Saturday, March 3, 2012

Making Better (Chicken) Soup

Last week started with one of those rotisserie chickens.  I wondered why I don't buy them more often.  When I do, it seems like half my kitchen time disappears.  Boom! Dinner is almost instantly ready.

Oh right, I can only eat chicken all week every once in a while.
Lets face it - this is using far less energy per chicken
than if I were to cook it at home.

But when I do get one of those chickens -

Step 1 - Breast meat gets eaten first.  This lean mean dries out the fastest, so enjoy it at it's juiciest.  This time it got stirred in with a beurre rouge (red-wine butter sauce - which I had time to monkey with since the chicken was all cooked) and herby pasta.  Then lots of vinegary greens on the side.

Step 2 - Shred all the rest of the meat for fast access for the rest of the week.  I make 2 piles - larger pieces for sandwiches, etc. and smaller fussy pieces and all the juices in another for soup.

Step 3 - House favorite sandwiches.  Here that means chicken and swiss on flat bread.

Step 4 - And I hadn't done this in way too long - make soup!

It has actually been quite a while since I made soup from leftovers, and had forgotten just how darn simple it is.  Happily my recent cooking adventures have taught me a few tricks and this soup turned out much better than the variety I had stopped making.

Better Chicken Soup:
I went basically minestrone, but with chicken instead of beans.

How to make better soup?  Cook your vegetables so they are tasty!  Badly cooked vegetables are at the root of so many unenjoyable meals.  Develop the flavor in your vegetables when you cook them, don't just get them hot.  Anne Burrell really drives the point home when making her Pasta Bolognese.

soup pot
cutting board
long spoon
(ladle - optional)


lazy!  but tasty

Who knew?
Big bags of baby kales at Costco! 
when the freezer is empty
Dried herbs do great things for soups

1 C (or so) left over cooked chicken (bite sized pieces - dark meat is best)
4 - 8 C kale or other dark greens (spinach, chard)

1 Tbs Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme rosemary, savory & sage)
1 14oz can diced tomatoes (or equivalent)
1 Tbs oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 large onion
1 C cooked small pasta (or rice/barley) or 1/2 C uncooked small pasta (shells, broken spaghetti, cous cous)
4 C chicken stock/broth
salt & pepper
(hard italian cheese & tasty olive oil for a fancy finish)


Make sure the chicken is bite sized.   Wash the greens and strip the leaves off the tough stems (or get the baby kales!)  Cut or tear the leaves into palm-sized pieces.  Smash, peel and finely chop the garlic.  Cut the onion into smallish pieces. (Cut in thirds toward the root end, and the then slice thinly).
Open the can of tomatoes.  Drain most of the juice out of the can (add it to your broth, or toss it) and have the drained tomatoes ready to add to the soup.


Heat the soup pot with the oil over medium high heat (I used bacon fat because it adds so much flavor.  A chopped up slice of bacon or two would also do a great job here as well.)  A sliver of onion in the pot will let you know when the oil is heated up and ready to go (by sizzling), usually about 4 minutes.
Add all the onion and stir over the heat for about 6 minutes - until the onion starts to soften and get a few brown edges.  Add the chopped garlic and Tbs of herbs.  Stir in for a few sizzles, then add the drained tomatoes.  Cook all the plant matter for about 10 minutes - until things look dry-ish and have a few browned spots.*
Stir in about a cup of stock, then add the kale.  Stir until all the kale is wilted and tiny.
Stir in the pasta and the rest of the broth.   Place a low boil if the pasta is uncooked - until the pasta gets cooked.
When the pasta is cooked, add the chicken and cook until the chicken is hot all the way through (just a few more minutes).

Ta-da better soup.

If you want to make this a little more special - grate some parmesan over the top, and drizzle a little tasty olive oil over the top.  Yum!

snobby oil, non-snobby price

We had this with cheesy garlic bread roasted under the broiler.

* Why all this vegetable browning?  It makes the most of the cooked flavors of the plants by driving out excess water and  caramelizing - or gently burning - the sugar inside them.
Adding vegetables to broth to cook is the same as boiling them.  It makes them water logged and often mushy and unpleasant.  Cooking them dry-ish, this way, is more like roasting or grilling them, and creates more flavors rather than stealing them away.

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