Check for doneness and, when they’re ready, set them aside.
To prepare the onions while the potatoes are in the oven:
Dice a medium onion (about 1-1/2 cups) and sauté with a bit of olive oil in a sauté pan until they are nicely caramelized. (Don’t stop when they’re just translucent and cooked through; keep them in till they’re a nice golden tan as in the picture. The difference that makes in the flavor is amazing.) When they’re ready, set them aside, but keep the pan there: you’ll need it for the remaining vegetables. (And don’t forget to check the potatoes in the oven!)
To prepare the vegetables:
Slice 2 medium carrots and 2 medium stalks of celery into ½” pieces, and toss in a bowl with salt, pepper, and enough olive oil to coat. Using the same pan you used to cook the onions, sauté the carrots and celery until they’re cooked through, then combine with the onions and set aside, but keep the pan there: you’ll need it to brown the chicken for the final soup.
To prepare the chicken:
After the potatoes have finished baking, lower the oven temperature to 350. In the meantime, brown 1 pound of your favorite chicken part(s) in the saute pan. (You’ll need a pound of chicken meat, so if you’re using a part with bones, use a bit more than a pound.) You’ll only want to brown the chicken; don’t cook it through just yet.

Bake the browned chicken on a sprayed baking sheet till it’s cooked through, about 1 hour. When the chicken is done, put it, the potatoes, and the vegetable mixture into sealed containers and store overnight while the stock is cooling.
To serve (and enjoy!) the soup after it has cooled overnight and the fat has been skimmed off:
Tear your cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces. (You can cut the pieces instead, but torn chunks look rustically lovely and remind the person eating your soup that you took the trouble to make it from scratch and they’re supposed to appreciate that.) Add the chunks, along with the potatoes and the vegetable mixture, into the stock. (Remember, that gelatin-texture will become a rich liquid once it’s heated.) Heat it on the stove till everything is heated through (remember, all the elements are already cooked), and serve it as an appetizer or a meal with some good bread.
That’s plenty for now! If you’d like a cookbook-style, notebook-ready copy of this recipe, just let me know. (If I don’t already have your e-mail address, you'll want to include that.)

Enjoy the soup, and I hope I’ll get to see you here again next week. Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)


  1. Ben, this is a lovely soup. Our spring is quite strange this year and a good bowl of soup would really fill the bill. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  2. One of my cooking "mentors" was the great southern cook, chef and cookbook author, Edna Lewis. She taught me to always toss in chicken feet (readily available at the Piggly Wiggly). They are not so easy to find in the midwest!!

    By the way, I loved Aretha's hat at the inauguration!!


  3. Thanks, Mary. And I hope your spring warms up!

    And thank you also, Bonnie. Once you learn the value of that gelatinous texture, I can definitely see adding the chicken feet if they're available. Years ago, not knowing this, I tried making duck stock, and thought the gelling was caused by the duck being fatty. Some day I hope to try that again, now that I know about collagen!