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It’s time for chicken soup

November 7, 2017 - 12:05am

When I was growing up, we ate dinner at the family table almost daily. Sunday dinner, however, was usually homemade soup and sandwiches on tray tables in front of the television. And now, when the rains lash down and skies turn gray, a bowl of soup feels just right for lunch or dinner. I was happy to learn Sunday is National Chicken Soup Day, since my hankering for Sunday soup suppers always seems to kick in right when chilly weather arrives.

Everyone has their own version of homemade chicken soup, often a recipe passed down in the family. It really is a cure for the common cold (aka “Jewish Penicillin”) with warm, soothing broth, vitamin-rich vegetables and herbs, plus filling chicken and sometimes noodles or rice. And it couldn’t be simpler to make: just throw everything into a pot or slow cooker, add water to cover, put on a lid and let it simmer until done. Then set up the tray tables and start slurping.

Basic Chicken Soup

One of the secrets of good homemade chicken soup is to leave the skin on the chicken. It is responsible for the rich flavor and golden color that makes perfect broth. If you want to have noodles or rice in your soup, make these items separately, to avoid clouding the broth with starch and to maintain the “al dente” texture of the starch item.

3 to 3 1/2 pounds chicken, preferably organic, cut into pieces, skin left on

3 to 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

3 stalks celery, washed and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

3 to 5 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 or 2 onions, peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

Fresh herbs: parsley, dill, and/or thyme


Salt and Pepper

In a large soup pot, place all ingredients and add water to cover. Cover and simmer for at least 3 hours. If using a crock pot, put heat on high instead of low, then check at the halfway point and reduce heat if boiling. When chicken is fully cooked, transfer it to a plate or pan. When cool enough to handle, discard bones and add chicken meat back into pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered a few minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. If adding noodles or rice, cook the starch separately and add to soup in individual bowls. Refrigerate leftovers when cooled to room temperature.

Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

Probably my all-time favorite chicken soup recipe, this is a classic that offers creaminess with spicy flavors. And it is so fast and easy, because you use chicken that is already cooked. Recipe from “Soups and Stews” by Food &Wine Books; makes 6 servings.

3 3/4 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk

1 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

3/4-inch piece fresh ginger, cut into thirds

3 stalks lemongrass, bottom third only, cut into 3-inch lengths

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips

3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)

1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice

3 small, fresh red chili peppers, seeds and ribs removed, minced (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes)

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (more or less to taste)

In a large pot, combine the coconut milk, stock or broth, ginger and lemongrass. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add chicken; simmer until cooked through, about 2 1/2 minutes. Discard ginger and lemongrass. Add fish sauce, lime juice, chili and sugar; stir. Serve hot, sprinkled with cilantro.

Chicken Soup with Apples and Leeks

When you want something different, this decidedly robust winter soup will please just about anyone with its sweet and tangy flavors. Try it with slices of toasted and buttered French bread. Recipe from “Splendid Soups” by James Peterson; serves 8.

4-pound chicken, quartered

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 leeks, including 1 inch of green, cut in half lengthwise, washed and finely sliced

2 Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, or other tart apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 cup apple juice

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

3 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup heavy cream

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Melt butter over medium heat in a saute’ pan just large enough to hold the chicken. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook about 8 minutes. Lower heat if butter starts to brown. Turn chicken; saute’ 5 minutes more. Place chicken in a bowl. Add leeks to pan; cook 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not brown. Put chicken back into pan with leeks; add apples, apple juice, vinegar and broth. Bring liquids to a slow simmer. With a ladle, skim off any fat or froth that floats to the top. Cover pot; simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes until chicken is completely cooked. Remove chicken; let cool. Discard skin and bones; cut meat into half-inch chunks. Use a ladle to skim off any fat on the surface in the pan. Add heavy cream; bring to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Heat chunks of chicken in the soup for 2 minutes; serve immediately in hot bowls.

Note: if desired, add curry flavor to this soup by cooking a tablespoon of curry powder in a tablespoon of butter and stirring it into the soup just before serving.

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