Saturday, September 26, 2009

Soup's On

Well, it's that time of year. Each Fall, I make Grandma's Chicken Soup, freezing all but enough for a week in order to have some delicious, cold-fighting goodness for later in the season. I have fond memories of my grandmother making chicken soup so delicious that we would beg for bowl after bowl. I try to channel my inner-Helen whenever I make it. The recipe is not exact because, like chili, chicken soup can and should be made to taste. If you want more of something, add it. Less? Take it out. And remember, as Grandma always said, it's the pastina.

I never realized how incredibly easy it is to make chicken soup until I watched a former client's mom make it. Many recipes will call for additional veggies (celery, onions, etc), and occassionally I'll throw those in, but I've found that sticking to the version that Grandma made is always a winner. What's wonderul about homemade chicken soup is that it's not just a tasty, healthy and perfect all-in-1 meal, but it's also so much lower in sodium than store-bought stuff in a can. It's not just a story-book myth either, chicken soup is full of nutrients that fend off and aid in fighting sore throats, colds, and flus. It freezes well, so this weekend, try it! You'll be glad you did when you are all stuffed up and have no interest in cooking.

EDIT 9/29/09: Thank you, Rebekah, for asking for more information! Using either regular, white potatoes or sweet potatoes works fine; both taste delicious! If you are making soup that you want to share with an infant, consider making it salt/pepper free and then telling adults who eat it to season their own bowl to taste. This way, all you have to do is mash up the potatoes and carrots into child-safe pieces. Grandma was a big fan of doing this for us, so I have it on good authority that it works. Please note, the soup can simmer for as long as you'd like, but the minimum time is listed below (until the pastina cooks through which doesn't take long since it's so tiny). Also, make sure if you use rice, it is pre-cooked. Rice soaks up water in order to cook, which you don't want here because well, then it wouldn't be soup. The same can happen with bigger noodles (shells or elbows, etc) so be wary of when you add those in and you may need to consider cooking them first. The reason why the soup stays on simmer when you add the pastina is because this pasta is very tiny and cooks quickly so it's not worth taking the entire pot back up to boiling again. However with bigger pastas, it may be necessary to pre-cook them (as with the rice) or get it back up to boiling in order to ensure they aren't raw when you go to eat it. Unfortunately, because I often use rice or pastina, I can't say for sure how to do this. You may need to do some trial and error to get it right.

Chicken Soup (makes: a lot)

To Buy:

1 - 1.5 pounds of chicken (I prefer boneless, skinless chicken breast but go with what you like; I'm pretty sure my grandma use white and dark meat chicken with bones that got taken out, naturally)

3 - 5 carrots (note: I've used half a bag of baby carrots in a pinch and it was fine)

2 - 3 potatoes or sweet potatoes

half a box of pastina (you can use pre-cooked rice or a noodle-y pasta but honest to God, this is the BEST tasting pasta for chicken soup)



To Do:

1. Clean the chicken. I take off some but not all of the fat. The fat helps flavor the broth but I take off anything that wouldn't boil off the chicken and into the water. Do not cut it up, just wash it and trim off the grossest fat.

2. Get a big old soup pot. Frank has referred to ours as the lobster pot in case that helps. I'm not sure that "lobster pot" is an accurate description of how we use it, but that's what he has called it. Fill the pot about halfway full with water. Add salt -- I eyeball this, but it's probably about a tablespoon or so.

3. Put the pot on the stove, high heat. Add the chicken. Allow it to boil until the chicken is cooked. I'm not sure how long this takes because I tend to get involved in something else but 20 minutes will do it. Note: You cannot overcook the chicken. Boiling it longer will help make it easier to shred or pull apart (a later step).

4. In the meantime, begin peeling and cutting the carrots and potatoes into bite-sized pieces.

5. Once the chicken is cooked, turn the heat down to simmer. Carefully remove the chicken and place it on a cutting board to cool completely.

6. Add the carrots and potatoes to the chicken stock. Turn the heat back up so the carrots and potatoes boil and soften. These can become too soft so don't let them overcook. This can take anywhere from 10 - 20 minutes depending on the amount and size of potatoes/carrots as well as your stove or pot. So, keep an eye on this. Add another round of salt as well as some pepper. Do NOT be heavy-handed with either and frequently taste it to make sure it's not too much. I tend to be minimalist with these because this way, those eating the soup can add it to their liking.

7. When the carrots and potatoes are adequately cooked, turn the heat to simmer. Add salt/pepper as necessary.

8. Once the chicken is cooled, begin to pull it apart or shred it. Add it back to the pot as you do.

9. Add the pastina as well as salt/pepper if needed. Cover the pot and let the soup simmer until the pasta is cooked through. Then, serve and eat or freeze for later.

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