Chicken Soup

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The celery roots I’ve been seeing in the produce markets this week have been just gigantic. It’s not everyday that you see a celery root dwarfing a decent-sized onion.

celery root

still life with onion & celery root

Given its grand proportions I had to bring it home, even though I didn’t have particular plans for it. This flu and cold season, however, has been pretty bad for us in that one or the other of us three in the household has had some bug or another for a solid month and I just got over something and my husband just got the next round. I looked that celery root in the eye and knew that it was time to make the first chicken soup of the new year.

I make it the old fashioned way, making stock from the chicken and root vegetables and then reheating it with brand new carrots and onions when it’s reheated. Not everybody in my family like this because it is different than the way my mother makes it, but I have had people tell me that it tastes like their grandmothers (and this was a good thing they said) and the cooking and straining, etc. is the way Jacques Pepin tells you how to do it, so I’m sticking with it.  Soup almost always tastes better when you serve it the next day anyway, and it is one of those passive recipes that allows you to walk away for a while and putter and do laundry or even nap, which I will confess I did after the soup had nothing to do but simmer for an hour or two. Hope your 2015 will be healthy and happy and that you mostly turn to soup for the enjoyment of it!

Chicken Soup

1 3-4 lb whole chicken

12 cups (3 quarts) water

3+ lbs root vegetables, this may be:

  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 celery root
  • 2 turnips
  • 3 parsnips

salt and pepper to taste

egg noodles (optional)

Rinse off the whole bird and check the cavity for organs or a little ‘bonus bag’ from the butcher with the neck and organ meat. (If found, remove them.)

Place the chicken in a heavy dutch oven type pan or stock pot and add about 12 cups of water. The chicken may not be fully covered, don’t worry about that. You don’t want watered-down tasting soup.

While you are heating the water to bring to a boil, cut up your parsnips, celery root, onion, turnips and carrots. You do not have to go to a lot of trouble to dice anything fine. Just peel and cut into big chunks. For turnips, I cut off the butt-ends and peel the purple skin with a vegetable peeler. Dealing with celery root is similar to cutting the skin off a pineapple. Set yourself up with a stable, flat bottom and then cut down the sides, wasting as little of the flesh under the tough, textured skin as you can.

Your root vegetables for the stock. The second onion and carrots will be used the next day, in round 2.

Your root vegetables for the stock. The second onion and carrots will be used the next day, in round 2.

Around the time that the water gets closer to boiling, the chicken starts to throw off a fine-bubbled scum. Scoop it up and remove it with a tablespoon. (I usually dump the scum into the measuring cup that’s still sitting by the pot from when I added the water. This time I had about ¼ cup of the bubbly scum liquid in al.) It is going to take 3-4 skimmings, or around thirty minutes from when you started heating the water, until there is no more scum. If your chicken is poking out above the water, it’s advisable to flip the bird over some time during this period of cooking.

After this scum-eradication phase is over, it’s time to add the root vegetables to the pot. Lower the heat to an active simmer and continue to cook uncovered for at least an hour. I will do 1-1/2 to 2 hours if I have the time. NOTE: About 30 minutes into the cooking time, after the root vegetables have gone in, I will remove a breast from the bird cooking in the pot. I use poultry shears.

When the soup is just getting started.

When the soup is just getting started.

Keep in mind, everything that you have been cooking in the pot for a couple of hours that is not liquid is going to get strained out and thrown away. The chicken and veggies will just be tasteless, fibrous shells with their tasty essence having gone into the soup stock. That I why I pull out some chicken early, so it can be cut up and served in what you will ultimately be serving as chicken soup.

Straining the stock:  Let the soup cool for about 30-45 minutes after you have turned off the heat. Pull out the carcass and other big chunks of stuff and put in a colander so that it won’t be super soggy when it goes in the compost – if you have a dog in the family, they’d probably like that cooked-out chicken just fine! Use a bowl, a big plastic storage container and a mesh strainer. Do the first straining through the mesh strainer into the big bowl, then do the second straining into the storage container.

Sorry, I don't have enough hands to pull off an action shot here.

Sorry, I don’t have enough hands to pull off an action shot here.

Let the stock cool down some more before you seal it up and store it in the refrigerator overnight. The stock will keep like this for several days in the fridge, or you can freeze it if you are not going to turn it into soup the next day. (Soup always tastes so much better the next day. I highly recommend making soup that you intend to serve a day or two after you created the stock.)

The Golden Bowl....

The Golden Bowl….

Soup for serving: Go back to the stock that you have waiting in the fridge and scoop off any layer of opaque fat that rose to the top when it chilled. Discard, unless you have a good use for schmaltz, (which is literally the word for chicken fat in Yiddish if you were not aware). And if you do have a good use for schmaltz, do tell us about it! Also, if freezing the stock for later use, don’t do that until after you have completed this step of scooping off the fat.

Put the stock in a large saucepan or back in the stock pot for reheating. Add 2-3 sliced carrots and 1/2 of a medium onion cut into small wedges so that the pieces you get in your soup dish will be bite sized. When adding egg noodles to the soup, I try to par boil them in water first, but if you’re feeling lazy and just toss them in with the stock that’s fine. Cut up the chicken you reserved and add it to the soup after the carrots have been cooking for about 10 minutes.

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