Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Panacea: Chicken Soup

taste the soup for salt and richness

My parents used to call chicken soup "Jewish penicillin" because it was considered a cure-all for most illnesses. I didn't believe them when I was a kid, but now I do. Medical science may also be coming around to their way of thinking; researchers are trying to discover what properties make chicken soup so healthful.

I love it for several reasons: it allows me to roast a chicken for just one person—me—without any guilt about waste; it's delicious; it's warming; it's easy to eat when you're under the weather and few other foods taste good; it feels like a talisman against life's vicissitudes.

When I was undergoing heavy-duty chemotherapy a few years back, I probably ate chicken soup five or six times a week. I honestly believe it is one reason that I maintained my weight and my energy throughout. I pity those who have never had rich, homemade chicken soup; it has a heartiness that is surprising in a broth. The good stuff does take time to make, but it's not time you spend fussing; it's mainly time that the soup is cooking.

My method cooks the soup twice, first to make the broth and then to make the finished soup. I start with leftover roasted chicken pieces. I just throw everything into a large pot. Then I add 2 or 3 stalks of celery in chunks, 2 or 3 carrots, and a large onion. I fill the pot with cold water and let it simmer for an afternoon. Then I strain it. I throw away the depleted vegetables and try to pick every last piece of chicken off the bones. I rub it between my fingers to try to eliminate any tiny bones. Then I throw out the bones and skin, tossing the chicken meat back into the broth.

Now I cut up fresh vegetables: 2 or 3 more carrots, more celery, onion, and a parsnip. I dice these rather small because then the soup is easier to eat, and I add them to the broth. Then I add about a tsp of dill and a whole lot of parsley. Let this cook for about an hour covered.  Then uncover and boil the broth to concentrate the flavor. I usually wind up with about half the liquid that I started with. Only then do I add more salt. (The roasted chicken is usually salted, so that adds some at the outset.) Finally, I throw in a large handful of medium noodles and let those cook for half an hour or so. After the soup cools, store it overnight. In the morning, you can skim off a bit of the fat on top, but often I leave it, because it adds depth to the taste.

I usually enjoy some of the soup right away and then freeze about half of it in single-serving sizes. With a freezer full of chicken soup, I feel ready for anything winter can throw at me.

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