There are a few recipes that you need to learn how to make from scratch, with no recipe. Chicken Soup is one of those. It’s not so much a recipe as it is a concept. Just a few basic ingredients, tossed in a pot, and left to cook and get infused with flavor. The way I make chicken soup has been adapted and honed based on the women I have had the pleasure to cook with throughout my life. Starting with grandmothers, my mother, and then mother’s-in-law. Everyone had their own favorite ingredients.
Go For Dark Meat Chicken
You don’t want to use chicken breasts for soup. They tend to get stringy, in my opinion. The dark meat cuts work better for soup. You can also use frozen chicken. I like to separate the packages of thighs when I buy them at the store and put them into freezer packs of 2-3 thighs. That way I always have some ready to toss in a pot without having to thaw them first.
My version of chicken soup uses chicken thighs, and whole chicken wings. By “whole” wings, I mean including the wing tips, not “party wings” trimmed down for buffalo wings. It’s important to have the wing tips, because those give the soup great body and flavor. The thighs have big chunks of meat in them, which are great to cut up into bite-sized pieces after they are cooked. For a big pot of soup, I use 4-6 thighs (with skin and bones). And 4 wings (or whatever comes in a package).
Some recipes call for browning the chicken first. That’s not the way I do it most of the time. But the browning does add another layer of flavor. Try it both ways and decide for yourself. Mind you, if the chicken is frozen, that’s not an option.
You can also make a really tasty beef soup using this same basic concept, by the way. Learn one, and you can make the other fairly easily.
Don’t Skimp On The Veggies
To make a tasty soup stock, you want to have some basic vegetables: carrots, celery, and onions. I like my soup to be rustic, so I’ll peel them and cut off ends, and the cut them into big pieces. The hungarian family I was married into once used to put whole vegetables into the pot. Eating the soup was about grabbing whole veggies and cutting them up in your bowl. I really enjoyed that concept, and did it that way for years after, but now I prefer large sized pieces.
Vegetables impart a lot of flavor into the broth. In my large pot of soup I use 5-6 carrots, 6 outer celery stalks, and 3-4 big onions. This is the perfect opportunity to use those big, tough outer celery stalks, by the way. The soup will melt those into tender chunks. If you prefer having smaller pieces of vegetables in your soup, you can also cut everything into small dice. The soup will taste great either way.
Herbs And Spices
A big handful of fresh parsley is a must. I use kitchen twine (or thread) to wrap around the stalks and hold them together. That makes it easier when fishing them out once the soup in done cooking. One or two bay leaves is also a great addition.
Add Tender Greens Later
I often like to add spinach, or bok choi to my soup. Those are tender greens that don’t need a long time cooking. It is best to add them after the soup is done cooking, but still hot. They will ‘wilt’ in the hot broth and be perfectly cooked. I like to cut them across the leaves, about 3/4” thick.
Cook On The Stove Or Instant Pot
I like making huge pots of soup, even though it’s just me eating it. As I see it, if I’m going to take the time to make it, I can enjoy it for a while. I have traditionally done it on the stovetop, using a large stock pot and letting it cook on medium heat for hours. However, I can now do it in half the time, and with even better results in the Instant Pot. Since a pressure cooker is a closed system, none of the flavor escapes during the cooking. That intensifies the flavor in your stock.
Put all of your ingredients into the pot. Then add water to just below the max fill line. Add some salt and pepper. Then close the lid, and shut the vent. Turn the pot on for 30 minutes. Since there’s a lot of liquid to heat, and especially if you have used frozen chicken, it will take time to come up to pressure. Once the timer goes off, leave it to come back to pressure naturally. I let my soup cook while I was doing other things, and let it stay on “keep warm” until I was ready to eat it later in the day. A real bonus for using the IP in my book.
If you are cooking it on the stove, it’s pretty much the same process, except you need to keep an eye on it more. Put the pot on high heat until it begins to boil, then turn it down to medium. The pot should do a slow simmer, uncovered for about an hour to 90 minutes. Make sure the liquid doesn’t boil away. You can add more water, if needed.
Serve And Store
When the soup is finished cooking, carefully remove the chicken pieces to a bowl to cool slightly. You should also remove the herbs now. The soup will be very hot, so take care not to burn yourself. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning as needed.
When the chicken has cooled enough to handle it, remove the meat from the bones, and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. Return the meat to the soup pot.
If you want, you can boil some orzo pasta, or make some rice to add to the soup. Be sure not to add too much though. I find the pasta or rice tends to absorb a lot of the stock, and I often wind up with Chicken and Rice instead of soup! Now is the time to enjoy the soup! Spoon yourself a bowl, scooping in all the tasty veggies and chicken you want.
Let the soup cool down in the pot. Once it is cool transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the fridge. If there is a lot of oil on the top of your soup, don’t worry about it until it is chilled. Once it is cool, you will be able to remove the hardened grease easily. You can reheat the soup in the microwave, or on the stove.
Have fun making your Chicken Soup your own tradition!