Better than Stone Soup

19 Jan

“Cookery is not chemistry. It is an art. It requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements.”                   ─ Marcel Boulestin

Sorry  for the delay in reporting back about aforementioned daughter and my promise to reveal how soup making went in her er, rather primitive kitchen. In the interim I’ve taken up soup making again with earnest – no coincidence that the Minnesota winter has suddenly surfaced! Soup is a wonderful comfort food – no matter what the season – but there’s nothing like a bowl of homemade soup when it’s cold outside.

Yes, I managed to make chicken soup in daughter’s apartment – a promise I kept mostly because I had already purchased the ingredients – a whole chicken, carrots, celery, onion and parsnip – and one often necessary soup ingredient I’ll explain later. Note, these ingredients are not staples in college apartments. Thankfully I did unearth a vegetable peeler in a drawer and I was surprised to find a mesh strainer – albeit an over-the-counter sort that the roommates use to drain their fruits and vegetables. (Note to roommates reading blog – yes, I did drain my chicken soup in your previously untouched by meat strainer – but I did scrub and clean it vigoriously).

Making homemade soup is simple. For chicken soup – or broth, whatever you wish to call it – you merely place a whole chicken or parts thereof in a large kettle, add veggies to your liking – I use cut-up celery, carrots and parsnip and an onion – and I throw in the tops of the celery stalks and a bay leaf or two (which was not available in this instance). Add salt and pepper and cover with water, bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer and let the ingredients cook away for at least two hours. The longer you simmer the ingredients, the richer the broth and the absorption of flavors. Not to worry – I’ll provide a basic chicken soup recipe with exact measurements before I end this post.

Making soup requires something not in the ingredient listing. Taste. Yes, it’s crucial that you taste your soup  frequently during the cooking process. No matter how precise the recipe instructions – there’s no accounting for taste. Does it need more salt? Pepper? Can you detect the flavor of the meat? Adding seasoning is simply a matter of taste. I rely heavily on a seasoning I discovered as a bride years ago – it’s Nature’s Seasons by the Morton Salt folks. It’s a blend of salt, pepper, onions, garlic, celery and parsley. I liberally add it – er, pour it – into whatever soup I’m making. We also use it on eggs, meat, you name it. And yes daughter’s kitchen had it – because of course I put it for her when she moved in last August! Think about soup-making. You’re combining water, meat and veggies – seasonings make all the difference.

The longer you simmer soup, the more intense the flavor becomes – and you should begin to see the water take on a rich, deep yellow color and the water level will decidedly drop – the longer you cook it. I recommend three hours. This is a good thing and in another post I’ll share some unique ways to use the chicken meat from your soup; of course you may want to chop some up and add it to your finished soup.

And so I made soup before I left town. To hurry the process because I had an early flight the next day and wanted to get to sleep – I turned up the heat and and gently boiled the ingredients. Yes it’s a viable option, but a slow simmer is even better. I tasted – and added additional seasoning – and tasted again. And here’s where that surprise ingredient came in handy. No matter how good a cook you are – everyone can use a secret ingredient. Mine is Telma chicken (or beef or vegetable) consomme cubes. They can be found in the Kosher food section of any grocery store; look for a small package with three cubes. I actually googled the product once upon a time so I’ll warn you, these cubes are yes, high in sodium. But I’m suggesting you add a cube or two to a kettle of soup that frankly, needs some help – flavor. Do I do it every time? Nope,  some chickens (like Kosher birds) have more natural flavor than others but when no amount of salt and pepper can do the trick – I reach for my favorite flavor enhancer as needed. Feel free to substitute your favorite bouillon cube or other enhancers – but for me, I swear by Telma! And once I added a couple of cubes, my soup tasted just the way I like.

So that’s the story of my soup-making venture in Bloomington, IN. I finished the soup in record time – only to discover no suitable containers to store the finished product. Remembering my mother’s penchant for storing soup in a pitcher (easy to pour and the one holds a lot of soup), I fished out an oversized pitcher from the kitchen cupboard – the perfect size for the roughly two quarts of soup I had made. I lectured daughter on the importance of removing the fat layer that naturally rises to the top of the container once the soup has cooled over night. “Gross” is how she described this step. Actually I use that rendered “fat” to make matzoh balls! So the next night the roommates enjoyed the soup along with matzoh balls conveniently made by daughter (after purchasing some fresh eggs)from a mix – and thanked me for my efforts!

Here’s a good basic chicken soup recipe for you novices from The Complete American Jewish Cookbook by Anne London and Betha Kahn Bishov, first published in 1952 (thanks Aunt Nellie, just one of your wonderful legacies to me):

1 4-5 pound chicken

3 quarts cold water

1 carrot, sliced

2 stalks celery

2 sprigs parsley

1 small bay leaf

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Cut chicken into pieces. Place in kettle with color water. Cover and bring slowly to a boil. Add seasonings and vegetables. Simmer gently about 3 hours. Strain, chill, and remove fat. Strain again.

P.S. I used some leftover chicken to make daughter chicken salad for her lunch the next day!

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