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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chicken Soup for the American Soul


Last Tuesday was a very special moment, one which we will recall with perfect clarity, years into the future, precisely where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news.  Yes, that news.  That change arrived.  It's the moment we saw the very embodiment of our ideals.  Whether you believe in the much-maligned notion of the American Exceptionalism, this was truly a uniquely American story. 

Where was I, you asked?  I was home, like millions of you, glued to the television, watching with baited breath as the returns came in.  It's not the kind of night I wanted to spend a lot of time in front of the stove.  I wanted something simple to make, and something comforting, like the old cashmere sweater, a little frayed at the edges, I was wearing that night.  So I made a chicken soup.  My simple chicken soup, with ingredients that didn't require a special trip to the store.  Like my simple tomato sauce, it's something I've done for such a long time, and thought it almost too simple to even blog about it.  And, yes, it's David again who suggested I woite a post about it.

What's so special about the soup then, you asked?  Well, it's nothing special at all.  That's it.  It's made with just five ingredients: a chicken, an onion, a couple carrots and a couple more stalks of celery.  And the fifth ingredients?  Water.  Yes, just plain water.  And then some salt and pepper to taste.  That's really it.  I sometimes use a teaspoon of curry powder if I have some on hand.  Just a tiny amount, not to make it taste like a curry, but just enough to register a little complexity in the broth.  I cook everything just until the chicken is done, then remove the meat and cook only the bones for a little while longer, extracting every bit of flavor and body out of the bones, before putting the meat back in and serve.

This simple and intensely flavorful soup was the perfect food for the climate that night - comforting, renewing, just what we needed, a chicken soup for the American soul.


(Images from the Huffington Post)

Chicken Soup for the American Soul

1 4-5lbs chicken, whole
1 large or two small onions, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2tbsp of olive oil or butter
1tsp curry powder
salt and pepper to taste


Heat oil or butter in a pot large enough to hold the entire chicken.  Add the onions and let cook until translucent and just starting to turn slightly brown and caramelized.  Add the celery and carrots and continue to cook until the chopped celery turns translucent and the carrot pieces soften a bit. 


Add about a teaspoon of curry powder and cook for another minute, stirring to prevent burning at the bottom of the pot.  Quickly rinse the whole chicken and place it breast side up into the pot.  Fill the pot with enough water to submerge the whole chicken.  Close the lid and bring to a full boil.  Then, remove the lid, turn the heat down to simmer, skim the foam off the top and put the lid back on.  Don't close the lid completely, leave it slightly askew to vent.  Continue to skim the foam off the top.  Let cook for one hour.


At the end of the hour, the chicken should be just cooked.  Remove the chicken from the pot and place in a large plate.  I use a large pyrex baking dish for this.  Separate the chicken meat from the carcass, using a knife, fork, a pair tongs, or whatever pleases you.  Then, with a pair kitchen shear or very sharp knife, cut up the carcass into small chunks of bones.  Place the bones into a large strainer (the insert of a pasta pot works well too).  If you don't have a strainer or a pasta pot, you can wrap the bone pieces in muslin, tie it up, and drop the package into the pot.  The idea is to have an easy way to remove the bones from the soup once you've extracted all the flavors out of them.


Drop the bones back into the soup and continue to simmer for another half an hour.  Meanwhile, cut the chicken meat into bite-size chunks.  You can remove the flabby-but delicious-bits of cooked skin if you'd like.  I love them so I leave mine in there.  Sprinkle a little salt (or white soy sauce) over the meat to add just a bit more flavor.  Cover the bowl with plastic or a piece of foil and set aside. 

After the bones have been in the pot for half an hour, remove and disgard them.  They're no good anymore now that all the flavors have been squeezed out of them.  Put the chicken meat back into the pot and bring back to a simmer.  You can skim off the gloriously yellow fat in the pot if you're afraid of that kind of thing.  I never bother, fat is flavor people!  Check to seasoning, add more salt if need, a few turns of the peppermill won't hurt either.  Turn the heat off and serve.


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