Sorry Folks. I've been out of action since the holidays with a horrific cold. I'm kind of a wus when I get sick and shut down almost completely. My wife had an excellent suggestion for a post relating to flu season. When someone in your life gets sick, homemade chicken soup is always welcome.
Chicken soup is not the hardest thing in the world to make, but the most important component is the chicken stock. It takes some time, but the effort is well worth the result. The soup will have richness and fullness of flavor simply impossible to achieve using store bought stock or broth. And it is much, much lower in salt.
So, let's make a stock. This is an easy version that I do when I'm making soup. Later in the post, I'll describe how to properly make a white chicken stock and a brown chicken stock.
Buy one whole chicken, 2-3 onions, 2 carrots, 3 ribs of celery, 2 cloves of garlic and a few branches of thyme. Put the whole chicken on the cutting board, the legs facing you. With your knife, slice the chicken down the breasts, and run your knife along the ribcage to butterfly the breasts from the carcass. Do not completely separate the breasts from carcass. Put the chicken in a pot and cover with cold water.
Put on high heat and bring the pot to a simmer. Do not allow the water to boil. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Roughly chop your vegetables (this combination of onion, celery, and carrot is referred to as 'mirepoix') and add to the pot along with the garlic and thyme. Simmer until the chicken legs are tender, about 40 minutes. Remove the chicken to a cutting board carefully. Get a good grip on the bird, because it might fall apart and splash hot liquid around. No one said cooking wasn't dangerous. Kind of exciting, isn't it? Let the bird cool for a bit, and pick the meat from the bones. Make sure you remove those little cartilage caps from the leg bones. It's not the end of the world if you miss them, but they can be unattractive in a soup. Return all the bones and cartilage to the stock pot and continue to simmer. This is a great time to prepare all the vegetables for your soup. For a basic soup (perfect for someone sick), I usually just use a combination of mirepoix, and maybe add red bell pepper. Keep it simple. If you're going to add noodles or rice, I prefer to cook beforehand, and add when you heat the soup to eat. Leaving a starch in the soup can over-cook it and turn it to mush. Cook your vegetables in a pot with some oil and salt for about 3-4 minutes. Strain your stock and add reserved chicken. That's it. Soup (with homemade stock) is ready.
If you want to go all out for your stock, get some chicken feet, or backs and necks. I'll usually buy whole birds when we eat any chicken dish at home and reserve the carcass in the freezer until I have a few, and then I have a stock day. On a day that I'm hanging out at the house, I'll make a big batch and freeze the stock in small containers for easy use later. For a white stock, simply clean off any fat from chicken bits, put everything in your pot, cover with cold water and bring to a simmer. Add the same vegetables as above, and simmer for about 4 hours. For a brown stock, roast the bones or feet in a 375 degree oven until well-colored, about 20 minutes. Then make the stock in the same way.
A good stock is the basis for quite a few dishes, and having some around all the time will take your cooking to the next level. Any questions on preparing stock? Post 'em!