Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fran's Real Chicken Soup

So, I've been sick. Really really sick. So sick, that I literally couldn't get out of bed. This never happens. I always try to "soldier through", but this... nope. Full alert! Mama is down! I repeat, Mama is down!

My poor children and husband have been living on a varied diet of PB&J sandwiches, cheerios, and take-out over the last week. Poor souls. But then the Calvary arrived with provisions. "Real" Chicken Soup, as my Father-in-law likes to call it, came to the rescue!

So, with a take-charge attitude, and a stock pot at the ready, my Mother-in-law worked her magic over a pot of vegetables and chicken. In an effort to take notes, I sniffled my way downstairs to watch. It looks so simple (and it is, to a degree). A certain combination of heat, time, and quality ingredients, simmered together to make the perfect comfort soup.

However, what makes my Mother-in-laws' version tastier than many other stocks and soups is the addition of a few non-traditional ingredients. Yes, there is the chicken and yes, the magical aromatic trio of carrots, celery, and onions are thrown into the pot. Surprisingly, so is a yam...and some parsnips... A turnip? Yes, yes, and really... yes. You can taste the difference, and it is delicious!

Cooked together, all of these nutritious veggies and the chicken blend together into a soup of great depth. Savory, meaty, slightly sweet from the yam and with a great mouth feel from using the whole chicken instead of just the bones for the broth... well, it just makes some of the best cold and flu medicine ever placed in a spoon!

It is important to note this isn't a quick weekend or slap together dinner; this is an afternoon project that is well worth the work. When made in large quantities it is easily portioned and frozen for when you want it. Trust me, you need this soup!

Fran's Real Chicken Soup
makes a lot of servings, (12-13 quarts of soup)*
(1-2 day process)

2 whole (preferably organic or kosher) chickens, 3-4 pounds each
1 package of bone in & skin on chicken thighs
2 lbs carrots
6 celery stalks, leafy tops included
4 parsnips
3 medium yellow onions
2 medium sweet potatoes
3/4 of a large turnip, or 2 small turnips
4-5 cloves of garlic
large handful of fresh dill
salt & pepper to taste

Reserve a large stock pot and set aside. Wash the inside & outside of the whole chickens and pat dry. Place the whole chickens plus the extra chicken thighs into the large stockpot. Fill the pot with cold water. You want to fill the pot up until there is 2 inches of water above the chicken. Place the stockpot on the stove over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and skim the excess fat as needed, while keeping at a gentle boil.

Wash and peel the carrots, turnip, sweet potatoes, and parsnips. Peel the onions and garlic cloves. Wash and trim the bottoms of the celery stalks. Add all of the vegetables to the pot, EXCEPT the carrots.

Cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Skim the "raft" (protein foam) as needed.

Important- add the carrots 45 minutes into the cooking time, so they won't cook down to mush.

Season with salt & pepper the last 15 minutes of cooking.

After 1 hour and 30 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

Once cooled, remove the vegetables and chicken as carefully as possible, to two large bowls or casserole dishes. Once the larger foods have been removed, take a fine sieve and place over another large pot or container (you may have to use several containers!). Strain the remaining liquid through the sieve to catch any leftover solids.

Once strained, allow the broth to cool to room temperature and place in the refrigerator (or, in the winter, a cold garage) to chill completely.

Take the saved vegetables and slice the carrots into 1/4-1/2 inch rounds. Reserve and store in an airtight container in the fridge. If desired, the other veggies can be saved and blended with a little water, to use as a base for any soup or to use as baby food. Just toss in the freezer until needed.

Remove the chicken meat from the bones in large chunks, being very careful to remove all small bones, skin, cartilage, and veins. Store the meat in an airtight container and refrigerate.

Discard the chicken bones and any unwanted vegetables.

After the broth has been chilled overnight, you can now skim away the chicken fat from the surface. Try to get as much as possible. Discard the fat (or "schmaltz" - although you could also use it to make authentic matzo balls).

Gather up your freezer-safe medium to large containers (8-10). Divvy out the chicken meat and carrots evenly to each container and then fill 3/4 of the way up with broth. Pop them in the freezer until needed. If desired, you can scrape additional fat off the soup after it's been frozen (but before reheating).

To Reheat

Place the frozen container in the microwave and reheat for 1 minute only. Plop that soupy goodness into a large pot with a tiny splash of cold water on the bottom. Reheat on medium-high heat until completely melted and at a nice simmer. 5 minutes before serving, place a handful of fresh dill into the soup, season with salt and pepper to taste, and boil for 5 minutes. Enjoy!

* If this seems like a lot of soup for your freezer, simply halve the recipe and you will get about 20-25 cups worth of soup.

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