I love summer, and I’m always a little sad when fall arrives because it means the pool days have ended, days are shorter, and I have to wear pants. I’m not a fan of pants. However, the one thing I do like about fall is making soup. There are several different homemade (and semi-homemade) soups that I make, but chicken soup is probably my number one. I’ve made it countless times over the years, and tweaked the “recipe” a few times. I don’t really have or use a recipe, I just go with what I saw my mom doing every time she made soup.
There are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:
- The flavor of the broth is greatly enhanced with fresh herbs. I like to keep it simple with just thyme, rosemary, and sage. I always have thyme and rosemary available in my herb garden, but I use dried sage from my spice drawer. I also discovered that those tiny little inner stalks of celery with the leaves on them help lend a wonderful flavor to the soup, so I always throw a few of those in as well.
- Don’t overcook the chicken. It gets mushy and stringy if you let it boil for hours on end. This is why I cook the veggies separate and add the cooked chicken back in at the end.
- Don’t overcook the potatoes. You really don’t want mashed potatoes in your soup.
- Cook the noodles separately. For years, I added the noodles as the final step and let them cook in the broth. What ends up happening is, you lose a lot of broth, or it gets too thick, and if you are keeping the soup in the refrigerator for leftovers, they get mushy sitting in the broth. Whether you like to prepare fresh, homemade noodles, or store-bought egg noodles, or even rice noodles, cook them separately then add them to the bowls, ladling the soup on top when you serve it.
- You need time and patience when making homemade soups. If you don’t have these, buy pre-made broth and don’t feel guilty about it! Not everyone has time to make broth. Semi-homemade soups are great – grab a container of chicken broth and a rotisserie chicken from the deli, and go nuts.
- You need a fine, mesh strainer to “filter” the broth after you cook it, so if you don’t have one, buy one.
1 whole chicken, thawed with neck and giblets removed
½ sweet yellow onion, cut into large chunks
2-3 small inner celery stalks with leaves intact
2-3 springs fresh thyme
1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary
pinch dried sage
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced green beans
¾ cup diced celery
1 ½ cups diced potatoes
2 cups cooked chicken, de-boned and torn or cut into small pieces
Cooked egg noodles or rice noodles (optional)
Step 1: Make the chicken stock
Working over an empty and clean kitchen sink, remove the chicken from the packaging, carefully draining any liquid, and remove any giblets, neck, heart, or liver that may be tucked inside the cavity.* Place the chicken legs down, breast up in a large stock pot or dutch oven. Fill the pot with water and add the onion chunks, celery stalks, herbs and salt. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then reduce to low and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours or until chicken is cooked all the way through. I like to use a tongs and flip my bird over halfway through. Do not allow to boil over, or lose too much water. While you do want the liquid to reduce some, you don’t want it completely gone, since the goal is to make a nice broth! Once the chicken is done cooking, turn the burner off and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Place a large colander over a bowl and use a tongs to move the bird to the colander. Allow it to drain for a couple of minutes. While the bird is resting, remove the vegetables and herbs from the broth with a slotted spoon and discard. Once the chicken has drained and cooled enough to handle, remove all the skin and bones and discard. Save the larger, intact pieces of breast meat for another meal and tear or cut the remaining pieces up for the soup. I use about half of the chicken for the soup and half for something else.
Next, strain the broth by carefully pouring it through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl or another pot. The broth will still be hot, so be careful! You want to make sure you have removed any remaining bits of veggies, herbs, or chicken parts so that you are left with a beautiful golden broth. If you will be using the same pot, wipe it down so it is clean, and pour the broth back into it. Now you’re ready to make the soup.
*I cook up the giblets and serve them to my dog. They can also be cooked to make gravy, or just discard them.
Step 2: Make the soup
Place the diced carrots, celery, green beans, and potatoes in the broth and bring to a low boil on the stove. You can add any veggies you like, these are the ones that I prefer. Cook over medium to low heat until the potatoes are done; don’t over cook or they’ll turn to mush. Once the veggies are done, add the chicken pieces back in, stir once, then allow to simmer for 3 more minutes.
If desired, place a serving of cooked noodles in the bottom of a bowl, then spoon the soup on top, or just serve the soup as-is. I don’t cook the noodles with the soup for two reasons, first, my husband doesn’t do gluten and rice noodles just don’t hold up well in the soup so I cook our noodles separately (rice noodles for him, egg noodles for me). Second, even if using flour based egg noodles, I find they get mushy if left in the soup too long so I like to cook them separately and add them after the soup is done.
When I de-bone the chicken, I use 3 bowls: a trash bowl for the skin and bones, a dog bowl with bits for the puppy including the giblets that I cook separately, and the chicken bowl where I have all the pieces for the soup, as well as the leftover larger chunks that I will use for another meal or recipe the next day.