I am in mourning… My blog has been put to simmer on the back burner these past several weeks (excuse the pun)… Actually, cooking at home has become more mechanical than joyful since early January; I was not feeling one iota of interest in playing in my kitchen. I have resorted to cooking the necessary daily meals using good old faithful recipes that require little preparation and zero flashes of genius. Even more so: I have cooked big batch meals ensuring I had enough leftovers from one meal to keep me away from the stove for a few days in a row… Even as I am trying to write this, I find myself struggling for words… So I will say it as it is: on January 24th, a friend’s child passed away. She was only 15 and she was rudely taken away by osteosarcoma. She was such a beautiful girl: so smart, so loving, so full of joy, so full of promise. An only child… It took 9 months for the evil disease to invade her body. And even though we rallied around her, that big community lovefest was not strong enough to beat the beast. They say it takes a village to raise a child. But is also takes a village to support a family that is going through such an ordeal. Everyone rallied together: messages of hope & love were sent, meals were made & delivered, crafts were created, fundraisers were organized, love was freely distributed… I myself, made a lot of chicken soup. I am not sure what it is about really good home-made chicken soup but to me, it is like getting a huge comforting hug from my own mother. It soothes many ailments from colds to tummy aches and it also soothes the soul and the heart. Sadly enough, in this case, chicken soup did not win the latest round. No matter how much love was served with every ladle, no matter how much care was taken selecting ethical and organic ingredients, when cancer decides it is boss well, it simply is…Maybe it is why so much joy has left my kitchen lately. That is until this past weekend, where I felt a faint urge to dabble in my favorite quartz and stainless steel laboratory again. I suspect my need to write about my culinary experiences on a more regular basis will resurface soon. But for now, I think I need to mend my broken heart. Making chicken noodle soup for Flavie on demand was not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things but hopefully brought a bit of comfort to her and her parents’ tummies and souls…
So needless to say, I make a wickedly good chicken soup and I have perfected broth making over the years. If you are in need of really yummy comfy chicken noodle soup in your life, this recipe may just be the ticket home. I never thought I would feel the need or see the benefits of writing an entire post on making chicken broth/soup. However, in discussions about food with friends, many have shared that they do not get the expected results when making chicken broth. I am often asked what is the secret to my soups. I say it all begins with a good broth! I have scoured numerous recipe books looking for decent step-by-step instructions on making chicken broth, but few actually offer enough details. I also often read about using left over carcasses of roasted chicken (and turkey) to make a broth. From personal experience, I find these broths always come out flat. My unscientific deductions on the subject of using cooked carcasses for broth: the bones have already released most of their flavour during the roasting of the fowl. The following recipe may not be of interest to those of you who are masters in the kitchen but it may help the rest of the gang who would love nothing more than to serve an awesome chicken soup!
To make a really flavourful chicken broth, you need fresh uncooked chicken, of course, and a bit of patience too. I normally buy whole organic chickens from my butcher. I find the cost of a whole chicken, even organic and ethically raised, is by far more economic than buying traditional grocery chicken pieces. I recommend buying 2 chickens at a time. I spatchcock one chicken, which is the activity of cutting a chicken’s back side so it will lay flat when roasting. Spatchcocking a chicken reduces the roasting time in the oven and increases the surface of skin that will get crispy and golden: BONUS (see picture at the end of this post)! Spatchcocking chicken allows to remove excess pieces such as neck, ribs and skin to be used for making broth. Some butchers also sell chicken bones and scraps for cheap, a great option for making broth without spending time in the kitchen cutting up loads of chicken! Another tip: keep a freezer container with trimmings from butchering fresh chicken, especially if you do not have enough trimmings to make a broth. The second chicken, I usually cut the wings and legs away and save for another meal. I keep the entire double breast portion as is. Now, from my 2 chickens, I have 1 Spatchcock chicken for roasting, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings, 1 double breast on the back bone and a fair bit of trimmings. Freeze or save your good chicken pieces for another meal. Now on with the broth and the soup. If you have made it so far, you have completed the yuckiest part of the job!
Really Good and Hearty Chicken Broth
1 double breast of chicken, uncooked, skin and bones on
About 6-8 cups of uncooked chicken trimmings (give or take)
The foot and leaves of a celery, plus a couple stalks
4 carrots, trimmed and peeled but left whole
1 large yellow onion, peeled
3-4 large bay leaves, fresh or dry)
a good handful of fresh thyme (I do not recommend using dry thyme)
1 tbsp of fresh summer savoury
1 generous tbsp coarse salt
pepper to taste
1 large stock pot
1 fine mesh sieve
Clean all the vegetables; the celery foot is often discarded but it is full of flavour yet perfect for stocks. Just make sure to clean the creases very well. Peel the carrots and leave whole: they will be used later for the chicken noodle soup.
Place all the ingredients in a large stock pot. Add just enough water to cover everything by no more than one inch. Bring to a rapid boil but then, reduce to keep just a gentle bubbling going on. It is important to not vigorously boil the chicken as it will toughen instead of staying moist. Simmer for about one hour, partially covered. Remove breast from broth as well as the whole carrots. Leave the rest of the chicken pieces in the pot and leave to simmer. Set the carrots aside. Let the chicken breasts rest until cool enough to handle. Once you can handle without burning your fingers, remove the cooked breast meat from the skin and bones. refrigerate the breast meat for later and return the skin, bones and any accumulated broth to the stock pot. Continue the simmering process until the liquid levels have dropped by about one third. This is where patience comes into play: it will take 2-3 hours to bring your broth to its glory! Let cool completely then pass the broth using the sieve to remove all the solids. Adjust seasoning to your taste. If you have reduced the broth too much and find the flavours overly concentrated, just add a bit of water until you are satisfied with the final product. Degrease the broth either using a ladle to scoop off the excess fat that accumulates to the surface or refrigerate until the fat congeals; it is much easier to remove when cold! Your broth is now done! You can freeze in batches, use for any broth base soups, save some for gravies and sauces, make chicken à la King… Home-made chicken broth is divine!!! Once your broth is made, making chicken noodle soup is breezy easy!
Assembling Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken broth (of course!), about 3 litres
3-4 finely diced celery stalks
Reserved chicken breast and cooked carrots, diced
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup of your favourite soup noodles* or more if you like your soup very “noodly”
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)
A dash of ground sage, rosemary and savoury (optional)
* I like acini di pepe, which is a tiny round noodle that resembles couscous. I like that it doesn’t turn to mush, even after freezing the soup. And I also like that it is easy to slurp up without splattering soup all over my face! Acini di pepe is found easily in most grocery stores and at Italian speciality food stores.
Bring broth back to a soft boil. Add the celery and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients except for parsley, bring back to a soft boil and cook until the noodles are tender. Add the parsley, adjust seasoning to your liking and serve.