Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Best Ever Chicken Noodle Soup

Despite having a blog with a yiddish appellation, it took this Jew two months shy of 29 years to accomplish two cooking staples of the chosen people. First, make chicken stock from scratch, and second, use schmaltz to form matzo balls. Sacrilege! You and my grandmothers cry. The truth is, I was scared of the process. The rudimentary details seemed daunting to me. Buying a whole chicken. Dissembling that whole chicken. Separating the chicken fat. Utilizing the chicken fat.  As the daughter of a nutritionist and sister of a lifelong vegetarian, I can't say I have a lot of meat-handling under my belt. As far as cooking fats go, mine usually pours smoothly out of glass bottle with the words "extra virgin" etched in front.

The funny thing is, its those very details that make stock-making so darn easy. First and foremost, your butcher (that includes guys behind the meat counter at Whole Foods) can chop up that chicken for you.  Mine even separated the edible parts from the stock-only parts, and wrapped up the liver (shudder), isolated from everything else. That being said, I did find the process of using (almost) the whole animal primitively satisfying; and the whole no-part-goes-to-waste concept is undoubtedly sustainable. Price-wise too, you get such better bang for your buck with the full bird.

If the idea of chopping onions, carrots, celery, and herbs to flavor your stock—and then repeating the process all over again for an actual soup—sounds like too much work, here's a newsflash: The first part doesn't exist. When you make stock, you throw in everything whole. Onions in the skin? Yes. Carrots unpeeled? Si seƱor.

Also, there is no work! You throw all this stuff in a pot and let it simmer for two hours. Only two! Then, at the end, you have a fantastic, from scratch, aromatic broth—along with the most tender, moist, fall-off-the-bone chicken you could ever imagine. It's a total win win situation. I have already become a total broth-from-scratch convert. And, like a good Jewish girl, stored my schmaltz in the freezer for next occasion's matzo ball making. Now, Grandmas are proud.

So what's the secret to why this chicken noodle soup is the "best ever"? It's not a secret, but rather a formula; one of those foods where the homemade, from-scratch version is truly better. If your stock/broth is not from a box, it too can be the best chicken soup ever. Also, this recipe is from Joan Nathan, rebbe of Jewish cooking.  She pairs her stock with a kick-ass matzo ball recipe, but for the purposes of this post, let's stick to classic chicken noodle soup.  It's cold, pitch black out by 4:30pm, 80% of the people you know have a cold—all things begging for a batch of body and soul warming via bowl.

Best Ever Chicken Noodle Soup (from Joan Nathan via Food52)
Serves 6

1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds)
3 large onions (2 for stock, 1 for soup)
6 parsnips (4 for stock, 2 for soup)
5 stalks celery (2 for stock, 3 for soup)
10 carrots (6 for stock, 4 for soup)
6 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional, I didn’t use)
6 Tbsp snipped dill, divided
6 oz spaghetti or fusilli
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp coarse ground black pepper
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Thick, crusty bread for serving; like sourdough

1. Put the chicken and enough water to cover by two inches (about 4 quarts) in a large pot and bring the water to a boil. Skim off the froth as it rises to the top.

2. Add 2 onions (whole and unpeeled), 4 parsnips (unpeeled), 2 stalks celery, 6 carrots (unpeeled), parsley (if using), 4 tablespoons of the dill, and the salt and pepper. Half-cover and simmer for at least an hour and up to 2 hours, adjusting the seasoning to taste.

3. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours or overnight so the liquid solidifies. When the fat rises to the top, skim it off (reserve if making matzo balls).

4. Strain the soup. Set aside the chicken and discard the vegetables.  Remove skin from chicken and shred meat into pieces with your hands (because the chicken is so soft, this should be really easy). Discard the bones and any pieces too gizzardy to eat.

5. Transfer stock to another pot or bowl. In your now-empty pot, heat EVOO over medium heat. Peel and dice the remaining onion, add it to pot along with the garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant and onions start to become translucent.

6. Peel and chop remaining carrots and parsnips. Chop celery. Add to the pot. Sprinkle with ample salt and pepper. Cook for 7 more minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften.

7. Pour chicken stock into pot. Bring to a boil. Add shredded chicken and pasta. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook per pasta package directions, stirring pasta frequently. Just before serving, add the remaining snipped dill (I used closer to 3-4 Tbsp here because I happen to love dill). If needed, add more salt and/or pepper before serving. Accompany with a large slice of toasted bread.

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