Monday, February 3, 2014

Cheater's Chicken Soup

Everyone loves a good steaming bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup. Simmering for hours until that mix of carrots, celery, onions, and chicken creates a delicious, golden broth. Visions of your grandmother slaving away her afternoon, babysitting this delectable liquid....

And then, real life sets in to burst your bubble... You've just come home sick after working too many hours over too many days, the cat barfed on the rug, and you only have the basics in the fridge/freezer. What do you do? You make The Cheater's Chicken Soup!

This soup was born out of necessity (and love for my husband) one cold and snowy night during our first year of marriage. He was working terrible hours and caught the flu to add to his misery. Hobbling home through the snow, he mumbled to me as he walked in the door, "Soup, chicken soup", before collapsing into the duvet piled bed. I realized after a quick scan of our freezer, that we didn't have any of my mother in law's wonderful from-scratch traditional chicken soup to help comfort my poor hubby. So, off I trudged on foot to the local grocery store in the snow.

30 minutes later, I returned with the basics for this dish and an idea. What if I took the long hours out of making the recipe, but didn't lose the flavor? Cheater's Soup was born.

By cooking the different components ahead of time, and then throwing them together to simmer, you can cut down your cooking time drastically. Although I couldn't do it that first time, I now prefer to use homemade chicken (or even turkey) stock as the base (the same flavor as in the traditional soup, even though you didn't spend hours boiling the chicken). You can totally use boxed broth in a pinch. A quick saute of the carrots, onions, and celery combined with some tasty oven-baked chicken thighs - this soup is hearty. It's comforting. It will stick to your bones. An extra bit of goodness - boiling it with a handful of fresh dill. Amazing...

Cheater's Chicken Soup
6-8 large servings

three 32 oz boxes of chicken stock (or, the equivalent of homemade stock)
5-6 chicken thighs
1 large yellow onion, diced
4-5 celery stalks, split down the length and chopped into 1/2 inch dice
6 carrots, peeled, split down the length and chopped into 1/2 inch dice
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt & pepper
fresh dill
additional noodles and/or matzo balls

Preheat your oven to 350F. Place the chicken thighs on a large baking sheet. Make sure you spread them out. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt & pepper. Bake the chicken thighs for about 25-30 minutes, or until fully cooked. Put aside to cool before shredding/dicing.

While the chicken is cooking, bring the stock plus the 2 bay leaves to a low boil in a large pot. As the stock is heating, dice the onion, carrots, and celery. In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Once heated, add in the diced vegetables. Saute gently, making sure not to brown too much, until softened. Stir occasionally. Lower the heat if necessary to prevent too much browning.

Once the vegetables have softened, remove from the heat. Remove the bay leaves from the simmering broth before adding in the vegetables. Shred or dice the cooled chicken thighs and add to the soup along with a handful of fresh dill. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

We like to boil up some wide egg noodles separately from the soup, to add in after simmering. Matzo balls are also delicious. The soup freezes very well.

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