Chicken soup is more than just another meal. It’s the thing that parents feed their children when they’re sick. It is one of the best things ever to take to families with brand new babies. And on a cold day, there is nothing more warming than a bowl of steaming chicken soup.
It’s a cultural touchstone and I firmly believe that every home cook should know how to make a batch from scratch. And so, for this final installment of the Whole Chicken Project, that’s what we’re going to explore. All you need is a chicken, a few veggies, and a handful of herbs and seasonings.
I like to break the making of chicken soup into a two-day process (mostly because it allows me to chill the broth and skim off the fat), but there’s no reason why it can’t be done in a single day either.
I always start with a whole chicken. Some people believe that you should make your chicken broth strictly with wings, or feet, or backbones (I will say, if you have access to chickens sold with their feet still attached, use them here. The feet add body and silkiness to the broth). I like to use the whole bird because you get the necessary flavor and you also manage to cook your protein for the soup in a single action.
Once you have your chicken selected, it goes in a roomy stockpot (8 or 10 quarts is a nice size) with two or three large carrots, a quartered onion (leave the yellow skins on, they will add color to your broth), and a couple broken celery stalks. It is all the better if they still have their leaves. Add some salt, a few black peppercorns, and a couple of cloves of garlic. Cover everything with clean, cold water, leaving an inch of space at the top of the pot to allow for the boil, and put the pot on the stove.
The goal when you make chicken soup is to bring the pot to a gentle simmer and keep it there. You don’t want a rolling boil and you don’t want a surface that is entirely still. Once you’ve reached that ideal cooking zone, make note of the time. In about an hour, you’ll remove the chicken from the pot, let it cool long enough to handle, and pull the meat off the bone. Stash the meat in the fridge until you’re ready to construct the soup and return all the bones to the pot.
Then, you cook. I like to simmer my soup broth for at least three hours, and sometimes I go even longer. You want to cook it until it tastes deep and rich and chicken-y. Once my broth is flavorful, I pull it off the stove, strain all the spent chicken bits and cool it down, refrigerate it, and veg out until I’m ready to make soup.
To make the soup, you sauté some minced vegetables of your choice (my regulars are onion, carrot, celery, fennel, garlic, and ribbons of kale or cabbage) in a little olive oil or chicken fat skimmed from the broth. Once they’re fragrant, you add in your broth and the chicken meat you picked earlier. If you’re using potatoes, this is the point you add them. Any other starches (like noodles or rice) should be pre-cooked and added when you serve.
Then you let the soup simmer for while. The chicken should loosen into the broth and the vegetables will soften. When the air smells wonderful, taste your soup. Add a bit of salt, pepper, or lemon juice to taste (sometimes chicken soup needs a little acid for brightness). Ladle over cooked egg noodles, pastina, or rice and serve.
Homemade Chicken Broth
1 3-pound chicken
1 yellow onion, quartered
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, cracked
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Combine the chicken, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large stockpot. Cover with cold, filtered water. Place pot on the stove, cover and bring to a simmer.
Cook for approximately one hour, until the chicken is fully cooked. Remove the chicken and set it on a plate. Let it cool until you’re able to handle it. Pull the chicken off the carcass and save it for soup making time. Return the bones to the pot and simmer the broth for another 3 to 4 hours.
When broth is flavorful, remove the pot from the heat. Strain the stock into a large container and cool. Refrigerate overnight to separate out the fat.
Whole Chicken Project Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil or chicken fat removed from broth
1 yellow onion, minced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
2 large carrots, cut into rounds
2 celery stalks, minced
2 cups chopped kale or cabbage (remove tough stalks/cores)
2 garlic cloves, minced
10-12 cups chicken broth
Reserved chicken, chopped
2-3 cups cooked pasta or rice
Heat the oil in a large soup pot (aim for something that holds 6 quarts or more) over medium-high heat. Add the onion, fennel, carrots, celery, kale/cabbage, and minced garlic. Cook, stirring regularly, until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes.
Add the broth and chicken. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes in order to further develop the flavor.
To serve, spoon some cooked pasta or rice into the bottom of your bowls and top with the soup.
Note: The reason you don’t want to add the pasta or rice directly to the soup is that it will suck up all your lovely broth and you’ll end up with a pot full of bloated carbs and no liquid.