It’s been a tough winter in my house, with bad colds, bad backs, the flu, food poisoning and fevers, topped off by my 3-year-old getting chickenpox last month. It had been going around his daycare since Christmas, so I had already resigned myself to the fact that he was going to get it; the only surprise was that it took so long. I’ve lost count of the number of pots of homemade chicken soup I’ve made this season, coaxing one or another of us back to health and an appetite.
Chicken soup is one of those things everyone should know how to make. You shouldn’t be able to leave school without knowing how to at least make a roast chicken, chicken soup, an omelette and pasta (don’t laugh – I know someone who didn’t even know how to cook pasta in their early twenties). This recipe is for making stock and soup from scratch, but if you’ve roasted a chicken, you should always make stock with the carcass to extract every last bit of value and goodness from it. It will keep in the freezer for three months, ready for those times when a bowl of homemade chicken soup and a hug is the only thing that will do.
Homemade Chicken Soup
Most chicken noodle soups use wide egg noodles, but I like to use macaroni because it’s easier to scoop up with a spoon, especially for children. If you’re not feeling the best to begin with, you want the act of eating your soup to be as undemanding as possible.
If you’re feeling very organized, prep the soup vegetables when you make the stock and add the carrot peelings, celery leaves and onion and garlic skins to the stock pot. For a stock with an incredible golden color, use a corn-fed chicken. Using my 5 1/2 quart (5.3 liter) Le Creuset pot, I get 3 pints (1.5 liters) of stock.
for the stock:
1 large whole chicken
3 carrots, scrubbed well but unpeeled and cut in half
3 celery stalks, cut in half (leaves included)
1 onion, unpeeled and quartered through the root end
1 head of garlic, cut in half around its middle to expose all the cloves
2 bay leaves
1 bunch of parsley
1 tablespoon salt
for the soup:
3 carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 celery stalks, cut in half lengthwise and finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 or 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
a few handfuls of cooked, shredded chicken
3 pints (1.5 liters) chicken stock
7 oz (200 g) macaroni (use more if you want a more substantial soup with less broth)
a handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
crusty bread, to serve
To make the stock, place the chicken in a large stockpot, one roomy enough to hold it and all the vegetables plus plenty of water. Add in all the remaining stock ingredients, then pour over enough cold water to cover the chicken. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a steady simmer and let it bubble away, covered, for 90 minutes to ensure the chicken gets fully cooked. Partially uncover the pot and continue to let it simmer for a further 30 to 60 minutes to let the stock reduce a bit and get a more concentrated flavor. Don’t be tempted to let the stock boil for more than 3 hours max or the texture of the chicken will get too mushy.
Carefully remove the chicken from the pot onto a plate and allow it to cool enough that you can shred it. Strain the stock through a sieve into a large bowl, pressing on the vegetables with the back of a spoon to get as much liquid as possible out of them, then discard them. If you’re making the stock ahead (or only making stock and not soup), cover the bowl with cling film and put it in the fridge overnight to allow the fat to congeal on the top, then skim it off. Otherwise, don’t worry about it – in fact, it’s said that the flu-fighting properties of chicken soup are in the fat anyway.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and any other unsavory bits. Dice or shred the remaining chicken. You’ll only need half of it for the soup, so save the rest for adding to pasta, stir-fries, salads, lentils, risotto, chicken salad sandwiches – you get the idea.
To make the soup, place a pot over a medium-low heat and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. When the oil is warm, add in the carrots, celery and onion along with a pinch of salt (to keep the onion from browning) and some pepper and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables have softened but not colored. Add in the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the chicken and stock and bring to the boil, then reduce to a lively simmer and add in the pasta. Cook for 10 or 15 minutes, until the pasta is cooked through. Add in the parsley at the last minute and ladle the soup into bowls. Pass around plenty of crusty bread to mop up every last drop of nourishing stock. Serve steaming hot and feel better soon.