Chicken soup has long been recognized as a balm for troubled tummies, a warm and healthful food for cold, turbulent times and a delicious way to stretch one last meal out of nothing more than the leftovers from a roasted chicken and a few kitchen staples. My kids have loved it unquestioningly since they were babies and I still enjoy it myself.
Which is good for times like these, when I need to hunker down and comfort myself with food. Today is my birthday, but it's hard to feel like celebrating when a nightmarish manhunt is going on for the Boston Marathon bomber, searchers are seeking survivors from an explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas and more cities around the world than I can list are similarly exploding with violence.
So instead of tweeting about presents and posting photos of my smiling family on Facebook, I'll cook up a pot of soup. Sharing something delicious and nourishing that is surprisingly easy to make is one of the best gifts I can offer or receive. It is a skill I have come to cherish, both on dark days and during the best of times.
Homemade chicken stock is the key to this soup and it can be used for many other recipes, too. I've spent years streamlining the process of stock-making into something that takes as little of my time as possible, yet is still delicious. It tastes better than anything I can find at the store in a can or Tetrapak and doesn’t contain any of the additional gunk found in those same containers, like flavor, msg, dextrose(sugar), soy protein or yeast extract.
I also got an extra bump of good feeling out of making this after reading the New York Times piece on the science of junk food from a few weeks back. If you've read it too you'll understand why. My chicken soup is entirely homemade from whole ingredients and does not rely on any type of processed food. It bolsters my confidence as a home cook and proves my ability to compete with the power of McDonald's Happy Meals and Lunchables. I really can make something quickly from scratch that my kids love to eat!
Chicken Rice Soup:
This recipe relies on leftovers from a roast chicken and stock made from the bones, which should be made in a crockpot the night before. Once the chicken has been eaten and the stock is made, it takes about 30 minutes to prepare. This recipe will feed 2 adults and 2 children. It makes a light one pot meal as is or can be served with salad, bread and cheese for larger appetites.
1 quart (or so) chicken stock, instructions for making stock are below
1-2 cups cooked, chopped leftover roast chicken, instructions for roasting a chicken are below
1 cup uncooked rice (basmati or jasmine is best)
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks or 4 chard stems, diced
handful of parsley and/or celery leaves, finely chopped
Start by making the rice. Bring 1 3/4 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to boil in a small-ish saucepan, add the rice, put the lid on the pot, turn the heat down low and simmer slightly for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let it sit for 15 minutes more with the lid still on.
Put the stock in a pot, thaw it if it is frozen (mine usually is). Add the carrots, celery or chard stems and some salt. I like to start with 1/2 teaspoon and go from there, but if your stock is already salty I'd start with less. Bring to a boil and simmer until the veggies are soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the leftover chicken meat and continue to simmer until the meat is warmed.
To serve, put a scoop of rice in each bowl and ladle soup on top. Put the celery/parsley leaves in a bowl on the table along with a pepper grinder and salt shaker and allow everyone to season and garnish their own bowl.
To make the stock:
You'll need to start the stock at least the evening before you want to make the soup.
Remove any remaining meat from the roasted chicken bones, store it in the fridge and put the bones in your crockpot. You can also throw in the chicken neck and any other bones that may have come with the bird. Peel and quarter an onion and add it to the pot, then fill it with water to about an inch below the rim. Cover and cook on low overnight.
In the morning, the stock should smell good, like chicken soup. If it seems undercooked, let it continue to simmer on low. It can continue simmering for most of the day. Strain the stock into a fat separator. Discard the bones, then pour it into containers and discard most of the fat floating at the top. The stock will get bitter if cooled with the bones and onion, so resist the temptation to put the entire pot in the fridge before straining and leave for the day.
Let the stock cool and then refrigerate or freeze it. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week, after that it can last indefinitely in the freezer. I like to freeze mine in glass jars, they don't break as long as I leave about an inch of empty space at the top and the width of the jar is not narrower at the top than the bottom (no neck). My favorite jars for freezing are 1/2 liter Weck mold jars, though Le Parfait Terrine jars also work well. Wide mouth canning jars work too, though many of them contain the chemical bisphenol A in the plastic coating of the lids, which is something I prefer to avoid.
To roast the chicken:
Instructions for roasting a chicken are here on this blog or in The Joy of Cooking, p. 579 of the 1997 edition. To summarize: bring the chicken to room temperature, remove the bag of organs and neck from the cavity (if there is one, sometimes there is not), preheat the oven to 400°, put the chicken in a roasting pan, rub it with salt, roast it until the thickest part of the thigh registers 180° on a meat thermometer, usually 45 minutes to an hour for a 4-ish pound bird.