Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Flu-ed Soul

It's almost cold and flu season and one of the great foods to help you out when you are sick is Chicken Soup. It is much, much better if you make your own.

Now, you obviously will not want to make chicken soup from scratch when you are sick but if you make the base stock when you are healthy and freeze it then you'll just have to defrost it and add a few final ingredients and a few minutes later you'll have soul warming and body helping chicken soup.

I don't know why chicken soup is so great when you are sick, it may be the protein from the chicken or something from the garlic, but whatever it is it's still good eats.

Frugal Tip: if do a lot of cooking at home anyway you can save the scraps of onions, celery, carrots and parsley stems you trimmed off for other recipes and just keep them in a bag in the freezer collecting them through the summer for this.

Frugal Tip: Buying whole chickens and cutting them yourself saves quite a bit compared to getting parts at the store. You can save the backs, necks, wing tips and any other parts you trim off and save them for the stock too.

Chicken Stock
makes about 5 quarts
4 pound of chicken backs, neck, and wings (you can use just wings)
1 large onion, quartered
4 carrots, broken
4 ribs of celery, broken
10 sprigs fresh parley with stems
2 bay leaves
a dozen peppercorns
2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled

2 gallons cold water

12 quart stockpot
2 other large pots for the stock to cool in
steamer basket
spoon or small fine mesh strainer
large fine mesh strainer
large cooler
4 frozen quart bags of water
a bag of ice

Place all the ingredients except the water into your largest stockpot. Set the opened steamer basket upside down on the ingredients and pour over the water.
Cook on high heat until it just starts to boil, turn down heat so the stock maintains a gentle, low simmer.
Skim the scum from the stock with a spoon or small fine mesh strainer every 10-15 minutes for the first hour and then twice an hour for the next two hours. Add hot water as needed to keep everything submerged.
Simmer uncovered for 6 to 8 hours. The chicken bones should be brittle and snap easily.
Strain the stock through a large fine mesh strainer into your other pots. You can toss the spent chicken and vegetables they have given up all their goodness to the liquid.

This is the most dangerous part. This chicken stock is a variation on agar, the stuff scientists use to grow bacteria in petri dishes, you need to get it out of the danger zone as quickly as possible. Just stuffing this hot stock in the refrigerator will raise the temperature of the whole unit possibly spoiling all your food.

Dump the bag of ice into the cooler, place the pots of strained stock into the ice and the bags of ice in the pots. Cool until it has dropped below 40 degrees F. Place in refrigerator overnight. Remove the solidified fat that has collected on the surface, save it for making a roux (a thickener made of 1:1 fat and flour). If you did it right the chicken stock will have the consistancy of loose Jello.

Covered, the stock will last 2-3 days in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer. I like to portion it out into muffin tins (~1 cup) and ice cube trays (~2 Tbsp) and keep it in bags. It's easier to use that way.

Now you are most of the way to a chicken soup. A few addition ingredients on hand will make this very easy. We didn't put any salt in here so it can be used in many different ways without worrying about how it might effect a recipe.

Chicken Noodle Soup
4 cups chicken stock
1 chicken breast, thinly sliced
1 small onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 ounces dried egg noodles, cooked to al dente (not quite fully cooked)
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Over high heat, bring the stock to a boil for a couple of minutes in a 3 quart pot.
Add chicken breast meat, onion, celery and garlic. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes.
Add noodles and cook 5 more minutes.
Remove from heat and add herbs and salt and pepper, to taste.

Sometimes you might be too sick to make anything that fancy and no one is around to make it for you, here is an even easier recipe

Super Easy Chicken Soup
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup frozen peas and carrots
1/2 ounce dried egg noodles, cooked to al dente
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

Over high heat, bring the stock to a boil for a couple of minutes in a pot.
Add peas and carrots and cook for 3 minutes.
Add noodles and cook 5 more minutes.
Add parsley and cook 2 more minutes.
Salt and pepper to taste.

You could add some canned chicken, if you want.