If you are buying chicken specifically to make soup, you'll need to look for the best chicken for the job. In the past, there were lengthy discussions about the merits of using tender pullets (a young female that is not quite old enough to lay eggs) vs. an old stewing hen that could stand up to lots of simmering.
Chicken soup has come a long way since then.
Keep It Fresh and Wholesome
Forget about using the fond memories of a chicken dinner in the form of a carcass or a deli-roasted bird. The best chicken to use is a fresh 3 1/2-pound whole chicken that has been minimally processed from a source that is happy to provide information on how the animals are raised, processed and packed.
Cut it into parts and leave the skin on. Skimming is not really necessary because whatever coagulated proteins rise to the top are removed when the stock is strained, and the fat can be removed from the broth when it is chilled and has turned solid.
First Comes the Broth, Then the Soup
The best way to make a flavorful chicken soup is to make the broth first and then use that broth to make the soup. It's a two-day process but well worth it in terms of flavor.
Make the Broth
- Simmer the chicken parts with your choice and proportions of celery, carrots, onions, optional parsnip, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaves, and salt in a large pot with water to cover by 1 inch.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the chicken is falling off the bones.
- Remove the chicken. If the broth needs to become more concentrated in flavor, continue to simmer for 20 minutes or so. Strain through a fine sieve, discarding the vegetables.
- Refrigerate the chicken and broth separately for at least 8 hours until the fat has risen to the top.
Make the Soup
- Chop or shred the chicken meat into bite-sized pieces and reserve. Skim the chicken fat from the top of the broth and reserve.
- Add 3 tablespoons of reserved chicken fat to a large saucepan with a lid. Add chopped onions and sauté until translucent, stirring frequently. Add chopped carrots, sprinkle with salt, stir and cover the pot. Cook about 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender but not browned.
- Pour the chicken broth into the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add chicken pieces and cooked noodles, if desired, until heated through. Serve in heated bowls.