Wednesday, October 10, 2012

chicken noodle soup

baby, (all of the sudden) it's cold outside

There are about as many recipes for chicken noodle soup as there are people who enjoy it, which is everyone. Well, everyone but me. I understand that announcing that one does not like chicken noodle soup is tantamount to saying that one dislikes comfort, thick sweaters on brisk fall days, well-padded shoes for long walks and sips of tea from a steamy mug. I get this. But in my defense, I am not the one who broke it.

getting started
browning the onions, wisp of steam

I cannot take responsibility for delis that keep a batch of soup at a low simmer 24/7, until the noodles are gummy and the bits of chicken taste like death itself. I find it depressing that few recipes on the first three pages of Google results for chicken noodle soup image that one might want to make it from scratch, that an “old fashioned chicken noodle soup” recipe on one of the largest food websites out there has you begin with eight cans of low-sodium chicken stock. I am equally suspicious of chicken soups that have you cook the chicken to a point beyond repair and then discard the meat, because my inner Depression-era granny (frankly, outer, too, on days where I don my aforementioned thick cardigan and padded shoes) would fall over at the thought that people cook a chicken only not eat it, and therefore, maybe so should we. I am uninspired by soups that have you cook the chicken so briskly in the name of saving it for later leaving just a pale, weak broth behind. And with this, what happened is what always happens when I attempt to explain in great detail why I have no love for a certain dish: I ended up making it anyway.

not bad for a 40 minute chicken broth

A few things led to this: First, I finally summoned enough common sense to realize that saying you don’t like an item because the readily available versions of it are no good is like saying you don’t like tomatoes because in January, the groceries only sell pale orbs that are more dehydrated watermelon in texture than tomatoes. Surely tomatoes aren’t to blame for what’s been done to them. The second was that my son came home from preschool with a terrible cold that he quickly passed to his father and it bothered me more than it should that I didn’t have a go-to recipe for the universe’s most beloved remedy. And if this wasn’t enough motivation, over the weekend the weather plummeted from a gorgeous 77 degrees to a windy, rainy 52 and soup is suddenly the only thing that makes sense.

sauteeing all the things
parsnips, celery and carrot
dreaded white meat

In the kitchen, I did things my way, which is to say, minimally. The broth is just chicken and onions, with a confetti of vegetables added at the end where their flavor remains bright. The noodles are wide and winding, for those (okay, probably just me) who could never keep those slippery, skinny ones on their spoons. But, for me, the real triumph was giving the chicken parts and onion a saute — a trick I picked up from Cook’s Illustrated, that picked it up from Edna Lewis – before adding water to make the soup. This deepened flavor base makes for magical soup, with a bronzed color, more robust flavor and significantly reduced prep time. This was my “A-ha!” moment. With all of the blustery, cold days to go this winter, everyone, even the previously reistent, deserves to have a homemade, from-scratch chicken noodle soup that can be pulled off in just about an hour in their back pocket.

chicken noodle soup, my way
chicken noodle soup

Book, book, book: As promised, I populated the Book Tour & Events page over the weekend with three new events, one quite close to my hometown and two others at beloved stores. I also added as much detail as I could about each store’s policies as to whether you can bring an outside book in to be signed. At each event, these rules will vary and I hope that this makes it as transparent as possible. Finally, stay tuned next week, when I will announce another way to get books signed by me, even if you live far from the cities I’ll be heading to. Guys, the book release is getting so close (20 days)! I really hope we get a chance to meet. Whee!

Two years ago: Roasted Eggplant Soup
Three years ago: Breakfast Apple Granola Crisp
Four years ago: Beef, Leek and Barley Soup
Five years ago: Arroz Con Pollo and Gazpacho Salad
Six years ago: Lemon Pound Cake

Chicken Noodle Soup

While the recipe below makes what we consider a dreamy classic chicken noodle soup, feel free to just use it as a template. Can’t bear a chicken stock without garlic or leeks? Add them. (I sometimes use two onions, because I like that flavor so much with chicken. One could be replaced with leeks.) Only like stock made with light or dark meat? Go for it. Want to use different vegetables? We’re big fans of cauliflower and green bean segments in here too; for aesthetics, I try to dice the vegetables so they’re all the same size chunks. Do you have a toddler that’s averse to soup? Try using 4 ounces noodles. It makes for a heartier, noodle-heavy soup, and all of those noodles are an excellent distraction. Bored of noodles? Spaetzle, rice and other grains would be delightful here.

If you have time to bring your chicken to room temperature before getting started, all the better for the browning step.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-pound chicken, in parts or 3 pounds chicken pieces of your choice
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large carrot, diced (1/3-inch)
1 medium parsnip, diced (1/3-inch) (optional)
1 large celery stalk, diced (1/3-inch)
3 ounces dried egg noodles, I prefer wide ones
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or flat-leaf parsley

Prepare broth: In a large (5-quart) heavy pot over medium-high heat, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onion and saute it for 3 to 4 minutes, until beginning to take on color at edges. Add the chicken pieces (if too crowded, can do this in two batches), making little wells in the onions so that the parts can touch the bottom of the pan directly. Cook chicken parts until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Add water, bay leaf, table salt and some freshly ground black pepper and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and skim any (sorry for lack of better term) scum that appears at the surface of the pot. Simmer pot gently, partially covered, for 20 minutes.

Transfer chicken parts to a plate to cool a bit before handling. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl (ideally, with a spout) and pour soup through it.

If your pot looks grimy and you’re fanatical about having a clear soup, you can give it a quick wash before returning the broth to the pot. You can remove a bit of fat at this point, if it looks necessary. Bring the broth back to a simmer.

You may be tempted at this point to taste it and add more salt. I know this because I do it every single time, adding another teaspoon, and every. single. time. I regret this as it is too salty in the end. So, proceed with any re-seasoning with caution.

To finish and serve: Add diced vegetables and simmer them until they’re firm-tender, about 5 minutes. Add dried noodles and cook them according to package directions, usually 6 to 9 minutes. While these simmer, remove the skin and chop the flesh from a couple pieces of chicken, only what you’re going to use. You won’t need all of it in the soup. I usually use the breasts first because they’re my least favorite and benefit the most from the extra moisture of the soup. The remaining parts can be slipped into an airtight bag in the fridge (I recommend leaving the skin on for retained moisture until needed) and used for chicken salad or the like over the next few days.

Once noodles have cooked, add chicken pieces just until they have rewarmed through (30 seconds) and ladle into serving bowls. Garnish with dill or parsley, dig in and let it fix everything that went wrong with your day.

Do ahead: If planning ahead, the point where you strain your chicken broth is a great place to pause. Refrigerate the chicken broth until the next day. Before heating it and finishing the recipe, you can easily remove any solidified fat from the surface for a virtually fat-free soup. Then, you can cook the vegetables and noodles to order, adding the chicken only so that it can rewarm (and not overcook!). If making the broth more than a day in advance, you might as well freeze it. I recommend freezer bags with as much air as possible pressed out. Freezing the bags flat will make it easier to stack and store with other frozen soups, and the bag will only require a short soak in warm water to defrost.


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