Long before the inspirational series of books, chicken soup was known as a healer of bodies and souls. Learn the secrets to making this simple, comforting and healthy broth at home.
By CINDA CHAVICH
The warm, soothing aroma of chicken broth simmering in the kitchen is a universal comfort, whether your family background links you to steamy bowls of ramen or classic matzo ball soup. And when winter arrives, along with its chilly temperatures and flu season, chicken soup is always welcome.
I don’t know if it’s only the memories of my grandmother’s chicken soup, loaded with her tender hand-cut egg noodles, but when I need some TLC, I turn to chicken noodle soup or other clear, flavourful broths made by simmering bones, savoury vegetables and aromatics to slowly extract all of their inherent goodness.
I always make my own bone broth when we’ve roasted a whole chicken or turkey. There’s usually a container or two in the freezer in case of emergency, from a low- energy day to a full-blown flu.
Though I rarely take the time to roll out homemade egg noodles like my grandmother did, I always seek out the best facsimile — a bag of dried Polish or Hungarian soup noodles from a specialty food shop like the Cook & Pan Polish Deli & Cafe.
Making chicken soup is easy; it only requires a few simple ingredients and a little bit of time.
You can make your chicken soup with meaty chicken wings, chicken legs or gelatinous chicken feet, but, really, it’s the bones that supply that big hit of rich flavour and nutrients.
Whether it’s the classic Eastern European chicken soup, a meaty lamb broth (the basis for Scotch broth) made with lamb bones or the rich chicken and pork broths for Japanese ramen, cultures around the world have been creating soup stocks for centuries.
Though “bone broth” has gained new cachet among athletes and celebrities, it’s really just basic stock by another name.
Bone broth contains six to 12 grams of protein per cup, along with calcium, iron and other minerals. Experts are divided on the many miracle cures attributed to bone broth, but scientific studies have confirmed that chicken broth can clear nasal passages and may inhibit the white blood cells responsible for the inflammation response.
They also agree that meaty bones — especially those bits with lots of connective tissue — infuse these soups with collagen and gelatin (the stuff that gives your broth richness and body). Other nutrients from vegetables and herbs are often included in homemade stock.
My thrifty grandmother made her chicken pot-au-feu with a stewing hen (likely the source of its intense flavour), then served the rich broth as chicken noodle soup to start, with the tender poached chicken and vegetables, and a dill cream sauce, to follow.
When you can find a stewing hen at the butcher or from the farm, plan to simmer it long and slow, on the stove for several hours or overnight in a slow cooker, for a comforting meal.
SLOW BUT SIMPLE
If you have a carcass from a roast chicken or turkey (please say you saved it), making broth is as simple as covering the bones with plenty of cold water, adding some aromatics, including onions, garlic and carrots; with fresh bay leaves, parsley or thyme; celery leaves and peppercorns. I often include a small parsnip for added sweetness or, for an Asian-style broth, fresh ginger and a splash of soy sauce.
Make sure you use a big stockpot with plenty of water to cover the ingredients (split into two pots if necessary). Then bring it all to a boil, partially cover, reduce heat to low and simmer
for three to four hours, adding a little more cold water halfway through the cooking process to keep everything covered. Skim off any foam from the surface for crystal-clear soup stock.
The bigger the bones, the longer you should simmer — think about hanging around all day while the soup simmers when you’re making beef stock. I also use my pressure cooker to make broth, as it speeds up the process and extracts even more flavour from the bones.
After you strain the broth, pressing out every last bit of flavour, you can discard the bones and vegetables, and slowly simmer the broth to reduce it slightly and concentrate it further. Then salt to taste. Cool quickly and refrigerate. Stock keeps in the freezer indefinitely.
If you don’t have a pre-roasted carcass to make your chicken soup, you can find chicken bones or backs and necks at almost any supermarket or butcher shop. The better the bones (i.e., free-range, organic), the better your broth, both for health and flavour.
You can just toss raw bones into the stock pot with the water, vegetables and herbs, but it’s always better to brown, or at least blanch your bones, for a minute first — browning the bones in the pot ensures you get all of the caramelized flavour and colour into your stock.
You can also roast the bones on a sheet pan in a hot oven until brown, then transfer to your stock pot before adding the other ingredients, making sure to include all of the browned bits.
GET GOOD SOUP TO GO
If you’re looking for a quick fix of homestyle broth filled with cold-busting nutrients, get a tub of the organic chicken bone broth to go at Nourish Kitchen & Cafe. There’s usually chicken stock in the freezer at Ottavio, and Berryman Brothers Meat sells their own Bad to the Bone chicken, pork and grass-fed beef bone broths for weekly delivery. Or you can check with your favourite butcher for home-style bone broth (or at least the bones to make your own).
Otherwise, take out some comforting soup from a restaurant that specializes in making rich, flavourful broth from scratch.
At The Village Chinatown, the special Rickshaw Pho Ga broth is made according to a family recipe shared with the chefs by the Phung family. The classic Vietnamese soup first inspired a pop-up before landing on the menu. The flavourful soup stock is the key — a light golden broth tinged with aromatic cinnamon and star anise.
“We start with whole local chicken and we go for time,” says Village co-owner Jason Chan.
After simmering the whole birds for 90 minutes, the meat is removed and retained for the soup, while the bones are returned to the stock to simmer another 12 hours, he says.
You can sit down for a bowl of pho in the restaurant, or have it delivered in a convenient kit, with fresh rice noodles, broth and savoury chicken, bean sprouts, crispy shallot and Thai basil toppings, ready to reheat and assemble at home.
You can also buy The Village’s house-made regular chicken broth by the litre jar, via their Village Xpress online shop.
At Nourish Kitchen & Cafe, owner Hayley Rosenberg offers her rich bone broth frozen to go, or by the mug, steamed to order at the broth bar, and enhanced with various healthy additions, from sea vegetables and sesame to ginger and turmeric or medicinal mushrooms.
Use Nourish Kitchen & Cafe’s Flavour Boost Spice Kit to infuse your broth with taste and nutrients // Photo by Lyndsey Eden
She starts the soup by roasting bones and adds chicken feet to enrich the broth with additional collagen, then she simmers it for eight hours. Onions, carrots, celery, thyme and bay leaves go into the stock with apple cider vinegar to help extract additional nutrients.
Some Nourish customers consume their broth daily, Rosenberg says, and sign on for a Royal Bone Broth subscription to ensure a regular supply. Along with other online meal kits, Nourish also sells a Flavour Boost Spice Kit ($30) with four flavour combinations to season your bone broth at home.
Rosenberg finds comfort in chicken soup, something her family enjoyed every week after a Friday chicken dinner.
“I think it has everything your body needs,” she says, adding, “and it’s a thoughtful way to eat meat, a way to honour the whole animal.”
COMFORTING AND CURATIVE
Chicken soup has long had a reputation for curing, or at least reducing respiratory symptoms of colds and flus, hence the moniker “Jewish penicillin.” Broth is hydrating, easy to digest and offers some needed food value when you’re sick or your body is otherwise depleted, and you’re not into eating much else.
“It’s a very powerful, healing product,” says Rosenberg, “and a good way to get your protein.”
Soup is also restorative in other ways, like “a hug in a bowl,” says the voluntary Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers organization. The group organizes soup-making bees to prepare soup for those in need, including a monthly event in partnership with the culinary arts program at Camosun College to send soup and solace to Victoria Women’s Transition House.
Chicken broth is warming and restorative to sip on its own and is the best base for any homemade soup or sauce. Top chefs know that good stock is the secret to fine cooking and is an easy way to reduce food waste and save money.
So simmer up a batch, and make sure there’s always some of this curative cuisine in your life, or try making a bowl of soup for someone who needs your support.
My recipe for chicken soup follows the way my grandmother made soup — simmering a whole chicken or stewing hen with vegetables, then serving the result in two courses: a clear soup with egg noodles and a poached chicken dinner with vegetables and a dill cream sauce.
You can skip this step, starting with bones and vegetables, cooking it all together longer, then straining out and discarding them to create a rich broth.
I always use the bones from a roasted (or otherwise cooked) bird to make chicken soup, but if you’re starting with raw chicken (or bones), roast or brown them in the stockpot first, then proceed with the recipe. You’re extracting nutrients from the meat and vegetables, so start with the freshest organic ingredients.
Find My Grandma’s Chicken Soup Recipe HERE