Recipes: Chicken (or Turkey) Soup for the Soul and Everything Else

             

I’ve been sick for most of a month. This almost never happens to me. One cold followed by bronchitis, followed by another cold, followed by more bronchitis, but I’m finally on the mend. Towards the end of being sick I get bored and antsy before I’m well enough to go out, and that’s when I make this soup.

I have perfected my chicken soup over more than a decade of experimentation. Chicken soup is rich, perfectly seasoned broth, just enough fat, tender vegetables, a good proportion of chicken, and (if you like) noodles enough to make it into most bites.

People who don’t cook may not really understand where the “richness” of a fine broth comes from, nor what “bone broth” really means. Gelatin, collagen, cholesterols (don’t be afraid of of dietary cholesterols anymore, say the AMA!), and esters released from boiling down the carcass - everything that’s not meat - make a smooth broth with depth that is unparalleled in its ability to warm and restore a person from the inside out.

So my recipe is really about getting the broth perfect and seasoning it well. You can use any vegetables. They don’t have to be the freshest in your fridge, even. I would avoid bitter greens in my soup. If you want greens, use kale or baby spinach, as they will not have such a tendency to leach tannins. For a base broth, I use Swanson’s Organic Chicken Broth, but you could use any chicken broth that doesn’t have added sugar or MSG (not that there’s anything wrong with MSG, but there’s no need for it since we’re bulking the broth up ourselves).

If you’re in the USA, get an organic chicken; they taste better. In fact, get a free range chicken if you can find it. I’m not sure if the flavor’s really any better between free range and not; but personally I think it’s important to treat the creatures we eat for food with respect and humanity. Regardless of how amusing the first episode of Porlandia is, the truth is that chickens and chicken farmers are often treated terribly by the industry, and going to the extra trouble of finding a farmers market, locally raised, or otherwise ethically produced chicken really is important.

This is important: start with a whole chicken / turkey. Yes, you need the dark meat. But even more importantly, most of the stuff I mentioned earlier that makes the broth rich is not in the parts you get when you buy a “whole turkey breast” or “whole chicken breast.” Legs, thighs, wings, back; these are essential to the finished product.

This soup freezes wonderfully, but don’t add noodles if you intend to freeze it. Depending on the size of your chicken, you may notice that the soup turns to jello in your fridge. This is a sign of a fantastic broth. Turkey broth will almost always do this, I find.

And yes, this one is involved. There’s not much prep-time, but there’s a lot of waiting. It’s worth every minute you put into it - trust me. This makes 12-18 servings, depending on whether you’re using chicken or turkey.

Ingredients

Meat
Liquids
Aromatics
Vegetables
Spices

Step 1. Cook the chicken. 40 minutes

If you are using a chicken Skin the chicken. See the note about rendering chicken fat and using it in something. Pour the broth into a large stockpot and lower the chicken in. Add water to cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the broth and set it in a large bowl. Separate the meat from the bones as best you can.

If you are using a turkey. Roast the turkey your favorite way (This is mine). Take the meat off the bones, pour off some of the roasting juices into the broth, and skip to step 2.

Step 2. Enrich the broth. 60 minutes

Smash the lemongrass stalk with a rolling pin. If it helps, think about all that aggression you’ve been suppressing. Now cut it into 3-4 even pieces. Add the bay leaf, lemongrass, and turkey or chicken carcass to the broth and bring to a boil. Cover and leave on a low boil (high simmer) for an hour.

Step 3. Make the soup. 60 minutes - 2 hours

Remove the carcass from the broth. You may need to strain the broth through a strainer to get everything out. If you used a turkey, add 2-3 cups of water.

Add the vegetables and bring back to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, add the spices and the wine, and simmer for 1-2 hours. The longer and lower the simmer, the more the flavors will meld.

When the vegetables are done, add the noodles and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the chicken in. Simmer until the noodles are tender. Serve.


Notes

Rendering and using chicken fat. I’m a “waste not” kind of a person, doubly so when dealing with meat, because an animal died for my meal, and I consider careful preparation and the use of everything part of paying respect to that. Rendering chicken fat is easy and only takes an extra skillet while everything else is going.

Also, after rendering you end up with tasty fried chicken skins, which are like pork rinds or chicarones. Simply take them out of the fat then dust with salt, pepper, and cayenne.

You can sautee the vegetables for the soup in a tablespoon of the fat, or you can save it for anything savory you would use butter for frying or sauteeing. I think it’s a great fat for stirfry myself.

Raise a preferably cast-iron skillet to medium heat, add the skins, spread them out on the skillet, and cover with a mesh frying guard to keep your stove from looking like a fuzzy black and white photograph of a Jackson Pollack painting. Fry until they stop sounding like they’re frying or are starting to turn golden, and then turn.

Remove the skins, let the fat cool slightly, then pour the it off into a glass jar.

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