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Saturday’s Feast: The Soup

May 5, 2012

Everyone has their favorite comfort food.  For me, it’s soup, not just any soup, but a rich, hearty soup full of chunky vegetables.  While there are literally thousands of soups out there, it is the ones that are more than simply broth with stuff thrown in that get my attention.  I like soups that eats like a meal.

Most soups are stock based.  There are exceptions of course, potato soup comes to mind, but for most soups, stock is the key.  You can use store-bought stock and produce a really good soup but to reach the stellar range, you will need to make your own.  The downside, making a rich stock takes time; the upside, you can make enough for several batches of soup or anything else; the portions not used right away will need to be canned or frozen.  If you are watching your sodium intake, and we all should be, commercial stocks and broths are loaded with it so you need to look for the low-sodium variants.

Here is a simple but tasty chicken stock:

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs. fresh chicken (necks, backs, wings, legs, bones)
  • 6 qts. water
  • 2 onions, peeled and quartered
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 6 – 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil (optional)
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (optional)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Put water and chicken pieces in a large stockpot and cover.  Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface.
  2. Add remaining ingredients.
    Note:  the spices used are really up to you.  I recommend starting without the optional herbs, then next time, modify it to taste, at the very least, use basil or rosemary but not both.  In all stocks, use herbs that blend well and avoid ones that compete with each other, it makes for a confused taste in the end product.
  3. Return to a boil; reduce heat to maintain a steady, gentle rolling simmer.  Do not use a rapid boil, it will make the stock cloudy and break down the flavor.  Cook for 2 to 3 hours, it may be cooked up to 6 hours.  The longer it simmers, the richer the stock.
  4. Let cool to warm room temperature, at least 1 hour.  Strain and discard solids. Some people like to put all the herbs in some sort of mesh to make straining easier, the key to a good stock is to remove all the solids so do whatever works best for you.  Keep the stock chilled until used or store (canning it or freezing) until you need it.
  5. If canned, it will keep for a year or more.  Freezing will last four to 6 months.  Do not freeze quantities larger than a pint.  That way you can pull out just what is needed at the time.

OK, that is a lot of work just to make a stock.  Most people do not have the time or simply are not willing.  In either case, you can produce a good soup using commercial stock.  The key is to use a full-body, ready to use stock.  Avoid concentrated stocks, they may have flavor but I do not think they make as nice a blend as a full stock.  At all costs, do not use the little foil-wrapped cubes, if it comes down to that, you might as well buy a can of Campbell’s soup.

Once you have your stock, you are ready to go.  If you are pressed for time, you can buy a roasted chicken from your local grocer, remove the skin, pull the chicken apart, throw it in the stock and add wide egg-noodles, cook for 30 minutes and voila – you have chicken noodle soup.

Another Point!  Stock vs. Broth

If you ask ten cooks, you will get ten definitions of stock and broth.  They are basically that same with a few exceptions.  Both are cooked the same way but broth takes less time  and must be strained to the point of being filtered, ending up with an amber colored but clear liquid for chicken.  A stock on the other hand, simply has the solids removed and has a creamier color and richer taste; it may or may not be clear like a broth, it all depends on just how you made it.  Of course, this is my definition, now you have eleven.

That is more than enough on stocks and broths – it’s soup time!

Today I am using my Chicken Vegetable Soup recipe.  You can use homemade or commercial stock for sure.  I make it both ways depending on my time and if I have stock on hand.  The key to its success is the vegetables.  I like large pieces but that is me, you do what you want in that regard.   I do use canned beans in this.  If you have fresh beans, use them but stay away from frozen vegetables, they do not seem to have the flavor and breakdown easily in the soup.

Chicken Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 breast chicken breast fillet, skinless (you can use thighs as well)
  • 1/2 head Cabbage, shredded
  • 3 stalks celery ribs, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped carrots
  • 2 garlic clove, chopped very fine
  • 2 Zucchini, sliced thin
  • 2 Yellow squash, sliced thin
  • 6 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper, course ground
  • 6 oz. sherry
  • 1 can green beans, 14oz can, drained
  • 1 can Lima beans, 14oz can, drained
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil, extra virgin, enough to cover pan bottom

Directions:

  1. Cup chicken breasts into bite size cubes and set aside.
  2. Chop and slice the veggies, place all in a large bowl.
  3. In a stockpot, heat to very hot, enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot well.  It should be just starting to smoke.  Drop in all the veggie, except for the green beans and lima beans, and use a spoon to stir getting all veggies coated with oil.  Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, allowing them to reduce by about 1/3 volume.
  4. Remove veggie to bowl and set aside.
  5. Coat the bottom of the pot with more olive oil and reheat.
  6. Brown the chicken on all sides, making sure it does not burn, and then remove to bowl with veggies.
  7. Add about 2 oz. of sherry, being careful not to have your face too close to the pot, and deglaze it.
  8. Add all the chicken broth and chicken, bring to a boil.
  9. Add the cooked veggie (if needed, add more broth until it covers chicken and veggies by at least 2 inches).
  10. Add salt and pepper.
  11. Heat to a rapid boil, and then reduce to a low simmer and cover.
  12. Stir every few minutes.
  13. After 30 minutes, add the remaining sherry, green beans, and lima beans.
  14. Cook for an additional 30 minutes.

About the salt, in reading the recipe it appears too much for someone on a low-sodium diet.  The portion serving though is about 600mg; it all depends on the sodium added by the stock but even removing all the added salt still yields just under 500mg of sodium per serving from the other ingredients.  The key is the stock you use.  Another good reason to make your own and you can then control it.  A low-sodium or no-sodium stock works just fine.

Please take the time to make your own stock at least once.  That is all it takes to prove the difference it makes in your cooking.  It is also a wonderful way to use up the parts of a whole chicken you may otherwise throw away.  Regardless of the stock, this is one killer soup!  I hope you enjoy!

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