The humble chicken soup. A stock family favourite with an eclectic twist.
Hailed in urban legendry as an elixir guaranteed to bring you back from a sick and weak state, this culinary bastion of comfort and soul food, the humble chicken soup, has warmed the cockles of many a heart. It is a dish for all seasons that can be made in bulk for several meals then pulled out of the fridge or freezer as you require. By getting the recipe right in your home cuisine, your praises will be sung long after you leave the building. All this from a few simple ingredients and bones, but the knack is to balance a few subtle quality flavours that all work together in harmony.
Like many processed foods – dried, canned and jarred chicken soups lack overall quality compared to a well homemade soup. The lack of quality ingredients, in most processed and fast foods, is often over-compensated with cheaply made flavour profiles using enhancers like salt, sugar, fat, MSG and made from intensely-farmed and tasteless factory chickens. They are often witches’ brews (formulas) made from riskier ingredients from unknown sources and histories sourced from round the globe. This in turn, burns lots of fossil-fuel to get these foods to your plate. For me, processed chicken soups just lack the lusciousness and fuzzy feeling of a well made “from scratch” soup that is made from local ingredients.
Flavouring a chicken stock and choosing ingredients
The key to a well-flavoured soup is a well-flavoured stock. Bones from free-range chickens will impart a good solid chicken flavour base essential to natural chicken soup.
A chicken soup in many cultures may not always be called chicken soup, but a flavourful chicken stock makes the essential basis for countless dishes within many cultural cuisines.
It is traditional, almost inbred, for westerners to flavour meat stocks with bay leaves, peppercorns, onions and vegetables trimmings, but different cuisines flavour their meat stock differently. The Chinese might use five spice, dark sesame oil, ginger, soy sauce and spring onion to flavour their stock, and add dumplings, noodles, pork and prawns to soups. The Thai would use something like lemon grass, spring onion, chilli, lime, coriander as flavourings while using tofu, chicken, prawns or beef. The Italians might use garlic, Italian herbs and spices for flavouring their stock and use beans and root vegetables in their minestrone. However, you can essentially use whatever flavourings and ingredients turn you on. I like to start with a strong yet non-flavoured neutral chicken stock, just made with chicken bones and onions. That way I can add my own flavour combination and ingredients that are on hand when cooking the actual soup. Utilise, local, in-season and organic ingredients whenever possible.
Influencing this recipe
Mum brought us up on the European vegetable-style chicken soup flavour that has endured. I hit a flavour epiphany when I tasted my first Chinese short soup. I have fallen in love with the highly nutritious blend of vegetable and beans found in minestrone as well as the interesting stock flavours found in Thai stocks. I developed and documented the following recipe – a concoction, a fusion, if you like – of all these influences. It has become a family favourite while being a complete meal in itself.
Neutral flavoured chicken stock
Bones form the basis for a meat stock and I prefer to use bones left over from roasting four chickens from which I strip the meat off the carcass, dice the meat into cubes, divide into 250gm portions then freeze in sandwich bags for use down the track in other recipes – pizzas, pastas, wraps, stews, as well as for this soup. When roasting my chickens I save the pan juices about (1 cup) then add it to my stock to give a really gutsy flavour to the soup.
5 raw chickens or, as I prefer, 4 carcasses from previously roasted chickens
3 litres of water
1 large onion
Pan juices from roast chickens
1. Prepare stock by placing chicken bones and onion in a larger saucepan with the water.
2. Bring to boil, turn down and simmer for two hours, skimming froth off top with spoon.
3. Strain stock and discard bones to compost.
4. If you roasted four chickens, now add pan juices to stock for a really good flavour.
5. Chicken stock can be frozen ready for use.
Spring chi-strone chicken soup
2 litres of stock
1tspn dark sesame oil
1cm ginger – finely chopped
1 tspn lemon grass – finely chopped
3 tblspn light soy sauce
½ tspn five spice
1½ tspn salt
1 tspn sugar
1 tspn fish sauce (optional)
Couple of small chillies to taste (optional)
375g soup mix or died beans, peas, chick peas
250g diced chicken meat (from roast chicken you have prepared earlier – optional)
2 sticks celery – diced
2 medium large carrot – diced
100g mushroom – sliced
100 baby spinach or 1 bunch bok choy – sliced
700g fresh or frozen beans, peas, corn
2 spring onions – sliced
1 small handful of parsley – chopped
1. Soak soup mix or dried legumes for at least four hours, if not overnight. Slowly cook in water till tender. Strain and rinse to cool down and get rid of excess starch.
2. In a large pot add stock add all ingredients and bring to boil and then turn heat off.
4. Cool down remaining soup and place in fridge ready for next meal or portion and freeze.
If you add pasta or noodles to your chicken soup and then keep some for the next meal, the pasta/noodles will soak up the stock and expand – so you will end up with gluggy soup. Do as the Asians do – add hot noodles to the bowl then put the soup over the noodles. The classic Italian minestrone, contrary to common belief, does not contain pasta. It was meant to be made with hard vegetables and legumes and can be chicken stock-based or tomato-based.
Tip 2 – Smarter food hunting
Look around, become food savvy. There is money to be saved getting closer to the farmer. By diversifying your shopping beyond the one-stop-shop supermarket, you give yourself this freedom to make really smart food decisions for yourself. Using as many local and organic ingredients as possible also makes for greener and friendlier eating, while growing your own produce allows you to eat the freshest and cheapest organic produce. Winter is a great time for gardening, as watering is rarely required when rain is in the air.
Mike Penning describes himself as holistic gastronomist – a hopeless food junky; a chef, gardener and gatherer, hunting for a greener and friendlier home cuisine. Mike has a diploma in hospitality management and has studied food technology, food hygiene and nutrition. He has worked in the finest restaurants and has also operated several food businesses of his own. He had a green and ethical upbringing and believes human sustainability can make it through raising self-awareness and wise lifestyle planning. Food is central to this. His hobby is photography, and he has three young children.
Share this post