MOMMY! This is the word I find coming to my lips most often in the last two weeks since my little heart break. (Doesn’t that sound much more romantic and wistful and forgiving than heart attack?) But MOMMY is what I’ve found myself saying out loud, in my kitchen, sometimes looking at her picture held in place, her smile held in time, by a magnet on the chalkboard, or sometimes just standing in the middle of anywhere feeling like I want the type of hug that can only come from that one person. It’s the kind of comfort that rearranges you at a cellular level, because it was what held you when you were just a bunch of cells. It doesn’t matter how old you get, (and I’m up there), that primal need is in there, always there.
Mommy. Well, since I can’t have her arms around me, (or the Godfather-like smack to get me to stop whining, that she was famous for!), there is only one thing left to do. Make chicken soup. This brew, this golden broth with carrot coins bobbing up and fall-apart strands of chicken swirling around, is the equivalent of a good hug from the inside out. And even though it is still summer, I have to make a huge pot and I have to have some everyday for a while until I feel steady and healed. My mother made it, more often than not with Matzoh Balls floating around in it, but she made it for every holiday and as the cure-all for our ills and I’m sure now, to comfort herself.
Chicken soup is the quintessential example of the alchemy, the magic that cooking can be. Ever since I was a kid watching Bewitched on TV (hence my Samatha-ish logo and my Bewitched Theme ringtone on my phone), I wanted desperately to be magical, to make amazing things happen out of thin air, and I maintain that cooking, good cooking, is the closest real world thing we have to hocus pocus.
I make this soup, I turn ten mundane, common ingredients…a few roots, a few sprigs and a chicken…into a delicious, comforting tonic for what ails you. Every culture has it’s version of it. I learned in culinary school that this soup or some version of it, is the flavor-building basis for almost every complex sauce. Campbell’s sells 361 million cans of it every year because it’s America’s go-to food for comfort. I’m not knocking Campbell’s, but let me encourage you to make your own. It’s so easy. A short ingredient list, you control. Less than 10 minutes to get it on the stove. No fancy techniques. Maybe 10 minutes on the other end after it’s cooked to strain it, skim the fat, and breakdown the chicken into bite-sized pieces. You can make a batch and have it now…and then freeze a bunch in serving-size containers for random MOMMY! moments you or your loved ones may have on any given day. It makes the house smell like home, too. And there is a crispness in the air these past few mornings that tells me it’s going to be soup season any day now.
What is your MOMMY food? Leave a comment below this post and let me know what it is…maybe I’ll do a series of them…
Trudy’s Chicken Soup
Note on Chicken: You can use a whole chicken for the most flavor from bones or you can use an already cut up chicken for a little more easier breakdown and clean up. If you like extra breast meat than add an additional split breast WITH BONES AND SKIN. But do use some dark meat pieces WITH BONES AND SKIN, even if you don’t use the meat in the soup, or don’t like it, because it will just impart so much more flavor to the broth than just using breasts. Also, I always try to cook with poultry that is antibiotic and hormone-free. They are getting easier and easier to find these days in almost any mainstream grocery store. The one pictured above is Nature’s Promise, the healthy store brand for Stop and Shop.
One 4-5 lb whole chicken or equivalent in cut up pieces (mix of dark and breast meat)
1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut in quarters
1 large leek stalk, cleaned and cut in hunks
8 medium carrots, 4 of them cut into rough hunks for the broth, 4 of them, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch “coins” to add at the end
4 medium stalks of celery, 2 of them cut into rough hunks for the broth, 2 of them sliced into 1/4 inch slivers to add at the end
2 medium parsnips, cut into rough hunks
2 small or 1 medium turnips
2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 sprigs of dill
3 sprigs of parsley
1-2 bay leaves
Water to cover, Salt and Pepper to taste.
Equipment: I use a 8-10 quart stockpot, but don’t fill it all the way. If you don’t have one this big, use the biggest one you have, (hopefully a 6 quart one at least) and you may have to use 3-4 lbs of chicken instead and one less carrot or turnip. The important thing is that when you have all the ingredients in the pot, you can cover it all with a few inches or so of water and not have it brimming the top.
1. Put all the ingredients in your stockpot, except for salt or pepper, and add enough water to cover the ingredients by 2-3 inches or more. You want the ingredients to be able to move around freely in the water, not to be jammed into the pot…so use a big enough pot. Don’t fill the water to the brim because the soup will rise up and expand as it’s cooking at first. Eventually some of the liquid will evaporate and reduce, but if you over fill the pot you’ll have a boil-over mess on your stove in the first stages when it comes to a boil.
2. Place the pot over a medium-high heat and bring the water to a boil then immediately reduce to a lively simmer. You don’t want this to be roughly boiling the whole time…it will make the meat tough and rubbery and you won’t be extracting as much good flavor as you would at a lower simmer. Simmer for one hour if using chicken parts, and 90 minutes if using a whole chicken. More cooking than that does not extract more flavor, it only will turn your chicken into mush.
3. Remove from heat. With a slotted spoon, remove chicken, or chicken parts from the broth and place them in a large bowl or on a platter to cool down enough for you to handle. Strain the rest of the solids out of the broth, using a colander or mesh strainer, with a bowl underneath to capture the broth, (yes, I have seen people strain the soup into a colander placed in the sink, with nothing under it and they watched in horror as their precious broth went down the drain, so don’t think I’m being obvious here!).
4. Fat will rise to the top of the broth if you let it sit and cool for a while. There are two ways to get rid of this excess fat. You can refrigerate the broth overnight and the fat will turn hard and whitish and sit on top of the broth and then you can easily remove the solid fat with a spatula or big spoon. (Wouldn’t it be great if we could get rid of our own excess fat this way? I’d gladly spend a few hours in the fridge for that!) Or, if you don’t want to wait you can use sheets of paper towel, laying them lightly, one sheet at a time, on the surface of your warm broth. As each sheet becomes saturated with the fat, you gently lift it out and toss it away. Continue until the fat is mostly gone. Leaving a little fat in the broth will make it more flavorful and have a better “mouth feel.” (Slips around your tongue and holds the flavor there…that’s why we love fat!).
5. In a small saucepan, bring three cups of the chicken broth to a boil and blanch the reserved carrots and celery for about 5 minutes. Then throw this broth and the vegetables back into the pot/bowl with the rest of the broth. This enriches the broth with more veggie flavor but also gives you some crisp, fresh bites of veggie and color for your soup.
6. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, strip the meat off the bones and break it up into bite-sized pieces. Remove any undesirable bits like sinew, gristle, cartilage, etc. and discard. Put the edible chicken pieces back into the broth. Reheat to serve and season with salt and pepper to taste. Note: you never want to season soup until it’s done cooking, because it will be reducing as it cooks and adding salt at the beginning will concentrate it too much…again…very obvious, but after teaching cooking for so long, I don’t assume that people know anything about basics any more…I just cover them…just in case!
ADD ONS: A few spoons of good parmesan or romano cheese in this hot soup is not how my mother served it, but it sure is good. Adds a salty, creamy factor. And I don’t have to tell you a nice hunk of bread and butter, or a fresh salad served with this will make it a meal.