Ah, the Holidays… Since I have had kids, the season has been kind of a love-hate thing (maybe hate is too strong of a word). Don’t get me wrong – I love the Christmas story, all of the lights, the parties, the cookies, the music, the food and drink, the tree, and more. On the flip side, there’s the stress of having enough extra income to pay for gifts, the food and drink, decorations, etc. Hosting relatives that can be less than the best houseguests. The bombardment of advertising, the expectations, the thought of having to work off all the food and drink (and cookies), vacuuming all of those pine needles.
My husband always has to work like crazy. He’s tired and stressed. Last year I admitted to my mom that I was finding it difficult to enjoy the Holidays, and she laughed out loud for about three minutes. I guess that is just another one of those parental satisfactions that I will experience when I’m sixty something. I try to keep things simple and easy, but all of the above seems to creep back in. I am trying hard to focus on the LOVE and not the (not) hate.
One thing that keeps me grounded and healthy throughout the season is chicken soup. As much as I want to jazz it up, the simpler it is, the better. I love the simplicity of it all. The methodical simmering of the bones to make the stock. I love simmering them long enough that when the stock cools, it becomes a solid. I love gently cooking (sweating) the vegetables, slowly bringing out their flavor, while I gradually add more layers of flavor with salt, pepper, garlic and ginger.
The traditional vegetables for a good chicken soup are onion, celery, and carrots. I love swapping out the carrots with the delightful root vegetables that are available this time of year. Parsnips, fennel, rutabaga, celery root, turnips, oh my! I sometimes try and push the envelope with the celery flavor. I double up on the celery AND add lots of celery root. I know. That’s crazy, right? Celery root is the best. I suppose slightly adapting subtle flavors on a classic dish like chicken soup while still keeping it simple, is what I love so much about cooking. These simple, methodical techniques are what I have come to appreciate about cooking after doing it for so many years.
Consider the recipe here a guide for a simple chicken soup. I encourage you to make it your own. You can add and/or substitute whatever vegetables you want. Add mushrooms and finish the soup with cooked brown or wild rice. Add some fresh ginger, lots of garlic, and fresh chilies, and finish it with a splash of rice vinegar and tamari for an Asian hot pot. Play around with the fresh herbs that you finish your soup with. Add chopped fresh sage, rosemary, basil, thyme or mint.
Buying a raw chicken, roasting or poaching it, and then making stock for soup can be ambitious. I buy a rotisserie chicken from Earthfare. They sell nice, regionally produced chickens without antibiotics, hormones, and the like. The chickens aren’t coated with a bunch of nasty chemicals to season it, either. Even better, they have already done half of the work for me by cooking it. It has been sitting on a rotisserie, cooking slowly and evenly all day. The meat is flavorful and fall off the bone tender and juicy. It’s a better cooked bird than I could have hoped for, and the best part is that it’s actually cheaper than the raw chickens for sale. Also, these chickens have been cooked so long, that the stock “goodness” that you want to simmer out of the bones, is already on it’s way. You don’t have to simmer the bones as long to make a great stock.
The meat is really easy to separate from the bones. I start by removing the legs. Remove all the skin. Carefully separate the meat from the bones. Remove the wings and set them with the leg bones (it’s not really worth my time to separate the small amount of meat from the wings).
Remove the breast meat from each side of the chicken. I reserve one of the breasts for other uses, like salads. Once the breast meat is removed, turn the chicken over and remove all of the meat from the back and whatever is left from the sides of the chicken.
Pick through all the meat once more to be sure you’ve removed all of the bones and fat. Dice up the meat and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Place the bones in a small stock pot or dutch oven. Cover with COLD water.
Bring the pot to a simmer, and cook slowly for 3-6 hours. Once the stock is finished, strain it into another container, discarding the bones.
Meanwhile dice up the vegetables.
Get another pot or dutch oven hot. Add a bit of olive oil, and then the vegetables. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper, and cook slowly, stirring often until they are translucent and slightly tender.
I like to add garlic and/or ginger after the vegetables have cooked for a bit.
At this point, add the stock. If it’s a small amount, I like to strain it right into the soup pot.
Bring the soup to a simmer, and add the chicken.
Allow the soup to simmer for about 20-30 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld together. Adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Finish the soup with fresh herbs. Add rice or pasta if desired.
CHICKEN SOUP RECIPE
1 Rotisserie Chicken
¼ cup olive oil
3 small to medium yellow onions, diced small
4 stalks celery, cleaned and diced small
3 parsnips, peeled and diced small
½ celery root, peeled and diced small
3 cloves garlic, small dice
5 teaspoons Diamond Krystal kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground black pepper.
½ bunch flat leaf parsley, washed and chopped
- Make Stock. Remove chicken meat from bones. Reserve one chicken breast for other uses. Carefully pick through meat to make sure you didn’t miss any bones. Chop chicken meat and set aside in the refrigerator. Place the bones in a small stock pot or dutch oven. Cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat to low, and simmer bones for 3-6 hours, depending on the desired depth of the stock. Add water as needed as the stock reduces. Once the stock is finished. Allow it to cool and strain it through a fine mesh sieve. This step can be done a day or two in advance.
- Get another pot or dutch oven hot over the stove. Add the olive oil. Add the vegetables and 3 teaspoons of the salt, and one teaspoon pepper. Slowly cook the vegetables, stirring often, until they start to release their water. At this point add the garlic, and continue to cook, stirring until the vegetables are translucent and slightly tender.
- Add the stock to the pot of vegetables. Add the chopped chicken, and remaining salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer, cooking for 20-30 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld together. Finish the soup with the parsley. Soup will keep up to five days in the refrigerator and three months in the freezer.