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I only really love three soups: roasted tomato soup (especially with grilled cheese), any sort of hearty vegetable soup, and homemade chicken soup. I grew up eating these from a variety of cans with Campbell’s and Progresso being the most prominent. Once I learned to cook for myself and discovered the ease of making a great soup at home, I have never gone back to the cans.
The key to a great homemade soup is to slow down. Making soup is zen cooking, a quiet meditation on bringing simple flavors together into comforting warmth. I usually devote an entire Sunday to making a soup or two. I especially love soup making on grey rainy or snowy days. The house fills with the smell of stock then soup simmering making the day feel extra cozy.
Unless you are one of those soup makers that constantly have stock in the freezer, you’re going to have to start by making stock. For chicken soup, this has the added benefit of cooking your chicken in a pot with aromatics. It also means you’ll be spending a couple of hours with just the stock. Not a problem in my book as that smell is one of the best in cooking. You also have the opportunity to control the seasoning – something you cannot do with commercial stocks. If you’re not up to the quiet bliss of making stock from scratch, at least cook your chicken in the store-bought stock with a few herbs added. You’ll be thankful you did.
Once the stock is done, this soup comes together quite quickly. I keep the vegetable fairly simple and traditional: onion, carrot, celery, and potato. The starch from the potato makes for a thicker broth. The red pepper, Rotel tomatoes, and BBQ rub add a slight extra kick. I like my chicken soup slightly spicy as I generally make this during a battle with a cold and the spice helps clear the head.
At one point in my life, I was a “saltine crackers in every soup” person, to the level that the soup took on a cracker paste consistency. I attribute that to the crap soups I ate growing up. These days, a nice piece of sourdough bread, maybe a dash of hot sauce and a little sea salt is how I do soup.
Everyone should take the time to disconnect from the world and find joy in the slow quiet simplicity of soup making. It may be cliche but honestly, soup is good food and good for the soul.
BOWLING FOR CHICKEN SOUP
Homemade chicken stock, chicken, red pepper, carrot, celery, onions, red potatoes, and Ro-Tel tomatoes
Makes about 3 quarts
3-pound whole chicken, quartered
1 onion, sliced in 6 pieces
3 stalks celery, cut into large pieces
2 carrots, cut into large pieces
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
½ tablespoon dried marjoram
1/3 cup paprika
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
2 tablespoon onion powder
2 tablespoon garlic powder
2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cumin
3/4 tablespoon chili powder
3/4 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, medium dice
3 carrots, medium dice
1 red pepper, medium dice
6 red potatoes, medium dice
3 teaspoons Seasoning Mix
2 10-ounce cans Ro-Tel
2 quarts chicken stock
Make the Seasoning Mix
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well. Store mix in an airtight container.
Make the Chicken Stock:
Place stock vegetables in the bottom of a pot. Lay chicken pieces on top of vegetables. Add cold water covering chicken by 1 inch. Add peppercorn, rosemary, and marjoram.
Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 1 – 1 ½ hour skimming fat and foam off the top of the pot as needed. Chicken is done when an instant thermometer reads 160°F inserted into the breast and thigh pieces.
Use tongs to take the chicken out of the pot. Continue to simmer stock while chicken cools.
When chicken is cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones and add the bones back into simmering stock. Put the chicken in the fridge and simmer the stock for another 15 minutes. Strain stock through a mesh strainer into a large bowl. Wash out the stockpot to use for the soup.
To make the soup:
Heat oil in the pot you used for the stock. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant – about a minute. Add celery, carrot, and pepper and cook until tender-firm about 6-7 minutes. Do not overcook.
Add potatoes and cook 6 minutes – stirring often. Season with 2 teaspoons of Seasoning Mix and stir to combine thoroughly. Add stock and Ro-Tel – bring to a boil – reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender about 30 minutes.
Add chicken and remaining teaspoon of Seasoning Mix to the pot. Simmer 15 minutes. Serve with some crusty bread and saltines.