Chicken Soup Tips and Hints

Chicken feet make great broth

Pot of chicken soup
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Although it's fairly difficult to ruin soup, here are some tips and hints to help you produce the most flavorful, satisfying result.

• Always begin with cold water, never warm or hot.

• When tasting to adjust flavors, use a stainless steel spoon, not a wooden or sterling silver spoon. Wood and silver disguise flavor on the tongue.

• A good soup really needs salt, preferably coarse salt. If you must avoid salt, know that the flavor will be greatly diminished. Adding no-salt or low-sodium broth concentrate will help.

• Don't turn your nose up at this: Chicken feet add not only robust flavor but a gelatinous body to the soup. You can find them at many Asian markets. Fresh chicken feet need to be scalded about five minutes so the skin and toenails can be removed before adding to the stockpot. Calf feet, veal knuckles, and beef marrow bones achieve the same goal. Bones also leach nutritious calcium and minerals into the soup.

• If at all possible, do not use chicken that has been frozen. Freezing forces moisture from the tissues. When the bird is thawed, all that moisture ends up down the drain, leaving a dry and tasteless chicken.

• Unthawed frozen vegetables should not be added to the soup until the last 15 minutes of cooking time.

• Use tall, nonreactive stock pots for making soup. Fit the bird to the pot. The base should be just large enough to hold the bird and to cover it with a minimum of water. A pot of heavy construction distributes heat more evenly.

• To skim or not to skim? For clear soups, many recipes advocate skimming off the foamy solids that rise to the top as the soup cooks. However, there is not only flavor but nutrition in those solids that will break down as the soup cooks. You can sieve the broth before adding vegetables. For a clearer broth, sift through cheesecloth. Or, you can skim. The choice is yours.

• Don't let the soup boil. It should simmer very gently or the meat will become tough and the broth cloudy.

• Dark meat has more flavor than white meat. If you are using chicken parts rather than a whole chicken, keep this in mind. Using only all white meat will result in a much less flavorful result.

• For those concerned about fat, make the soup in two stages. Cook the chicken with its aromatic vegetables and herbs on one day. Strain the meat and flavorings from the broth. Refrigerate the broth until the fat solidifies on top. Save the fat for other uses or discard. Continue with the soup. Do keep in mind that the majority of the flavor is in the fat.

• If you are planning ahead, cook the chicken with vegetables and herbs. Freeze the strained stock. If your planned future use includes chicken meat, freeze the meat in the stock to keep it from drying out. You can later thaw and add fresh vegetables, pasta or rice.

• For a richer broth, remove the chicken from the bones as soon as it is tender and refrigerate. Add the bones back to the soup and continue simmering until desired strength is achieved. Strain and proceed.

• Cool soup completely before freezing or refrigerating, preferably by placing the pot in a sink of ice and stirring. The pot should be uncovered while it is cooling.

In the Kitchen

Basic chicken soup begins with a broth made by cooking the chicken with savory vegetables (such as onions, carrots, and celery) and herbs (usually sage, thyme, bay leaf and parsley). From the basic stock, you can vary your soup by adding your favorite vegetables, pasta or rice.

Variations on chicken soup are as limitless as your imagination. The chicken soup recipe collection covers a wide variety to give you an idea how versatile this family favorite can be, from classic chicken noodle soup to mulligatawny.

Remember, turkey can be substituted for chicken in most recipes.

Above all, the prime ingredient in chicken soup is love. Luckily, it is the one ingredient accessible to all in infinite quantities, and you cannot use too much of it.


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