Chicken Stock, Grandma’s Cure-All?

June 2002 at Barnegat Light, NJ
Grandma Kanzler, my Mom, and my Sisters, June 2002
Chicken Soup. Think about that for a moment. Chicken Soup…. What comes to mind?

I have a little story to share. I work out at the Beach Cities Health District in Redondo Beach 3 times a week with a personal trainer, Brandon. (Some of you may know him…. More later….. back to thinking about Chicken Soup!) Anyway, the building also houses a Senior Living facility, so some of the people who work out in the gym make me feel youthful (yay!). It seems that every Monday must be Chicken Soup Day at this facility. My guess is that Sunday is Roast Chicken Day, and the cooking staff has their Monday soup routine. The smell reminds me of the “Old Folks Home” in NJ where we (as Girl Scouts) used to go at Christmastime to sing Christmas caroles. It always smelled like chicken! The people in the home were always so happy to see us. I remember their smiles and their hands. And the smell of chicken soup. I have to tell you, chicken soup smells a LOT better when you’re making it at home.

In American Jewish tradition, chicken soup is sometimes called the Jewish penicillin in recognition of the fact that it acts as a mother’s cure-all for everything from nasal congestion to broken hearts. (It’s TRUE!! And I’m not even Jewish!!)

Chicken Soup seems to be the “go-to” soup when we’re feeling under the weather, or in the cold dark days of winter. It’s one of the comfort foods that (besides the afore-mentioned Home) evokes (for me) happy days spent with my Grandma in her kitchen. Grandma Kanzler made the best chicken soup in my opinion. My Mom has said that she used chicken feet to make the thick gelatin-like stock. My Grandma always told us to “get the good of it” when making any food. Every time you roast a chicken, save everything that you’d typically throw out: the fat that you drain off to make the gravy, the bones, the giblets that you remove from the cavity before roasting. Add a cup of water to the roasting pan and bring to a boil to get any drippings left in there. Throw the carcass, the fat, and everything else that you can save, into a stock pot with some chopped up vegetables and 3-4 quarts of water, and simmer it for a few hours. Voila! Soup!

If your life is too crazy to roast a chicken, maybe you opt for a pre-roasted bird from the grocery store. In that case, you have the juices in the bottom of the plastic container and the carcass. Great! Use every bit and add 2 to 3 quarts of water and some veggies, and simmer for 2 hours. “Get the good of it.”

Making homemade soup is economical. You can stretch your food budget so much further when you pay for one meal and end up with two (or three). In these days of economic turmoil, soup is not only comforting, it’s a budget buster!

A good homemade chicken stock is the base for an infinite number of delicious soups. Occasionally I substitute a homemade vegetable broth for the Soup Party if the other ingredients do not include poultry or any other kind of meat. But using a flavorful chicken stock is the key for [almost] fool-proof soups that will make your family and guests come back for more.

I use Chicken Stock as the base for Potato Cheddar Soup, Scallop & Mushroom Bisque, Chorizo & Black Bean Soup, Cold Cucumber Soup with Crème Fraîche with Smoked Salmon, White Chicken Chili Soup, Pumpkin Bisque, Thai Chicken Coconut Soup, and so many others. Here’s one of the recipes that I use:

Chicken Stock

I prefer a rich chicken broth, so I roast the chicken and the vegetables. You can skip this step and place ALL of the ingredients into a large stock pot; bring to a boil over very high heat, and then reduce to a simmer. If you can get chicken feet from the meat department or your butcher, by all means use them as well.

8 lbs. meaty chicken bones (necks, backs, wings, etc.) and/or chicken parts
¼ cup olive or unflavored grape seed oil (skip if not roasting chicken)
2 large yellow onions, peeled and cut into eighths
2 leeks, white part only, well cleaned and sliced
2 cups chopped carrots (no need to peel)
3-4 celery stalks with leaves, sliced

Bouquet Garni* (see below) consisting of:
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh sage
12 black peppercorns
6 parsley sprigs

2 cups dry white wine
5 quarts COLD water
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400º.

2. Pour olive oil into a large heavy roasting pan; place into oven until oil is hot (about 10 minutes). Pat chicken parts dry. Roast for 1½ hours, or until chicken is golden brown. Turn pieces occasionally.

3. When chicken is golden brown, add the onions, leeks, carrots and celery to the roasting pan. Lower heat to 350º and continue roasting until vegetables start to brown, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Place chicken parts and vegetables into a large stock pot, along with the remaining ingredients.

5. Pour 1 cup water into the pan in which the chicken part were browned and set over high heat. Stir and scrape up any caramelized particles from the bottom and sides. Pour liquid into the pot. Add additional water to cover ingredients well, and set pot over medium heat. When the stock reaches a boil, skim, reduce heat so liquid simmers, partially cover, and simmer for 3-4 hours. Skim occasionally.

6. Pour the broth through a colander or large strainer and discard all of the bones, vegetables and Bouquet Garni. Pour the broth through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a clean pot or bowl. Season to taste with salt & pepper, and chill, uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. Remove congealed fat by scraping it off with a spoon. If not using immediately, transfer into plastic containers or Zip-Loc bags and refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 6 months.

Makes 3 to 4 quarts

*A Bouquet Garni s a little bouquet of dried and fresh herbs (and sometimes spices) tied around the top with a long kitchen string or placed in a small cheesecloth bag so that when cooking is completed it is easily lifted out of the pot. For stock, the benefit of using this Bouquet Garni is that when skimming the foam that rises to the top, you won’t also skim the flavorful herbs and spices that infuse the stock as it simmers.

And if you’re curious about Mike’s and my personal trainer mentioned above, go ahead and Google Brandon Volz. He’s a great trainer; I highly recommend him! I’ll feature Brandon and another favorite trainer, Mandy Rhodes, in future posts.

In the meantime, stay healthy! Eat SOUP!


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