Friday, January 10, 2014

Chicken Soup for the Season
What’s cooking? Chicken Vegetable Soup

Okay, so it's a rooster. So sue me.

“Mom!” said the voice on my cell phone. It was my younger son and he sounded almost frantic. No matter how old they are – and this one was 28 at the time – you imagine the worst when they sound that way.

“Hi, sweetie – what’s up?” I said as I held my breath.

“Listen, Cybill is sick and I want to take her some chicken soup. So I’m in the grocery store – what do I buy?”

Now I could hear that what appeared to be panic was only the waffling of sound that comes when the person calling is also walking while he talks. I felt my heart give a reflexive squish at the image of him cooking for his girlfriend, and cooking my chicken soup recipe that he thought would save the day.

It didn’t start out as my chicken soup. It was one of the few specialties of my mother’s kitchen that I periodically found myself missing when I moved to New York after college.

There was no point in asking her how she made it. She just stood in the kitchen, waved her magic wand, and – presto! – chicken soup. Ok, so that’s not how it really happened. But it might as well have been. My mother hardly ever worked by a recipe. For the occasional fancy dessert – I remember a mango-champagne cake in particular, but I’ve never found the card on it – she’d follow written directions. But most of the time, if she couldn’t make up what she wanted, then she made something else.

Finally, I just watched her make that chicken soup. And I wrote down what she did. Then I took my notes home and made what I thought she’d made. Not the same. So I fiddled with it, tasted it, fiddled some more, tasted some more. And as I learned more about cooking, I fiddled yet again with it. So much so that I guess I can honestly say now that it’s my chicken soup.

It’s the soup I made for my boys when they were sick. It’s the soup I yearn to make and send to them when they’re sick now, though, having done that once, I know the cost is completely ridiculous. It’s the soup I’ve made for sick friends, and the soup I crave when I myself am sick, so it’s good to stash a container of it in the freezer at the start of the allergy/flu season.

I know everyone – almost everyone? – has their own chicken soup. Which is a good thing, as I recently read – in The Wall Street Journal, of all places – that “scientists have theorized that an amino acid in chicken called cysteine may help thin mucus, and in a study published in the journal Chest in 2000, researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center demonstrated in test tubes that the ingredients in a traditional chicken soup inhibited inflammation.”

In case you haven’t got a chicken soup, or you have one but want to try mine, here it is. Kitchen Godddess note: I use chicken thighs because I think they give better flavor, and I use boneless or bone-in, depending on what I can find. As for the veggies, this recipe is extremely flexible in the sense that if you don’t have or like green beans, you can substitute a package of frozen spinach. Add parsnips or lima beans or yellow summer squash – you just want to have a nice medley of colors.

So stay warm, stay healthy – have some chicken soup.

Chicken Vegetable Soup

Serves 4-6.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
½ cup carrot, cut in ¼-inch dice, plus ½ cup sliced ⅛-inch thick
½ cup celery, cut in ¼-inch dice, plus ½ cup sliced ⅛-inch thick
7 cups good quality chicken broth
2½ pounds skinless chicken thighs (boneless or bone-in – your choice), trimmed of fat
1 teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 large bay leaf (or 2 small)
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium turnip, diced (⅜-inch to ½-inch)
1 medium zucchini, sliced ⅛-inch thick
3-4 ounces green beans (fresh or frozen)
1 cup corn (fresh or frozen)
additional salt/pepper to taste
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

In a large pot (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven), heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion for 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another 1 minute, without browning. Add the diced carrot and the diced celery and sauté another 5 minutes.

Add the broth, the chicken, 1 teaspoon each of the dill and thyme, the bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon of salt, and bring to a simmer. Kitchen Goddess note: It should simmer very gently – not boil – or the meat will become tough and you’ll get scum that’ll be hard to remove. After 20 minutes, remove the chicken and shred it to your liking.

Add the sliced carrots, sliced celery, turnip, zucchini, green beans and corn to the pot and bring to a simmer. Add back the shredded chicken plus any accumulated juices. Simmer gently 10-15 minutes, until the carrots are tender (they’re the densest of the veggies, so will take longest to cook).

Add the extra ½ teaspoon of dill and thyme and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add salt/pepper to taste. Stir in the parsley and remove the bay leaf. Ladle into warm bowls and serve hot.

1 comment:

  1. Yum, of course. I'd never think to add dill. My m-i-l's secret ingredient (well, not that secret since it shows) is a healthy dollop/tablespoon or two of spaghetti sauce if there's any in the fridge. She makes her own. Paul Newman or Mamma Prego makes mine.