March 29, 2009

For What Ails You (and Me): Chicken Alphabet Soup

Big surprise, it's soup again.

I am constitutionally averse to tossing out the bones of a roasted chicken. Even if I don't have any immediate need for soup or stock, I would feel too wretched about discarding good food to allow myself to simply bag them up and put them in the garbage. At the very least, if completely knackered, I'll wrap them well and toss them into the freezer for future efforts. I inherited this behaviour from my mother, whom I cheerfully blame for a lot of my culinary quirks.

In the throes of the latest rounds of cold and 'flu and other things that go "sneeze" in the night (as well as cough, *snork*, hack), I decided it was time to put some culinary prescriptions into play. After all, isn't scientific investigation itself proving the value of a good homemade vat of chicken soup? Is it called "Jewish Penicillin" for nothing?

Frankly, even if it contains no medicinal value whatsoever, it counts as fluids (always a plus for the ill and infirm), and is both warming and comforting. Really, there's no downside at all, other than that you have to feel well enough to actually make it.

Fortunately, it's not hard.

I bought a free-range, organic chicken from the market, and roasted it up for dinner. We ate the choicest selections with some creamy Parmesan orzo and some broccoli and when the chicken had cooled sufficiently after dinner, I pulled the remaining meat from the bones and set it aside in the fridge. I poured off the accumulated juices and fat from the cast iron frying pan (the vessel in which I always roast my chickens) into a container in the fridge, and then bundled up the skin and bones. I wasn't nearly well enough to begin stock making at that point.

The next morning was Sunday, which meant that I could take my time. I simmered the bones with filtered water, bay leaves, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, a carrot, a bit of celery, a quartered onion, and some garlic. I didn't salt it, because there was already salt clinging to the skin, and you can always add more salt later. I brought the whole pot up to the barest of simmers, and let it carry on unmolested for a couple of hours, checking periodically to ensure that it wasn't boiling (which gives you a cloudy, opaque stock). Finally, I scraped away the chicken fat from the reserved drippings (reserve for later uses) and added the gelatinized dark goodness of the accumulated roast chicken juices into the stock.

When it was finished, I cooled it with the bones in the stock, then fished them out and strained the stock. One roasting chicken gave me about six cups of stock, but your mileage may vary depending on the size of your chicken.

From there, it was simple to assemble a classic comfort food. I still had some alphabet pasta left from my Alphabet Soup endeavor, so I went with that. The rest of the ingredients were, essentially, the same flavours that went into the soup. There's a reason for that - they are quite delicious. However, in the soup-making stage, they are cooked only until tender, not until exhausted. Simple soup-making: saute your aromatic vegetables and herbs in a little fat (the roast-rendered chicken fat, in this case), and once they are edging towards tender, add your stock. Add the pasta, bring it up to a gentle simmer, and once the pasta is cooked, add the reserved chicken meat, which you have chopped into soup-sized pieces.

Did I get better faster? Maybe. Did I feel better? Immediately!


portugueseflavours said...

In Portugal almost everyday we eat soup and this one has a great aspect.

Katina said...

This beats any old package of instant noodle soup - looks delicious!