Oct 13, 2014

Soup's On... Part 1

It's that time of year again, the time for warm, comforting meals like hot soup. I don’t know about you but it seems that nothing is so satisfying as soup on a chilly day and my favorite soup is chicken. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

I’m not talking about canned soup either, but rather, homemade chicken soup made with homemade chicken stock, made with chicken bones. No canned "chicken-ish" broth comes even close to both the taste and nutrition of homemade.

OK, homemade chicken soup made with homemade chicken stock you say ... But is it chicken stock or chicken broth? What's the difference between the two? Aren't they just different words for the same thing? No, not according to some.  Chicken stock is made primarily from meaty bones, whereas chicken broth is made from meat without any bones. And therein lies the difference.

Chicken stock is filled with so much more nutritional goodness than anything boneless broth can offer; glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen, and trace minerals, are all found primarily in the bones. It will gel to some extent after chilling, depending on how many and what kind of bones you included, and how much water you used. Think Jello, except unlike Jello this gel is overflowing with everything that’s good for you.

When I make chicken soup I do it in two steps. I make the stock first and then freeze it to be used later when I'm ready to make soup. Instead of reaching into my pantry for a can or carton of chicken broth when soup is on the menu I reach instead into my freezer for a container of hearty chicken stock and go from there.

I've been making chicken soup from bones for years and years. But my early attempts at making it was nothing to brag about. My family ate it but only if there was a healthy (or should I say unhealthy) dose of salt added to it. They had to do something to make my somewhat bland, watered down, unsatisfying soup more flavorful. Those early pots of soup were more reminiscent of dishwater than chicken soup, I'm sorry to say.

But all that changed a number of years ago when I heard an interview with a cookbook author on the radio. I wish I could remember her name or the title of her book but that information is long ago lost. She claimed she had the secret to delicious chicken soup, and given my less than successful history with it I was all ears.

Stock with a layer of fat on top that can be removed after chilling.

So what is the secret to making delicious chicken soup? Making delicious chicken stock of course. And that means beginning with bones.

1. Use roasted bones, not raw. Whatever bony pieces of chicken you decide to use make sure you roast them first. Roasting will greatly improve the flavor. And include not only the bones in your stockpot, but all the skin, all the fat, and all the drippings from the roasting pan.

It may not be pretty to look at but these bones and leftovers from a roasted chicken will make the most delicious stock.

I usually roast a whole chicken and serve it for dinner, saving the carcass to make stock.  Roasted chicken is one meal where absolutely nothing is wasted! I've also purchased wings, legs, and thighs with the express purpose of roasting them for stock, saving the meat for another meal or adding it later to the soup. After roasting simply add enough boiling water to the pan to loosen all the bits and pieces stuck onto it and scrape up every last delicious morsel. It all goes into the stockpot. Gather all the bones off of everyone's plates and throw them into the pot as well. Don't worry, they will all be sterilized in the cooking process. If you don't want to make soup right away you can freeze the bones and drippings for later which is what I always do in the summer. Who wants anything simmering on the stove for hours adding more humidity to the kitchen?

Bones, skin, fat, and drippings from 1 roasted chicken, ready to make stock or to freeze and cook later.

(As an aside....You have to be careful about gathering up gnawed on bones if you value your reputation.  I admitted to a friend once to being greatly tempted after a ladies' chicken dinner at my church to stand next to the garbage can with a plastic bag in my hand. I could just see myself smiling, asking everyone to please deposit the chicken leftovers from their plates into my bag. It seemed like such a waste that all that "could be" chicken stock was being thrown away.  I wish you could have seen the look on her face when I revealed this to her. She was horrified and made me promise I would never do such a thing!)

Chicken Feet, too?

Speaking of chicken bones I want to mention that in the last several years I learned about the added nutritional benefits of including chicken feet to the stock. Chicken feet? EWWW, you say! Now, now. Hear me out please before you disregard the idea as something totally out of the question.

Warning: Potentially disturbing photo below...
scroll down at your own risk!

These chicken feet have been frozen after being cleaned and prepped, and are ready to be used in stock.

Chicken feet are even richer in nutritional goodness than the rest of the chicken bones. I usually add 2-4 chicken feet to a pot of soup if I have any on hand. When chilled the soup will gel to the extent that it will remind you of Jello Jigglers. No kidding. You can cut the chilled stock with a knife. For more information on exactly how to deal with chicken feet see this post by Katie at Kitchen Stewardship.

This is part of a batch of stock with the top layer of fat removed that included 3 chicken feet along with the leftovers from a roasted chicken.

Locating chicken feet can be a bit challenging though. The grocery chain supermarkets in my area do not sell them. But the local Asian market does. I'm afraid I was quite the curiosity the first time I purchased 2 pounds of them. The manager of the store kept smiling at me, even laughing under his breath. I wondered what was so funny and eventually he said...

"You are first American lady to EVER buy chicken feet!" "What do you want chicken feet for?"...laugh... smile...laugh...

I explained I was planning to use them to make soup. I mean whatever else would I use them for??? He continued to smile, nodding his head in approval. As I left he was still smiling broadly and chuckling to himself. I often wondered if he told all his friends about the first American lady to EVER buy chicken feet from him.

2.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to the stockpot and allow it to sit for up to an hour before turning on the heat. The vinegar will soften the bones, breaking them down, and release the minerals into the stock. Don't worry. The stock will not taste like vinegar, nor will you smell it while it simmers.

3. Add onions, garlic, carrots, celery and whatever spices you want along with the bones and drippings. Use only enough water to just cover the bones and other ingredients you've added. In addition to that, ever so often remove the lid of the pot to allow some of the water to evaporate which will produce an even richer, more flavorful stock.

4. Allow your stock to simmer a long time, even up to 24 hours. Using a slow cooker works very well in this respect and safer than on the stove top. Or you can use a pressure cooker, my preferred method... 1 hour of cooking under pressure is equal to many hours on the stove top. After the bones have been cooked like this they are incredibly soft. I can easily break the drumstick in two with no effort at all.

5. After making the stock strain it through a fine mesh strainer removing all skin, bones, and vegetables. If you want your stock to be fat free then chill it overnight and simply scrape the fat off the top of the gelled stock. It may take several days for the stock to fully gel so don’t be disappointed or think you’ve done something wrong if it has only thickened up slightly.  I don't remove all of the fat because it adds a lot of flavor. In addition to that, chicken fat is rich in Omega 6 and if free range chickens are used it's also high in Omega 3 as well. Stock will keep longer in the refrigerator, up to 2 weeks and possibly longer, if you leave the layer of fat on it until you're ready to use it. It acts like a seal on top of the stock.

The day that I stumbled on that radio interview I discovered that I had been making numerous mistakes with my chicken soup. I was using raw chicken, not roasted, adding way too much water, never included skin and fat, and I never simmered it more than 3-4 hours. No wonder my chicken soup was blah. And what I learned that day completely changed the course of chicken soup in my house!

I hope you are encouraged to give homemade stock a try. It truly is worth all the effort! And if you consider that stock, made from the methods above, can be purchased online for ONLY $33.75 for 48 ounces, close to the same amount I end up with for one batch of stock, you might be even more motivated to give it a try. After all, you can make it for close to nothing when you realize the main ingredient, chicken bones, would have been tossed in the garbage if you hadn't rescued them. Now that's what I call recycling!

Next time....detailed instructions for making delicious chicken soup using homemade stock!


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