Sunday, November 14, 2010
Chicken Noodle Soup
(My apologies to my vegan friends for this departure while I'm cooking for my family. We'll get back to the vegan soups when I get home and am cooking for Bulls Head Friends again.)
There's nothing quite as comforting as a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup. It's the balm that will sooth anything from the common cold to a broken heart.
I'm still in Florida, spending time with my 97 year old grandmother, Dot Cesky, while my mom enjoys a vacation in Hawaii. My son, John New, is coming over for dinner today - so today's soup spans four generations. My mom isn't here, but I'm cooking in her kitchen, so I think that counts. Growing up, John and his brother Ryan would often request this for dinner, no matter how hot it was outside. I glad we're having some lovely cool weather here in central Florida because soup and air conditioning are not a good pairing. John makes a mighty fine chicken soup himself - of course he learned from me.
I start by rinsing a whole fryer chicken, putting it into the pot with the giblets, covering it with water, adding salt and pepper and putting it on the stove over medium heat. It's not necessary to use a whole chicken. You could also use leg quarters, thighs, or the left-overs (including bones) from a roasted chicken. Just don't pay premium prices for boneless skinless cuts because making soup is a way to use all the parts of the bird. You can also do exactly the same thing to make Turkey Soup with leftover turkey bones and pieces - so you might want to bookmark this post for the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Be sure to wash your hands and any surfaces that touched the raw chicken. Bring the pot to a boil and reduce heat and let it simmer. It smells so good cooking - homey and warm.
While it's simmering chop an onion, a couple of carrots, and a few stalks of celery, with leaves, and through them in.
You can tell the chicken is done when the legs pull away easily from the rest of the body. It does no harm to cook it longer. Especially if you are working with leftovers, the longer you simmer the more goodness you get out of your chicken parts. When it's done and you're ready, lift the chicken out of the broth, be sure and let the broth drain out of the cavity, and set it on a plate to cool. I use a large spoon and a wooden cooking paddle for this. If I'm working with pieces, or I've cooked it so long that it has fallen apart, I use a large slotted spoon. At this point I fish out the heart and gizzard and eat them. Cook's prerogative.
Once you take the chicken out you will have a very rich broth and extra room in your pot. If you are concerned about fat, you can remove it from the broth now. Add more water and put it back on the heat but be sure to leave a few inches from the top of the pot so you have room to add more good stuff.
I added a coarsely chopped green bell pepper, a package of frozen green peas, and some leftover green beans. Add whatever veggies you like. This is a good way to use leftovers. When it's cool enough to handle, pick the meat off the chicken and break it into bite-sized pieces and throw them back into the pot. Discard the skin & bones.
The egg noodles are what will really set apart a truly amazing bowl of soup. It's not hard at all to make your own. Here's what I do: I beat 2 eggs with some Abodo seasoning and black pepper. Then I mix in some All-Purpose flour. I keep adding flour in small quantities until I have a ball of dough that sticks together and I can shape it into a ball. Don't knead it or handle it too much so your noodles will stay tender. Some people will then roll the dough out on a floured surface and then cut them into strips. I like to follow a shortcut and just flour my hands well, pick up the ball of dough, pinch off pieces, and throw them directly into the boiling soup. Then, all you have to do is call the noodles 'dumplings'. If it starts to stick to your hands too much, just grab more flour. Be very sloppy about letting extra flour fall into the soup because this will thicken the whole pot and make the soup extra hearty.
In certain parts of the country you can also purchase Reames frozen egg noodles, which are quite good. Of course you can also use the dried egg noodles that come in a plastic bag from the grocery store, but if you do, put them in at the very end of cooking. If they get overcooked they turn to mush.
Herbert Hoover rode into the US Presidency on the slogan "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." Not a sustainable economic or environmental policy for certain. Considering the impact and conditions of factory-farmed chickens, you don't want to do this very often. Back home, I have a source of fresh, local chickens grown in a natural setting. The most reasonable thing to do is eat a free-range laying hen after she's finished producing eggs - and the stewing cooking method I describe above is perfect for a tough bird. The sheer sensory pleasure found in an occasional pot of chicken soup, tells me why the slogan resonated so well with the voters of his day.