As far as I'm concerned, chicken soup is one of those dishes that can exist in infinite variation. Some give it an Asian twist, with rice noodles, fresh cilantro and sriracha sauce. Others stick to the traditional version, flavoring the broth with salt, pepper, perhaps a few herbs and some carrots. When I'm craving comfort, I often turn to chicken soup and I find it's also the perfect dish for experiment with whatever I have in my pantry and refrigerator. So, what do I do to get to this?
1. I start with chicken (obviously.) I'm fortunate enough to have a good butcher shop nearby that offers local and organic meat, so I will often buy chicken from them. Depending on the size of your family, you can get a little or a lot. There's just two of us at home, so a small package of chicken thighs works nicely. A quick note: dark meat will give your soup more flavor than white.
2. I cut up the chicken and then sear it briefly to enhance the flavor. After that, I add several cups of stock (anywhere from 5-6 cups to a couple of quarts depending on how much soup you want to make.) You can use your own homemade stock or if you don't have any on hand, mix up something pre-prepared. I like to use Wildtree's Chicken Bouillon Base because it doesn't have MSG or some of the other scary-sounding chemicals I encounter elsewhere.
3. Bring everything to a steady boil, and then add in some veggies, salt and pepper. Be creative! This time around, I had carrots and celery on hand, so that's what I used. And of course, an onion or some garlic is a must. Whatever vegetables you think would make for a satisfying soup, chop them up and throw them in. Chicken goes with almost anything!
4. If you like your soup to have a little more substance, see what kind of grains you have in the pantry. If you have pasta, you will want to wait until about 10 minutes before serving to toss it in, but if you want to use rice or something that takes longer to cook, toss it in now.
5. If you plan to add any spices, add those, too. A pinch of cumin or even cinnamon can add a hint of interesting flavor if you're feeling adventurous. And if you like heat, throwing in a dried pepper, such as one of these chipotles, makes for a tasty broth.
6. Turn the heat down to low or medium-low, cover the pot and let everything simmer for 40 minutes or so.
7. After things have simmered for about 40 minutes or so, throw in any herbs that you might want to add. Their flavor can turn bitter or dissapate if added to early, so I usually wait to throw mine in later. Thyme, fresh parsley and rosemary go well in chicken soup. If you're going for a southwestern flavor with hot peppers and the like, chopped fresh cilantro makes a nice addition, too.
8. Cover the soup again and let it simmer for 10-20 minutes or so.
9. And the final trick? Right before I serve the soup, I like to add something that will give the broth a little zing and make the flavors sparkle a bit. Lemon or lime juice is good for this, and sometimes I've used just a dab of apple cider vinegar and that's been good, too. This time around, with the hot pepper and other flavors I had going in this soup, I just squeezed a lime over it, and that worked nicely.
Have fun creating and bon appetit!!