When I'm sick, worn out, or just plain down in the dumps, I want chicken soup. I don't care if it's fancy. Heirloom turnips and herb pistous are not necessary. Just chicken soup, please -- nice and brothy with big chunks of chicken and minimal vegetables. Rice, pasta or matzo balls are all fine as long as the soup is homemade.
I've had a terrible month. The deaths of two people I love have made this autumn, with its golden leaves and dazzling sunshine, a little less bright. So it was no surprise when I came down with a cold. After being emotionally spent for a couple of weeks, and with two memorial services behind me, I think my body just decided it was time to spend a couple of days in bed.
In need of both emotional and physical comfort I turned to chicken soup. I hate to admit this as it seems the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series has turned this fundamental dish into something trite and hokey. Yet as much as I roll my eyes when I see those titles at my local book store, I have to admit the marketing department for the series publisher was on to something: there are few foods that heal and console like chicken soup.
Following is a very basic recipe that I used this week to cheer and bolster myself. You can easily find many other techniques out there that have more bling and panache, but when you're tired and sick, the essentials are the best choice to calm and reassure. Chicken. Broth. Carrots. Celery. Rice. United in a big steamy bowl, my nasal passages started to clear, and, I'm reluctant to admit, my soul was given a little boost.
Simple Chicken Soup
Chicken soup is made in two stages. First you need to make a rich stock using chicken, water and a few aromatics. This can be accomplished a day in advance. You then use the stock as the base of the soup, adding in the precooked chicken and anything else you like.
Makes: Enough for one large pot of chicken soup
1 whole 3-4 lb chicken cut up (or 3-4 lbs chicken wings and thighs)
1 large yellow or white onion roughly chopped
1 large celery stalk roughly chopped
2 medium carrots roughly chopped
1 large or two small bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme or rosemary (not chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste
Enough water to cover ingredients by about 1-2 inches
1. Rinse chicken and place in a large stock pot along with all other ingredients plus 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper and then add water.
2. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Cook covered for 1/2 hour.
3. Skim any foam that has formed off the top of the liquid and then simmer for another 30 - 40 minutes uncovered (you may need to raise the heat a bit).
4. Skim any remaining foam and then add more salt and pepper to taste. If the stock seems too watery, simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes.
5. Take chicken out of the pot and let cool while you strain the stock into a clean pot or bowl. Press the vegetables to make sure you release all the liquids and flavors.
6. Remove meat from the chicken and set aside. Refrigerate cooled stock and chicken if making ahead.
Makes: 1 large pot of soup
Chicken stock (see above recipe)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large stalk of celery chopped
2 carrots chopped
1 large or 2 medium leeks cleaned and sliced thinly (you can substitute in onion)
Any other vegetables that sound comforting
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups of your favorite rice or small pasta
1. In a large pot, sauté leeks, celery and carrots in olive oil over medium heat. Add a dash of salt and pepper and cook for five minutes.
2. Add chicken stock and chicken bring to a boil. Simmer on low for 15-20 minutes while you cook your rice or pasta.
3. When your rice or pasta is cooked, turn off soup. Spoon about 1/2 cup rice or pasta into a bowl and then ladle in soup. Eat and feel warm and soothed.
Note: Do not add rice or pasta to the soup pot as it will soak up the stock, making the rice or pasta mushy and leaving you with less liquid.