Dec 9, 2010

chicken soup

I used to think I was a really good cook.  Mainly because the things I cooked tasted good to me and people generally agreed.  I realized at some point a few years back that I wasn't a good cook.  I was a good recipe follower.  Without a recipe I couldn't cook jack.

I've spent a lot of the last few years trying to be a good cook. In other words trying to understand cooking principles at their core so that I could cook without recipes.  To a large extent I can do this now. Another thing I did was start to make my own recipes. Basically by taking something I really wanted to know how to make well and trying different things each time.

The most recent one I've kind of peaked out on is chicken soup.  I've probably made this about 25 times now trying different ways to make it better.  Almost everything I do now doesn't make it much better.  So here it is.  And my recipe will be a little different from other recipes because it won't have exact quantities where it isn't needed. And there will be more context around why you do something.
  1. Debone a chicken (see how to do that here; it is a great skill to have)
  2. Into a large pressure cooker add the bones from the deboning, mirepoux (onion, carrot, celery), and a tablespoon or two of brown sugar or honey (it doesn't matter).  Plus add any bones you have lying around.  My freezer is stocked with bones from everything I eat now.  Whether we go to a restaurant or eat in, the bones go in the freezer.  Fill with water to cover the bones.  Trader Joes sells awesome prepackaged tubs of mirepoux that I use.  It doesn't matter how much.  One tub is maybe 2 cups.  Use more or less.  Use what you have.  (Note you'll need more later.)  The mirepoux will add some flavor but also some sugars in addition to the brown sugar/honey to facilitate a Maillard reaction (see here).  Get the water to a boil and watch it for a few minutes to see if any scum collects.  If so skim this off.  Once the scum is gone put the top on and cook it for 1-2 or more hours.  It doesn't matter how long.  1 is pretty good.  2 is great.  Any more and I'm not sure you are doing much.  The bones will be powder at the end of 2.
  3. While that is going on, take your Ed Gein boneless chicken mass and put it skin side up onto something that is large enough that the chicken can be spread out and can go into your oven.  Cook it in the oven at around 350 plus or minus 25 degrees.  Again doesn't matter.  How long?  Again it doesn't really matter.  I usually take it out when the skin as crisped up a bit and is easy to remove.  The skin will help baste the chicken meat as the fat renders and will stop it from scorching if you leave it in too long.  Even undercooking is fine because you can finish it in the stock.
  4. Uncork your pressure cooker and strain EVERYTHING out. Everything. The liquid should be a nice golden brown. Put it into a new pot and turn the heat on. Dump everything else in the trash. I usually just strain it through a sieve right into the new pot.
  5. Add another helping of mirepoux. Again it doesn't matter how much. It depends on how vegetable-y you like your soup. I'm guessing 2 cups worth of the stuff in 1:1:1 ratios.
  6. Take your chicken out of the oven and let it cool off a bit. Remove the skin, cut it into the size pieces you want in the soup and dump it in the pot.
  7. At this point you are kind of done.  Just salt and pepper it to taste.  It'll take a lot of salt by the way. As it stands this will be a darn good chicken soup.
  8. [update] FYI, the soup tastes better on day 3 than just after making it.  I think this is true of most braises, stews, soups.  It's never lasted beyond day 3.
Optional.  I usually do a couple of additional things.
  1. Add cooked rice.  I generally add a lot turning it almost into a congee.  My kids pester me for this chicken soup often so I like to make it last and they love rice.  You can also use raw rice and cook it into the stock but it's hard to gauge how big the rice will get.  It could be less of a congee and more of a rice cake if you're not careful
  2. Add noodles. I don't like to do this. The noodles will get limp after sitting in the soup and I just don't find them appealing. You could add them just before serving though.
  3. Add more vegetables.  I'll add minced garlic.  Corn goes very well and doesn't need cooking.  I also add cubed potatoes which will need a little cooking.  I'm sure leeks would add to it as well.  Cut everything small so it cooks quickly.
  4. Add spices.  I generally add rosemary, sage if I have it, oregano, and maybe basil.  I put them in at the end either finely chopped or plunk them in to stew a bit.  Put them in last otherwise the aromatics will burn off and the flavor will be diminished.
  5. Add condiments/sauces.  I'll also add sherry vinegar.  It beefs (pardon the pun) up the flavor a little more.  In a pinch I'll add soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and/or worcestershire sauce.  Not a lot.  You won't be able to taste it.  But it makes the soup seem beefier as I said.
That's it.  Hopefully the lack of measured amounts won't throw you off since I really don't think it matters much.  And hopefully you'll remember how to make it in a pinch without a recipe list or instructions.

To recap, pressure cook chicken bones, mirepoux, sugar for 2 hours and strain.  Roast chicken and cube.  Add new mirepoux, chicken, and maybe other veggies to broth.  Add rice, herbs, and a brown aromatic condiment.  Salt and pepper to taste.


Iron Yuppie said...

My favorite part about this post is how many times you say it doesn't matter. Hilarious, and even more awesome that you actually tried all these alternatives - the true scientific method.

C. Fuzzbang said...

I'm beginning to realize this is true of most recipes. In fact on average I think most of the ingredients in a recipe that come in small amounts (e.g., 1 teaspoon of this herb or sauce) generally make no discernible difference. Many cooking times and cooking temps make no real difference either. And large ingredients don't matter to within +/- 20% measurements.