Tuesday, January 17, 2012
January is National Soup Month
What better month than cold, snowy January for celebrating National Soup Month? Unless you're in the southern hemisphere, I suppose... but then you can experiment with all sorts of refreshing chilled summer soups!
Begin your soups with either the best prepared stock or broth that you can afford, or better yet, make it yourself. Typically, stock is made with vegetables plus bonier pieces of meat, and broth is made with vegetables and only meat, giving you two different results. The bones create a more "gelatinous" quality to the stock, making it preferable for most soups and stews, and broth is thinner and perfect for very clear soups and for cooking rice, etc.
There are no real hard and fast rules of stock-making but I do stick to some general guidelines. I love to add vegetables, vegetables and MORE vegetables. I use the traditional favorites like onions, carrots and celery but also toss in leeks and shallots for their almost-garlicky flavor, and parsnips for additional sweetness. Recently I came across a chicken stock recipe that suggested using fennel and I thought of how wonderful that would be in Italian wedding soup, minestrone, or other Italian-type dishes. Putting that in the file for "next time."
Other than parsley, I don't add herbs to chicken stock or broth. I prefer to keep the basic flavor simple so the stock can be versatile. I also do not season the stock with salt, leaving that for later when I'm actually using it in a soup or other dish (I'm specifically thinking of bean dishes where the salt can hinder the cooking of the beans).
I do add one secret spice to chicken stock to give it a most delicious flavor: whole cloves. Not too many - a little goes a very long way. For me, a dash of clove flavor has the same effect as adding a tiny bit of cinnamon to some savory dishes - luscious!
The Basic Recipe:
Naturally, start out with... chicken. I used about 2/3 of a four pound whole chicken that I had roasted a couple of days earlier. We had a bit of it for a dinner, then the rest of it went into the soup pot. This actually works very well, as the roasted chicken has already released some fat, and the roasting gives it a nice, rich flavor. Remove as much of the skin as you can, and place in a large soup pot with a Noah's Ark of ingredients: two carrots, two celery stalks, two parsnips. Cut a large yellow onion in quarters and add to the pot. If you really like garlic, use it, but I find it a bit overpowering in chicken stock and I prefer to add a leek and a shallot in place of the garlic. Add a handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley and four or five whole cloves. Pour in water to cover, bring to a boil, then turn down heat, cover and simmer for as long as you wish, the longer the better. Be sure to use a slotted spoon to skim off impurities every so often, and preferably prepare the stock a day before you actually need it so it can be refrigerated overnight and more excess fat can be easily removed. Allow to cool, discard vegetables and remove chicken meat from the bones to use for chicken soup or maybe even a casserole.
The stock will become fairly gelatinous because of the chicken bones, and that's perfectly normal, fine, and preferable - it's the best kind of stock, lots of nutrients and super-rich flavor! It will liquify when you reheat it, but you might need to add more water along with the rest of your soup ingredients. The stock in the photo above became a delicious chicken and rice soup with brown jasmine rice, thyme, shredded carrots, sliced mushrooms, and a bit of saffron, giving it a unique flavor and beautiful golden color.
Whether your chicken soup has noodles, rice, dumplings or matzoh balls, you know that it's going to be absolutely wonderful because you're starting with homemade chicken stock made with lots of love!