Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cooking With Kitten: Italian Chicken Soup

A couple of months ago, I posted a link to Jane Redmont's wonderful recipe for chicken soup. Today I made myself another batch of it, with a few improvisational additions. I'm going to post the recipe in its entirety right here:

First of all, you will need the largest pot you own. The pot you use to boil spaghetti may not be large enough for this task. Go buy yourself the largest stock pot you can find, and use it exclusively to make soup. You won't regret it.

Next, you will need a chicken. Not just any chicken, though! You want one that's preferably free-range, organic, fed an all-grain and grass vegetarian diet--in other words, the healthiest chicken you can find, sans additives, hormones, and all that other yucky stuff. I used a Nature's Promise chicken from Stop & Shop.

Take the chicken, wash it out, and trim some, but not all, of the fat from it. You need a little bit of fat for this soup for flavoring and texture. However, if your chicken is like mine, and has saggy skin, get rid of the sags. Rinse it, and wash out the inner cavity.

When you wash out the inner cavity, you're going to find the neck, the heart, and the liver. Save these and use them in your soup. They add lots of flavor. Some people like to saute the liver and eat it separately. I am not one of those people. Remember to discard the neck, heart, and liver when your soup is done, though; you don't want to consume them.

Once your chicken has had a nice bath, put it in your pot, along with the neck, heart, and liver, and fill it up. Make sure the entire chicken is covered with water. Fill up your pot until the water is about two or three inches from the top. Place it on the stove.

Now's the time to slice them veggies. You can adjust the number of veggies you use, depending on how chunky or liquidy you like your soup:
  • 3-4 peeled carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 3-4 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 onions, peeled and chopped

Place your veggies in your soup. Now it's time for the seasonings. Use whatever you've got on hand. For this recipe, I used:

  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • dried basil
  • dried oregano
  • fresh thyme (leftover from another recipe I cooked last week)
  • hot sauce
  • a little salt
  • lots of fresh ground black pepper

Adjust your seasonings to taste. I personally like a lot of flavoring in my soups. I was generous with the basil and oregano (which is what makes this soup Italian), a little less generous with the thyme, generous with the hot sauce (but not too generous; you don't want your soup biting back at you, but you just want a little kick), and miserly with the salt. I did use a lot of pepper, though, but not too much.

Now that you've added your seasonings and veggies, it's time to turn the heat up to high. You want to bring your soup up to a boil and let it boil for 30-60 minutes. Check your chicken after 30 minutes; if you can cut it with a knife and fork, and none of the meat is pink, it's ready to go. When the meat falls off the bones, it's definitely ready. But don't take your chicken out yet, Kittens, oh no! This is when you add the last ingredient: a can of diced, crushed, or stewed tomatoes. You can add fresh tomatoes, too, and crush them directly into the soup. If you use the canned tomatoes, use everything in the can; no draining is necessary. Make sure you add the tomatoes last, about a minute or two before you take out the chicken, so they don't get too mushy.

When the chicken is ready, take it out of the soup and put it on a plate. Turn your burner to warm; you don't want the soup to cool completely if you're going to serve it right away. When the chicken cools, start shredding it with your bare hands and put the pieces back into the soup. Your hands are going to get wet and greasy as you do this, so keep a towel or some paper towels by your side to dry off your hands.

Once you've shredded the chicken, it's now time to ladle some of that marvelous soup into a bowl! Yummy!

You can adjust the flavorings in this soup in so many ways. You can add some dried pasta in right before the cooking is done. You can add some diced potatoes about midway through cooking. You can add some beans and cayenne pepper to make some lovely tortilla soup. I got the idea for the crushed tomatoes from a post on Patti LuPone's website (which is now included on my links of note).

When you're done with the soup, cover the pot and put it in the refrigerator. Let it sit there overnight. The next day, take the soup out of the fridge and skim the top layer of fat off of it. Remember, you want some fat in the soup, but not too much. Ladle the soup into containers and freeze it; it freezes beautifully. (You may still have to skim some fat off of the soup before you heat up the individual containers, though).

Finally, if you have saved the bones, but 'em back into the empty soup pot, and make yourself some stock. Cover the bones with water (no need to add extra veggies or seasonings), and boil for about an hour. Let it cool, then ladle into containers. You can use the stock as a base for other soups, as well as sauces, mashed potatoes, and other recipes. I use it to boil rice.

Now here's a question for you, Kittens: How would you play up chicken soup? What kind of flavorings would you use in order to, as Emeril would say, "Kick it up a notch?"


Erik said...

There is no doubt that using a free range chicken is the best and tastiest option. However, I would like to dispel the notion that chickens are vegetarian by nature, or that it is best for them. When left to their own devices, chickens will chow down on bugs, especially ants. In fact, people have been known to get chickens for the purpose of destroying ant colonies.
Also, chickens will go after small rodents, such as mice and shrews. True, they rarely if ever catch them, but I do believe the intent is to eat them.
Lastly, they love cheese. I mean, they go nuts over it.
Having said all that, it is true that chickens should never, ever be fed poultry or red meat products.

Kitten said...

Erik, thanks for the clarification about the chicken diet! It's nice to know that they contribute to the food chain by getting rid of insects. I had no idea they liked cheese!