Grandma's Chicken Soup
I've written about my grandmother's soup before, here and here, but those are both attempts to capture a special Romanian soup called "chorba". That soup is quite complicated and can be a hassle to throw together when all you want is something warm & nutritious to help fight off a coming cold so I wanted to share her typical chicken soup for my dear friend Noreen who's in need of such a thing right now.
- 1 whole chicken Generally for this sort of thing, bigger is better, but as it forms the base of your soup, you want a proper oily one too. I tend to opt for a free-range one over a larger battery-cage type one as these tend to be a little less... I don't know, sterilised.
- Some carrots I usually opt for a minimum of 3, but will happily add as many as 8. Honestly, there's no downside to adding more veggies as it only makes your soup tastier and healthier.
- Some parsnips See the above rules for carrots
- 1 bunch of celery: Again, volume is good here, so don't be stingy as this stuff is pretty cheap and adds a lot of flavour.
- 1 large white onion
- Lots of salt: Don't be stingy.
- A fist full of fresh parsley: You really can't overdo this, but generally I take a pack from Tesco and dump the whole thing in.
- Garlic (chopped up and tossed in with the veggies)
- Olive oil (in case your chicken doesn't have enough oil in it already)
Over the years, I've adapted my grandmother's recipe to suit Christina's and my tastes. Where the two methods have diverged, I've noted them below, but honestly, you can mix and match and the results will still be yummy.
It's pretty simple: get a big pot and put your chicken in it. Then, fill that pot with enough water that it totally covers the chicken by about 3cm (~1" for the American savages that haven't yet figured out metric 😜). Put that pot on the stove and crank it up to medium heat.
A note about the heat at this stage: this step has two purposes: cooking the chicken (salmonella is a bitch) and creating your stock. If you crank the heat to maximum, you'll cook the chicken alright, but you won't have enough time to leach the goodness out of the skin and bones. If you're in a hurry, you can crank it up to 75% at most, but a tastier soup comes from a slow, even hours-long boil at a low heat.
Add some salt while it's cooking. How much? Lots. Take what you think a soup should have in it and triple it. I have one of those boxes of idodised salt in the cupboard and I open the mouth wide to pour about 5 turns of salt into the pot myself.
Cover it, and let it slowly come to a boil. Depending on how impatient you are, this can be about 30 minutes or 3 hours. If you've got the time, I highly recommend the patient route. Besides, you have other things to do while you wait.
Note that while it's cooking, some white fluffy goo might float to the surface (it varies by chicken). Just scoop it off with a slotted spoon every once in a while.
Now that the stock is doing its thing, lets get to the other tasty bits. But first, a note about divergence.
My grandmother's recipe calls for all of the ingredients above, but notably, she doesn't put the onion & celery in the soup. They're added for flavour, but removed before serving. Christina likes these bits though, so we chop them up with the rest of the veggies and leave everything in.
Given the above, if you're going Grandma's route, you'll wanna chop the onion in half and chop the celery stalks into halves as well. She also tends to cut the other veggies unusually large... that's your call I guess.
If you're going with my adaptation, then you'll want to cut all of the veggies down into bite-sized chunks (and the onion even smaller: diced). Dump them all into a big bowl or two and wait for the chicken to finish.
3. Chicken Out, Veggies In
You've just spent a bunch of time sucking the tastiness out of your chicken and into that salt water. You can tell we're ready because there should be little bubbles of oil floating on the surface of your water and the chicken skin should be showing signs of peeling back from the flesh.
A note about oil bubbles: This is the sign of some good broth: a good oily chicken tends to produce lots of yummy bubbles, so if you feel like your broth doesn't look sufficiently bubbly, even after an hour of cooking, feel free to add a tablespoon of olive oil at this stage.
Remove the whole chicken from the pot and put it aside. As it'll have a lot of water in it, I don't recommend just plopping into a cutting board, but rather I tend to favour putting it in a casserole dish to cool down. Be very careful as (a) the chicken is very hot, and (b) it's likely hiding pockets of boiling water. Use big long metal tongs or something. Be creative, but safe.
Once it's out and cooling down in the open air, take all of those veggies you chopped up and toss them in the water. Regardless of whether you opted for the veggies-all-in option or the flavour-only-subset, everything goes in right now.
Put the lid back on, reduce the heat, and let it simmer on low. The timing after this point isn't all that important. So long as your veggies simmer for at least 20 minutes, you'll be fine. If they simmer for an additional 4 hours, that's cool too.
Chicken Back In
Once your chicken has cooled down, you'll want to cut the meat off and into bite-sized pieces. Go through the whole bird and take as much as you can, making sure that you don't accidentally include any bones or inedibles. Put all of your edible bits right back into the soup.
That's basically it. We've combined the two age-old food groups: salt and fat, with some vegetables & domesticated bird meat. It's yummy, but it can still be a little better.
Chop up your parsley as finely as you can and dump it all into the pot. Then, grind some black pepper into the pot for taste. I usually do about 12 turns of my grinder and then add more to individual bowls, but I love me some pepper.
I always forget this part, but it's critical: the noodles are cooked separately. Pick a noodle type (we tend to favour fusilli, but my grandmother prefers angel hair pasta.) toss it into a pot of boiling salted water and cook whatever you want for this sitting.
Put a handful of cooked pasta into each bowl and then ladle your soup from the big pot into each bowl. Do not put the noodles in the soup pot unless you intend to eat all of it today (unlikely, you cooked a whole bird). Generally you cook the noodles you need for each sitting
That's it! Enjoy your foodz, and let me know how it goes! If you like it, I'll let my grandmother know you appreciate it :-)