I have a confession to make. I used to make the absolute worst soup in the world. Just ask my four brothers, who were forced to tolerate my early forays into the art of soup making. My brothers are quite blatantly honest, and their usual comments regarding my early soups were basically, “this sucks”. As time passed, however, I learned how to make many delicious soups, from homemade chicken soup, to baked French onion, to creamy winter squash, to delicate lobster chowder. Soups are the ultimate comfort food, and they are economical when you’re feeding a crowd. Soups can be simple or absolutely elegant.
Homemade chicken soup is a mainstay, and whenever a loved one is under the weather, I make a giant pot with double-strength, rich broth and lots of fresh vegetables and herbs. This soup really does help to stave off the symptoms of cold and flu, but equally important, it’s like serving up a bowl of love and comfort. We all need a little love and comfort, don’t we?
The most important element of homemade chicken soup (or any soup for that matter) is an ultra-rich broth that is created by adding layers of flavor as it’s simmering on the stove. I start my homemade chicken soup by roasting a whole chicken in the oven, right in my soup pot the night before I’m planning to make the soup. (If you don’t have time for this, just pick up a roasted chicken). We enjoy some of the chicken for dinner that night, and then I debone the rest, chopping the tender meat into bite-sized pieces and refrigerating it separately. I reserve the entire carcass and all the pan juices as well (discarding the skin). The whole thing goes back in the soup pot and into the fridge.
The next morning, the pan juices have thickened into a rich gel, and the fat has risen to the top. I scoop most of the fat off and then add several boxes of unsalted organic chicken broth (much better for you) to the soup pot, to cover the chicken bones, along with a whole peeled onion, several cloves of garlic, a few whole carrots and a few whole pieces of celery. Let this simmer on the stove top for at least an hour, longer if you can. Then remove all the bones and vegetables. Now you have created a really rich base of flavor for your soup.
Next, we want to introduce “umami” or the fifth flavor (you know the first four—salty, bitter, sweet and sour). Umami means deliciousness in Japanese. It’s that indescribably amazing flavor that you can’t put your finger on. There are certain foods that bring umami, and we’re going to use a few of them. So, to your broth, add a shot of good quality soy sauce, the rind from a wedge of Parmesan cheese, and a handful of chopped, dried mushrooms that you have soaked in a cup of warm broth, hot water or white wine. Let your broth simmer a little longer, and taste it. It probably needs some salt and pepper. Add salt a little at a time, and taste it until it’s perfect.
Now add a few cups of chopped fresh vegetables of your choice. We like carrots, little pearl onions, and a potato or two. I also throw in a small package of mixed mushrooms, and maybe a can of cannellini beans. While the fresh vegetables are simmering to softness, they are releasing another flavor layer to your soup. It’s smelling pretty darned good by now, too. Finally, for the last 10 or 15 minutes, add herbs and spices of your choice and a bunch of fresh kale or baby spinach. That’s it!
Homemade chicken soup is a great way to learn the art of soup making. Once you understand how to create a beautiful broth, you can switch it up however you like. Give your soup a little Asian flair by leaving out the Parmesan, seasoning it with star anise and fresh ginger, and switching up the veggies to snow peas, carrots and baby corn. Or go Italian by adding chopped pancetta, a can of diced tomatoes and your favorite pasta. The options are endless!
- One whole chicken, roasted and deboned, carcass and pan juices reserved
- 2-3 boxes unsalted chicken broth or stock
- One whole onion
- 2-3 whole carrots
- 2-3 whole celery stalks
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled, chopped
- 1 small package mixed mushrooms (optional)
- 1 healthy shot of soy sauce
- 1 handful of dried mushrooms, soaked in broth, water or wine until soft, chopped
- 1 russet potato, peeled, cubed
- 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
- 1 ounce piece Parmesan cheese rind
- 1 pound kale, spinach or Swiss chard, stems trimmed, leaves coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- To the reserved carcass add the chicken broth or stock, whole onion, carrots celery and garlic. Simmer for at least and hour and then strain to remove the chicken bones and vegetables.
- Then add the fresh, chopped vegetables, the fresh and dried mushrooms, the potato, cannellini beans, and the Parmesan rind. Simmer until the vegetables are soft.
- Add the kale and fresh parsley, and simmer until wilted, about ten minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Discard Parmesan rind. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.