Chicken Soup is the Original Health Food
Ahhhh, it’s time for some chicken soup. Whenever I feel a little off, like my throat is a little scratchy, or my muscles ache more than usual I try to make some chicken soup from scratch. I don’t follow a recipe, I follow a vague memory of how my grandmother used to make chicken soup. Really and truly.
Grammy was my Mom’s mom starting right in the middle of the great Depression (of the 1930s) here in America, so nothing was allowed to go to waste. Not that her soup was made from kitchen scraps. Just that the stock would be made from a chicken carcass that was picked clean before hand at dinner and yes, vegetable scraps.
Back to present day American. I find that it is hard to adjust to life after a vacation. I don’t have time for the same things that I did have time for away from home. While on vacation in Carriacou, Grenada I did some of my own cooking. My stewed chicken was great the first time, and not great the second time. That second time I told myself more is better. So I used more oil, more sugar and more coconut milk to stew my chicken and it was too rich.
After that I swore off too much oily or fried food, swore off hot pepper sauce, and went off to Ade’s Market to get a frozen fish head and tail. With that I made myself a healing fish broth, the Caribbean equivalent to our chicken soup. I added some sweet potato and a little plantain to sweeten it up.
Funny in the Caribbean, cooks might boil a chicken to start a recipe, and just pour out the chicken stock. I was amazed when I saw this happen and told them about how we consider that chicken stock medicinal, just like they find their fish stock to be medicinal. Don’t throw it! None-the-less Caribbean cooks know how to cook chicken!
Which Chicken to Buy?
Don’t worry I won’t tell you you have to get a free-range chicken or an organic chicken, but they really do taste better aside from being a greener choice for a healthier diet.
I went to the grocery store thinking I’d buy all the ingredients necessary to make a super healthy soup. I started with a chicken called a Lancaster Red grown on the Lapp Family Farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. That’s a beautiful, pastoral part of the mid Atlantic countryside, filled with thriving family farms. This chicken I bought, a 3.5 chicken cost me about $13.00. The label says it is a “Pasture Raised Whole Chicken”. The label then says, “This chicken was humanely raised and allowed to forage on the pasture at the Lapp Family Farm . . . It was fed a Vegetarian diet and was never administered antibiotics or hormones*” The asterisk after the word hormones goes to a footnote that says, “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry.”
At least there is some truth in labeling going on here. This footnote makes it clear that the claim of never using hormones is just a marketing pitch. No matter, buying and eating this chicken makes me feel a little bit more responsible toward the animals of our planet!
Plus I love chickens anyway. As a constant visitor to the Caribbean I interact with live chickens a lot. As long as the flock is controlled (they are not always) and there is only one adult rooster, living near chickens is lovely. They eat up all the bugs in the yard, clucking softly as they lead the baby chicks around, always eating always eating. They lay eggs for you as well. And then, when their egg laying days are over, they might be harvested for a pot of chicken soup. Like today.
If you like the idea of keeping chickens in your yard, first check out the zoning laws in your town, and then check out these websites about keeping chickens. When it comes time to turn one of your dear chickens into dinner, you could look for a humane butcher to carry out the deed.
Okay, so back to my soup recipe. Let’s start over!
For the Stock
1 chicken or collection of chicken parts.
For the Soup
1 onion, chopped
3 stalks of celery chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
14 oz canned tomatoes any type you like
half a bunch of fresh cilantro thoroughly washed and lightly chopped
These five ingredients are essential for a basic medicinal chicken soup, in my opinion. You could cook these with the chicken and stock and it would heal you from everything you can imagine. But if you want to cook a heartier soup, you can add more stuff. Like starchy vegetables and grains such as
- yucca (cassava)
- green banana
- cooked pasta (add at very end)
- cooked rice (add at very end)
and green vegies like
- snow peas
- bok choy
To make the stock
Either use the carcass of a cooked and eaten chicken, or just throw an entire uncooked chicken into the pot.
Bring your water to a boil with chicken inside, lower the temperature, and simmer at least half an hour for already cooked leftover chicken carcass and bones, or 45 minutes or more for a whole chicken. You just need to check with a food thermometer to see if the chicken is safely cooked and has reached at least 170 degrees inside. 180 degrees is the final temperature you want to see on the thermometer, but that often happens after you turn off the heat, the chicken keeps cooking inside.
Cool off your chicken stockpot until you can work with it. This may take a while, and you may need to chill it in the fridge for a while. I usually leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The next day I warm it up a bit and then go to work separating the edible parts from the in-edible parts. I do this with my well-washed bare hands, to make sure there are not bones and hard bits left in the pot. All of these edible bits can be placed in a covered bowl and returned to the refrigerator for the time being.
Take the strained broth and pour it into a clean pot. You should have at least 2 quarts of stock. If your stock has condensed you can add some water. Making sure to use a large enough pot, add chopped onions, carrots, and celery to chicken stock. After cooking these onions, celery, and carrots in the stock for 5 minutes or so, add whatever other vegetables you might like plus the canned tomatoes. Cook for a while until vegetables are just tender. Add garlic and cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.
Cook for another 5 minutes on low heat. Add the chicken that came off the bones and the edible bits that you strained earlier from the chicken stock. Also add your optional pre-cooked rice or pasta. Bring the pot back to hot, and then serve! It’s even better the next day. But don’t keep it around too long. Freeze whatever you haven’t eaten after 48 hours.
Here’s an interesting recipe I found online when I searched for the best chicken soup recipe. The one I really like is from a website call no recipes.com. I love that cause that’s how I cook.
Best Chicken Soup
1 whole 3-4lbs chicken
1 medium onion cut into wedges
3 cloves garlic smashed with flat side of knife
2 stalks celery leaves and stems chopped
Stems and roots from 1 bunch of cilantro
2 bay laurel leaves (or 1 California bay leaf)
1 Tbs kosher salt
2 carrots, each cut into 2-3 large pieces
cilantro and lime for serving
Put the chicken in a stock pot just big enough to hold it. Scatter the onion, garlic, celery, cilantro, bay leaves and salt around the chicken. Cover the chicken with water, put a lid on the pot, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Continue boiling for 5 minutes. Then, turn off the heat, allowing the chicken to poach in the water for 45 minutes (don’t open the lid during this time).
When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the stock and allow it to cool off enough to touch. Remove and discard the skin, then strip the meat off the bones into bite size pieces. Cover the chicken and refrigerate until the soup is done.
Return the bones back into the stock pot along with any collected juices from the chicken. Cover, and return the soup to a boil. When it boils, turn down the heat and simmer for 3 hours.
Strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve and discard the solids. Skim off any excess oil then add the soup back to the pot along with the carrots. Cook the carrots until tender and salt the soup to taste.
To serve, put down some chicken, carrots and avocado in a bowl. Pour the hot stock over everything and garnish with cilantro and a wedge of lime.