Seriously Good, Seriously Curative Chicken Soup

The thing about chicken soup is that it it can make you think about being sick, which is not so appetizing. And since the curative powers of chicken soup have been written up in medical journals and such, it’s a dish that can have an unfortunate medicinal aura about it, as if you are slurping cough syrup or something.

But this chicken soup is not like that. It cooks so long and slow and fragrantly that by the time it all comes together, you feel energized just smelling it, and almost virtuous when you start eating it.

It’s soothing for people with colds, and also to those with intestinal woes–though it’s a good idea to stick to broth alone at first. But with all the vegetables, chicken, and noodles (and some fresh bread and butter), it’s a meal that everyone–sick or healthy–can enjoy.

I prefer to make a raw-bones stock, but if you have a chicken carcass, by all means, use that. Some people buy chicken wings and backs specifically to make stock, but I prefer to use a whole small bird–sometimes a Cornish game hen, because free-range ones are more readily available where I live.

Ingredients:

For the stock:

bony pieces from ~3 lbs chicken

olive oil

salt

2 bay leaves

1 large yellow onion, chopped, most of peel left on

celery tops, cleaned (about 2 cups)

2 carrots, cleaned

1 head garlic, cloves separated but left unpeeled

For the soup:

schmaltz (I’ll explain!) or olive oil

leftover OR raw chicken, cut into very small pieces

2 pounds each celery and carrots, cut into very small pieces

1 large yellow onion, chopped very finely

3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

To Prepare:

Make schmaltz:

Begin by stripping all skin and fat off the raw chicken; de-bone the meaty pieces and set the meat aside. Place all the skin and fat in a large skillet with 1 cup water and cover; place over low heat. You are going to simmer this slowly until the fat dissolves, the skin releases its fat and becomes slightly crispy. Then, you will skim off the skin pieces and use the fat to cook the soup veggies and chicken. Or, you can skip this and just use olive oil, but don’t come crying to me when your soup doesn’t have the authentic Jewish-grandma taste. (Plus, chicken fat has antibacterial properties. Really.)

Oy Gott. This is just awful looking. So vulnerable.

Make stock:

CAREFULLY hack all the bony pieces into 2″ chunks. Please be careful–use a good chef’s knife or cleaver and pay great attention when you do this; we don’t want fingerbone soup. Place your stockpot over medium high heat and add 1 Tablespoon olive oil, then chicken bone pieces. Turn them after 2 minutes, browning on all sides. Add chopped onion and stir frequently until the onion is very soft. Add garlic cloves, celery tops, carrot, and bay leaves. Continue to cook and stir until the celery tops are very wilted and dark green and vegetables have reduced in size–maybe 20 minutes, or longer if you want a more developed flavor. Add 2 teaspoons salt and water to cover. Bring close to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and simmer at least 2 hours, adding water as needed to maintain the same level.

The vegetables should be looking like this before you add the water--maybe even a little more wilted.

Now prepare soup vegetables/chicken:

After the fat and skin have released lots of yummy fat into the water, turn heat to medium high and allow excess water to evaporate, stirring constantly and watching so that it does not burn. Add chopped onionand cook until they are translucent. Add minced garlic, stir 2 minutes more. Add small chicken pieces; stir until close to browning; add chopped carrots and celery. Reduce heat and stir frequently until carrots and celery are softened; cover and allow vegetables to simmer in their own juices for at least 1 hour, checking occasionally that they don’t burn.

After stock has simmered, strain it through a colander lined with a cheesecloth (or just a colander if you’re not fussy about little bits). Add stock to vegetable/chicken mixture; simmer 30 minutes and add salt boldly to taste.

Cook extra-wide egg noodles (Pennsylvania Dutch brand is highly recommended, yes I know, white flour blah blah–but they are the best) separately in heavily salted water; drain and toss with butter to keep them separate. Add noodles and soup separately to each bowl.

Deliciousness!

I swear this soup has helped my kids recover from illnesses quickly. Sometimes I throw the steaming strained stock vegetables in a bowl so my kids can inhale the curative steam.

Sensational & Salacious Stories & Scandals

One of the most discouraging things about blogging is that posts that tend toward the scandalous, sensational, and disturbing are by far the most popular. I say “tend toward” because not much on this blog is ever all that scandalous or sensational. But “bad” news is more popular than happy news, I’m afraid. There are bloggers out there (like Amanda Blake Soule–“Soulemama”) who do a brisk business writing exclusively happy crafty sunshine-y posts, but around here, the most-read, most-searched posts tend to be the ones involving eating disorders, deaths, and celebrity gossip.

What can I say?

Those things are more ‘thrilling’ than, well, soup. 

Most of life, though? Much more soup-and-salad than salacious-and-scandalous.

As Robert Frost wrote:

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned in life: It goes on.”

And it does. I was struck by this in a new way last week, when, after our friend Sam’s funeral, we shared lunch with a few other friends at a small pub in Philadelphia. Here we had spent more than two hours reflecting on, mourning, and crying over the life and death of our friend, and then in the next hour there we were with food and drink around a table. Because even grieving people get hungry eventually. Eating after funerals is a time-honored tradition–remember the very end of The Brothers Karamazov?

“Well, now we will finish talking and go to his funeral dinner. Don’t be put out by our eating pancakes–it’s a very old custom and there’s something nice in that!” laughed Alyosha.”

Even if most of us prefer to read about something more exciting than soup, I’m comforted by the ordinary soup-and-bread kind of days: these things make up a sort of “litany of everyday life.”

Besides, while we anticipate the Supper of the Lamb, what do we pray; of what do we partake?

Of course.

Our daily Bread. The Bread of Life.

And that–and He–is better than thrilling.

Soup Season

It’s cold!

Time for soup.

This is one of my favorite soups, not least because it’s one that my children are sure to eat. Plus, it is creamy and cheesy and full of wonderful vegetables. I was twelve or so the first time I had it, and it was served to me in beautiful pumpernickel bread bowls. I’ve never made bread bowls, but croûtes are just as good, if not better.(Simply slice a baguette on the diagonal, brush with olive oil, and put under the broiler for a few minutes on each side. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn!)

Cauliflower-Cheese Soup

~adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook~

Place the following in a pot and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 15 minutes:

2 cups potato chunks

2 cups cauliflower, chopped

1 cup chopped carrot

3 cloves garlic

1 large yellow onion, chopped,

1.5 tsp. salt

4 cups water

Allow to cool, then blend in a blender (or with an immersion blender if you are lucky enough to own one) and return to pot.

Meanwhile, steam 1.5 more cups cauliflowerets. Drain and reserve.

Whisk in over low heat:

1.5 cups grated cheddar cheese

3/4 cup milk

1/4 tsp. dill weed

1/4 tsp. ground caraway seed

black pepper to taste

reserved cauliflowerets

You can thin it with a bit more milk if it’s too thick. You can also use leftover mashed potatoes in place of the potatoes–just whisk them in with the second group of ingredients.Delicious!