Accidentally Ideal Chicken Soup

21 Dec

Before I dive in to this recipe, I feel it incumbent upon me to acknowledge that I only post here like once a year at this point haha. I just within the last few months took on a new job and quit my old one and for the first time in a long time, I’m only working part-time (mostly). So I hope to have much more time and energy to devote to things like cooking and writing blog posts (and just writing more again, in general), but time will tell. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s not to make assumptions about the future.
Because I’m a big believer in not having to read someone’s whole life story before getting to the recipe, it’s right up top – but if you’d like to read more about how I developed this, there’s more on that below the recipe.

Emi’s Ideal Chicken Soup

If you have homemade stock on hand, skip the first step. If you don’t have homemade stock on hand, I recommend making it a day ahead so you don’t have to spend too much time on this soup in one fell swoop, but you do you.

Ingredients:

For the stock:
Turkey or chicken parts or carcasses
Asparagus or any other green veg you have on hand
1 bay leaf
Dried tarragon
1 shallot clove or bulb, or an onion
4 cloves garlic
10-14 cups water

For the soup:
3-6 bone-in chicken thighs
Olive oil, salt, pepper, tarragon, red chili flakes, Tony Chachere’s (or any other Cajun seasoning)
1 whole shallot (2 cloves), finely chopped
3-4 garlic gloves, finely chopped
Splash of sherry, red or white wine, or other deglazing liquid of your choice
1 cup dry long-grain rice

Preparation:

  1. Make a stock: I follow a rough approximation of Mark Bittman’s method for making stock. In this case, I had turkey & chicken carcass parts and some asparagus stowed away in my freezer for just such a purpose. I added them into a large stock pot and nearly filled it with water (this will be between 10-14 cups of water, depending on the size of your pot and how much “stuff” you put in it). Into that, I also tossed a shallot bulb and several cloves of garlic (you do not need to peel either of these); a bay leaf, and some dried tarragon. You could use onion instead, I just happened to have shallot lying around. Bring this to a boil then lower the heat so it is *just* bubbling. Simmer, uncovered, for at least an hour but up to two. (I did an hour in this case). If you are making your soup the same day, you could start preheating the oven during the last 15 or so minutes of the stock cooking time. Once the stock is done, strain out all of the solids. If you are not using your stock right away (you will have extra even if you are), store it in glass jars or however you see fit & refrigerate for 3-5 days – you can freeze your stock, but I never seem to have a problem using it all pretty quickly, especially if making this or any other soup that calls for large amounts of it.
  2. Roast your chicken. If you haven’t already, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. I used 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs – but I also set aside some of the chicken for use in another recipe, so you could probably use 3-4 thighs and be fine. Coat the chicken in olive oil, salt, pepper, tarragon, and a dash of Tony’s (or whatever cajun seasoning you have on hand), and set on foil in a rimmed baking pan, then roast until the internal temp reads at least 165 degrees. I use foil partly to make clean up a breeze, but also because it makes transferring the chicken juices and fat from the sheet pan to the stock pot super easy. My chicken pieces took about 50 minutes to finish roasting, but they were frozen – if yours are not frozen this could take as little as 25-30 minutes, so just start checking them then. Also keep in mind if they aren’t cooked all the way through, you can always finish cooking them in the soup.
  3. While the chicken is roasting, prep your veg. Finely chop one whole shallot (two cloves) and approx 3-4 garlic cloves. If you have fresh herbs you are going to want to incorporate, you could also prep those now and just add them when you add your other seasonings, or alternately closer to the end of the cook time if you want them to be brighter.
  4. Once the chicken is done, remove the pieces from the sheet pan and set aside. Fold the foil up almost like a funnel so you can easily tip the collected juices and fat into the stock pot. (You could at this point filter this through a fine mesh sieve if you were feeling persnickety, but I like all the “stuff” to go into the soup pot, so I don’t). Heat up the pan juices that are now in the stock pot over medium heat and saute the shallot along with salt, pepper, red chili flakes, and tarragon (a pinch or two of each) for a minute or two until the shallot is starting to turn translucent. Make a well in the center and add your garlic, saute only for about 30-45 seconds, until fragrant. Stir everything together and add a splash of sherry, vermouth, or wine (just enough to help deglaze the pan and add a bit of depth of flavor). Let that cook off for about a minute, then add your 6-8 cups of stock (I added about 7, but I wished it was a bit more later). Turn the heat up to high and let the soup come to a boil.
  5. While you’re waiting for the soup to boil, you can prep the chicken. Remove the skin (you can just throw this out if you want, but I like to fry them up a bit more in a nonstick pan for a nice little chef’s treat). I usually just use my fingers to get the chicken meat off the bone, but if the chicken is still too hot or you just don’t like getting that messy, you can also use a knife and fork to alternately steady and shred the chicken from the bone. I toss the bones into the stock pot as I go. I don’t think this is absolutely necessary, but I just like to try to extract every single ounce of flavor I can from the chicken.
  6. Once the soup is boiling, remove the bones if you added them, then add 1 cup rice, lower the heat back down to medium, and set a timer for 10 minutes. When your timer goes off, add the chicken to the pot (again, you might set some aside for another use if you made 6 thighs – I’d guess I added 3-4 cups of shredded chicken into the soup), then set the timer for another 5 minutes for the rice to finish cooking. At this point you can begin tasting the soup and adjusting the seasonings as needed. I ended up adding a bit more salt and pepper near the end. Once the rice is tender, you’re done! I like to serve this alongside the fried-up chicken skins and some nice hearty sourdough slathered with a high-fat butter like Kerrygold.

How Did I Get Here?

I have been trying different chicken soup recipes for the last couple years, in search of the illusive Ideal Chicken Soup. Ideal Chicken Soup is different for everyone, which is part of what makes it hard to find one you like. Some people like their soup fattier, or spicier; some people swear by light meat, others swear by dark; some people embrace using ginger or lemongrass or other intense flavors, while others like their soup almost severely minimalist (read: plain). The problem is one person’s Ideal Chicken Soup is another person’s trash (okay, maybe not that extreme, but you get what I’m saying). I tried recipe after recipe and never really felt like I had landed on The One. And then yesterday I made stock and today I was looking for some way to use up a good portion of it and so I threw together a soup with not much thought – and accidentally stumbled into my Ideal Chicken Soup. At first I thought it was sort of hilarious and ironic that I would land on my ideal soup this way, considering all the time I have spent testing numerous recipes, mostly written by actual professionals or home cooks much more advanced than me. But, in retrospect, I think it makes total sense – most of the techniques I used in making this soup (like roasting off the chicken first, using the schmaltz in the soup base, making a homemade stock) have only become more natural and instinctual to me through my time spent with these other recipes. So even if I didn’t find The One among them, they surely helped me on my way to it, as I clearly absorbed their lessons.

Here is what I found absolutely essential to making my Ideal Chicken Soup:

  • Use homemade stock. Look, I’ve rolled my eyes when reading this in other recipes. Surely, the stuff from the grocery store is fine? And you know what? It is Fine. But that’s all it is. If you’re searching for greatness, I hate to tell you this, but you’re going to need to use homemade stock. The good news is: making homemade stock is dead easy. (Even better news? Your local fancy/specialty grocery store may even sell freshly made stock by the quart).
  • Use bone-in chicken thighs and roast your chicken separately in the oven, then use the accumulated pan juices & fat to start the base of your soup. Alternately, you could probably brown the chicken in the same pan and finish cooking it in the soup, but the former technique is the way I did it and it was perfect so I, personally, will not be messing with it.
  • I found that I didn’t actually need carrots or celery. I’ve always been taught that classic chicken soup had both, and the majority of the recipes I have tried have started with these building blocks so I always assumed they were essential. I didn’t have any on hand and I didn’t miss them (and am now wondering if they are part of why I didn’t like my results previously). Same with other root veg you often see in chicken soups like parsnips or potatoes – didn’t miss them at all.

Will this also be your Ideal Chicken Soup? Very probably not, since we all seem to have such different and specific preferences. But try it and let me know what you think and what you would do differently. I’ve found my soulmate of a chicken soup, and maybe it’ll help you on your way to yours.

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