Growing up Mom made the best chicken soup. If I was sick with a cold or flu, I knew what food I most wanted. Her chicken soup was fresh, flavorful, and soothing.
Over the years I tried to duplicate her recipe, but was never quite satisfied with the result. And Mom always said the same thing, “What’s the problem? It’s no big deal. You just throw some vegetables in a pot…” This year I can say I’ve made it enough times to agree. It is no big deal. And what I like most is that once you prepare the chicken, you can make fresh chicken soup later (from the chicken you save) and have quick dinner meals another time.
Making the soup properly has three basic parts – preparing (boiling) the chicken, throwing the vegetables in the proper cooking order, and adding egg noodles at the very end – as well as knowing a couple storage tips for small meals later.
There is also a very important rule: only make what you will eat in one or two servings. This does not freeze well (the whole soup once cooked, that is), and even the leftovers are likely to be mushy. Prepare one sitting at a time.
Chicken left on the bone (I use 4 drumsticks and 2 chicken breasts because those are the smallest quantities I can find in my local grocery store of both white and dark meat on the bone)
One or two potatoes
Chicken bouillon cubes
Four pieces of celery stalk
Half a bag of small baby carrots
One small to medium sized onion
Storage Tips: The soup when made does not freeze well because of the potatoes and egg noodles. The potatoes take on a strange freezer taste and the egg noodles get soggy. This means, only cook what you and whoever you are feeding will eat in one or two meals. I don’t freeze the completed soup. I only freeze any excess cooked chicken for individual bowls of soup later. You can also freeze the chicken stock. (I don’t as I’ll explain later.)
Purchasing Tips: You want white and dark chicken meat left on the bone. Some people cooking for many use a whole chicken (and more celery, etc.). I prefer to buy a package of drumsticks and a package of two chicken breasts on the bone. (I would buy one but there doesn’t seem to be such a thing.) They are tough to find in small quantities (one or two only), so I do use boneless and skinless chicken breasts with the drumsticks.
Another purchasing tip is to avoid trying to substitute an already cooked whole chicken such as the whole chicken meat you can purchase at large grocery chains. I tried to save the hour and a half one time and make the quick version of the soup using precooked chicken. The problem is that these tend to be greasy compared to the boiled chicken that is produced by the recipe. This is a delicate tasting soup and any greasy meat you add gives the soup that terrible aftertaste. Not good. Not good at all.
Prepare the Chicken (2 minutes prep with 1-1.5 hours of cooking time)
1. Place the two defrosted (or frozen) chicken breasts and 2-4 drumsticks in the bottom of a large pot. Fill the pot with cold water until you cover the chicken. Since the water will boil down and you will want plenty of chicken stock for later, you can also add a bit of extra water. Be sure to leave room for vegetables. Don’t over fill the pot. It should be a little more than half full of water.
2. Cook the chicken in the pot of boiling water for approximately 1- 1.5 hours or until the meat starts falling off the bone. (After, check the stock and throw in a couple Chicken bouillon cubes for flavor.)
3. Remove the chicken and bones from the water (which is now chicken stock) and place aside. Separate the meat off the bones. Throw away the bones and the skin.
4. Strain the chicken stock. That is, in another very large bowl with a strainer, pour the chicken stock in a separate pot through a strainer to remove unsightly leftovers from the broth.
5. Freeze the chicken you will not eat this meal in a ziplock bag.
6. Freeze the chicken stock you will not use for this meal in an air tight jar (if there is excess stock left over that you want to save). (Optional – If there is no excess stock, you can always make another fresh bowl of homemade chicken soup just by using frozen chicken pieces.)
7. Place the chicken you will eat in this one meal back in the strained chicken stock. Taste the stock to see if you need another Chicken bouillon cube…
Add the Vegetables in This Order:
8. ½ bag of baby carrots – Take a half a bag of rinsed off baby carrots and add them to the chicken stock. If you are feeling well when you make the soup, you can take the time to cut the baby carrots into two. Otherwise, you don’t need to cut them up. They will cook properly even if you only rinse them off and toss them in the stock. Cook the carrots first for 5 minutes, as they take a few minutes longer than the other ingredients.
Tip: Do not cut any of the vegetables too small or they become mushy.
9. Four stalks of celery – Wash off the four long stalks of celery and cut into large 1.5” pieces. Add the celery to the stock. (I use four stalks for one or two bowls of soup. If you are cooking for more, add a couple more stalks of celery.
10. One Onion – Peel and cut up one small onion into four pieces. Some people prefer to cut the onion into smaller pieces. That is fine as well. Smaller pieces of onion won’t alter the quality of the chicken soup.
11. One to two potatoes (I use one) – Add the potato last. Peel and cut up the large potato into 3 large pieces. It will cook the fastest and become mushy and change the quality of the soup if you over cook it in the stock or if you cut it too small. So add it last and only cut it into very large pieces – 3 max.
Tip: In general, let the celery, carrots, and onion cook for 5 minutes. Then add the potato.
12. Add several (three to four small or two large) bouillon cubes to enhance the flavor of the stock.
Tip: Do not add too many cubes, as the cubes add salt to the stock. You can always add more to the individual bowls of soup, but once it is added you can’t take it out. So don’t add too many to the pot of soup.
13. Add a dash of parsley flakes to the pot of soup.
14. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Again, don’t over salt or over season the pot of soup. You can add it later to taste.
15. Cook the stock and vegetables for an additional 30-40 minutes, but watch that the potatoes don’t become mushy.
Add the Edd Noodles
16. When the vegetables have cooked for 30-40 minutes, add egg noodles for the last few minutes (4) of cooking.
17. Salt and pepper to taste.
18. Serve with crackers (optional).
Making Individual Bowls of Fresh Homemade Soup Later
Once the chicken is cooked, you can freeze the excess chicken. I do this and then can quickly make homemade soup another day in only 45 minutes (after 5 minutes of prep time) by tossing a few vegetables into a pot. To do this, follow the same basic recipe as above:
1. Fill a small pot with enough water to make stock for the soup you will eat.
2. Add 4 bouillon cubes to season the water.
3. Add the frozen chicken to the water.
4. Wash off a half a bag of baby carrots and throw them in. Cook for 5 minutes.
5. Cut up four stalks of cleaned celery into large pieces and throw them in.
6. Cut up one small onion into four pieces or smaller and add it to the soup.
7. Cut up one potato into three pieces and throw it in.
8. Add parsley, salt, and pepper to taste. (Add bouillon cubes if needed.)
9. Add a small handful of egg noodles the last few minutes.
10. Serve with crackers.
It really is no big deal! And when you are under the weather, bad homemade chicken soup is better than canned soup any day.