Friday, December 30, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Chicken soup is all you need

Ah, winter. Ah-choo!

Yep, along with snowboarding, skiing, and sledding, winter can bring sniffles. There's no cure for the common cold, but it sure seems like chicken soup helps.

And even if you're not under the weather, what's better on a chilly day than a big bowl of chicken soup? It doesn't need much to accompany it. Some crackers, maybe. Some crusty bread and butter. Or maybe just a blanket, some pillows, and the TV remote.

This soup is particularly hearty. It stands up in the bowl, with a moat of rich broth surrounding the vegetables. It's almost a stew, but I refuse to call it that.

If you want a thinner, brothier soup, you can cut back on the vegetables, or add more liquid. Adding more water will give you more broth, but it won't have much flavor. Instead, add a good-quality ready-made stock.

But really, I suggest you leave it as-is. If you need to consume more liquids, sip on some hot tea. Or juice. Or maybe try one of Whole Foods' Italian Sparkling Water varieties. You'll get some bubbles, a little flavor, and without an overload of sugar. Nice and light and refreshing.

One problem with cooking chicken is that the breast cooks faster than the dark meat. The white meat can dry out if it's overcooked, while the dark meat can withstand extra cooking time with no trouble. This recipe takes care of that issue. You'll see.

And it's a one-pot recipe, except for cooking the noodles.

For this soup, I made the noodles. If you prefer, you can buy noodles, or add rice instead.

Hearty Chicken Soup

1 whole roasting hen
Olive oil
8 stalks celery
6 carrots
1 large onion
1 teaspoon salt (plus more to taste)
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup fresh parsley
1 lemon or lime (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the giblets and/or neck from the chicken. Place the chicken breast-side down in a large cast iron Dutch oven or similar pot. Rub a bit of olive oil (or butter, if you prefer) on top of the chicken. This will help to brown the skin which will give the soup a richer, roasted flavor. Add the chicken neck and gizzards, if you have them. Reserve the chicken liver for other use, or discard it.

Put the Dutch oven in the oven and roast at 400 degrees until the chicken is browned. We're not looking to cook it through - just get some browning - about 30-45 minutes.

Remove the pot from the oven and carefully flip the chicken over so the breast is now on top. (Or, if you prefer, remove the chicken from the pot and place it on a cutting board.) Remove the breasts from the chicken. Take the skin off the breasts, and refrigerate the breast meat until needed, later.

If you took the chicken out of the pot, return it to the pot along with the skin from the breast meat. Add enough water to barely cover the chicken - about two quarts. Add one teaspoon of salt. Put the Dutch oven on the stove, heat to boiling, then reduce to a simmer. Skim off any scum as it collects on the top of the pot. Cover the pot and let it simmer gently for one hour.

Meanwhile prepare the vegetables. Trim the ends of the celery. If your celery has outer tough stalks, you can add them to the stock to add more flavor and use the more tender inner stalks for the soup.

Slice the celery into pieces about 1/4 inch thick. Peel the carrots and slice them to a similar thickness. Cut the onion in a medium-sized dice.

After the chicken has simmered for an hour remove it and other solid bits from the pot. If there is a lot of fat at the top of the remaining liquid, remove some of it - you want a little bit of fat, but you don't want a thick layer. Add the celery, carrots and onions to the pot, and simmer until they are fully cooked - about 45 minutes.

Let the chicken rest until it is cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the thighs and legs, and any other remaining meat that's not overcooked. Remaining bits of breast meat might already be dry and chewy, but there will be other bits that are still soft and tender. Cut or shred the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside until needed. Discard the chicken bones and skin.

While the vegetables are cooking, you have plenty of time to make the noodles (recipe below).

Remove the chicken breasts from the refrigerator and cut them into bite-sized pieces - not too small, since this is a hearty soup. Add this to the reserved dark meat. Chop the parsley roughly.

Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning, adding salt, if needed. Add the chicken, parsley, and frozen peas to the soup and cook just long enough to heat the chicken and warm the peas. Add the freshly cooked noodles. Add a splash of lemon or lime juice to the soup to brighten up the flavor, if you prefer. Or, pass lemon or lime wedges at the table so people can add their own, as desired.

Rustic Noodles
If you want fewer noodles, you can easily make half of a batch

2-3 cups flour
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pile 2 cups of the flour on your work surface and make a well in the center. Add the eggs, sour cream, and salt to the well.

Use a fork to break up the egg yolks and begin stirring the liquid in the center, drawing in flour from the outside as you mix, until you have a thick paste that you can work with your hands.

Continue adding flour until you have a dough that you can knead. It should be fairly dense - not soft like a bread dough. Knead it until it is smooth and pliable, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking to the work surface.

Roll the dough to about the thickness of a corn tortilla. Flour the surface generously, then roll it up and cut it into pieces about 1/4 inch wide.

Unroll the strips and toss them with some flour to keep them from sticking. Shake off the excess flour before you cook them.

Cook as you would any noodle - in boiling salted water. Since these are fresh noodles, they cook quickly - check them for doneness when they float to the surface of the water. Add them to the soup just before serving.

For more information about Whole Foods Friday, see the tab at the top.