The holidays are over, we've celebrated the dawn of a new year and now we are reluctantly observing a new season — the cold and flu season. Even if a flu shot has made you feel invincible or you've managed to avoid the dread cold-and-cough combo, homemade chicken soup does wonders for the body and the psyche.
I got the obligatory cold out of the way last week. (This is Linda speaking, by the way.) I hadn't had time to stock the freezer with chicken broth. Instead, at the first signs of a scratchy throat, I headed to the grocery store where I grabbed a soup chicken, usually labeled as "fowl." A fowl is an older female bird whose egg-laying days are a thing of the past. The meat often can be stringy and a little chewy, which I take as a plus. The chicken doesn't disintegrate into mush while it simmers and its hearty flavor makes up for the less-than-perfect texture.
Now, even if your head is congested, chicken soup is just not that hard to make. Within minutes, the ingredients go into the pot, high heat brings the liquid just to a boil, and then, after reducing the heat so the liquid bubbles ever so slightly, gulp some cough medicine and take a nap. The healing aroma of the soup will fill the house and, a few hours later, the broth is ready to be ladled into a bowl.
What happens next depends on the severity of your cold. If, like me, you feel well enough to do a little prep, drain the soup into another pot. When the meat is cool enough to handle, pull it from the bones and add it to the pot. Throw in some vegetables (I always have onion, carrots and celery in the fridge and was happy to find some parsnips), a few herbs and some salt and pepper for seasoning, and a handful of some kind of grain, and simmer gently until the vegetables and grains are tender.
If you only have energy to lift a spoon, ladle some of the broth into a bowl and scoop up a little chicken meat —– it will already have fallen from the bones — and revel in the goodness of this homemade soup.
Here is my recipe.
1 soup chicken, about 4-1/2 to 5 pounds
1 large onion, peeled and cut in half
2 carrots (don't bother peeling them)
2 stalks celery, preferably with their leaves
4 or 5 fresh parsley sprigs
1 2-inch piece fresh gingerroot (optional)
2 bay leaves
10 to 12 cups water
2 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
3/4 cup barley, rice, or small pasta
1/2 teaspoon each: thyme, sage
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Remove the giblets and neck from the cavity of the chicken. Set aside the giblets for another use, and put the neck in the soup pot. Rinse the chicken under cold water. Cut the joints between the thigh and the carcass and the thigh and the leg. Put the chicken in the pot and add the onion, carrots, celery, parsley, gingerroot and bay leaves. Pour in enough water to cover the chicken.
Put the pot over medium-high heat and bring the liquid just to a boil. Reduce the heat to low; the liquid should bubble gently and slightly. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 3 hours.
Remove the pot from the heat and cool slightly. Strain the soup through a sieve into another pot. When the meat is cool enough to handle, separate the chicken from the bones and return to the pot. Discard the bones and cooking vegetables.
Add the carrots, celery, parsnips and barley to the pot. Simmer until the vegetables and the grains are tender. Stir in the thyme, sage and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.