Grandma was right.

Our great-grandmothers were right about a lot of things, but on this cold rainy day I want to talk about the most basic of grandmotherly remedies—chicken soup.

Broth is fabulous food and amazing medicine. Real broth, that is. Real broth is made from bones. Real broth is simmered for hours or even days. Real broth is so full of gelatin that it congeals as it cools. Minerals. Protein. Incredible flavor. And that’s before you add any vegetables or herbs. (For more about the wonders of broth, check out Sally Fallon’s “Broth is Beautiful.”)

We’ve been slowly getting a cold in my house this week, so we made chicken soup. Well, my boyfriend made chicken soup. And it may have been the best chicken soup I’ve ever had. Here’s how he did it:

Six chicken backs, submerged in a decent size stockpot with a [small] handful of coarse gray sea salt. We put it on the woodstove to simmer (this is Vermont and it’s October), but it doesn’t matter what kind of stove you use—just bring it to a simmer and turn it down. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface. Then leave it. Alone. Wander by every half hour or so to see if it needs more skimming. But other than that, don’t bother it. When the meat starts to fall off the bones, take them out, pick the meat off, set it aside, and return the bones to the pot to simmer. Leave it simmering for as many hours as you can stand it. Keep your eye on the water level and make sure the bones are always submerged, but that’s all the attention it needs. See if you can let it simmer all day long. You’ll thank yourself later.

When you’re getting close to suppertime, strain the broth. Rinse the pot and put the broth back in it. Taste it. Marvel at it. Then think about what you want to add. We usually do barley, some vegetables, and some herbs. You don’t have to be complicated. Our last soup had barley, peppers, onions, and a lot of fresh basil and garlic added at the end. Just that. And like I said it was incredible.

You really can add just about anything in your kitchen: carrots, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, kale, collards, chard, peppers, tomatoes, sauteed onions, sauteed mushrooms, garlic, potatoes, rice, barley, basil, thyme, oregano, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger…. But I don’t suggest using all of them together!

You can choose your vegetables and flavorings based on the medicinal herbs you want to use. This time of year, you might choose warming herbs like ginger and cinnamon and black pepper. Onions and carrots might go well with them. Holy basil and cinnamon also make a nice combination. I like garlic, and I like it strong, so I usually wait to add it until the soup is almost finished cooking. (This also preserves some of the medicinal properties of the garlic.)

So choose your ingredients. Add them to your broth and bring it back to a simmer. Taste for salt. Keep it simmering until all the ingredients are done. (Barley and brown rice take about 45 minutes, but if you use white rice or stick to vegetables it’ll be done sooner.) Taste again, season it and add any last minute ingredients. Eat. Six chicken backs make a lot of soup, but it’ll disappear fast. And it’s really best the next day.

[To make broth from the bones of your roast chicken, just put them in a pot, cover them with water, bring it very slowly to a simmer, turn the heat down and let it brew. A few hours is probably enough for chicken bones, but overnight is always better if you have the patience.]

6 Comments »

  1. andy said,

    October 22, 2006 @ 9:35 am

    that sounded droolingly good.

    i love talking broth, it makes food so great, and can be a great carrier for herbs too.

    one comment – ive always been taught to put salt in at the end, when eating the broth or using it in a dish, not when cooking it. the logic being that the broth will reduce and concentrate as it cooks, so it is hard to gauge the right amount of salt at this point. just a thought.

    i generally keep a ziplock bag in the freezer for broth-making scraps. those leek tops, stems of shitakes, ends or peels of carrots – many things you wouldnt want to eat will do great in broth. get some nutrients out of them before feeding them to the compost. same for the bones – while chicken backs make a great broth, more often i start chicken broth by roasting and eating a whole chicken. a few days later, the carcass goes in the stock pot, after i have picked clean all i want to eat. even little bits of bones – from chiken breasts or thighs, lamb chops, you name it – will go in the freezer to get saved up for broth.

    and, if you ever cook shrimp – one of the most delicious and delicate broths ever can be made from the peels and tails of shrimp. any part of a shrimp you dont eat, even if you have already cooked it first, save and put in the stock pot with a little bit of scallion. its incredibly sweet and yummy, great with a light colored miso and a little chopped spinach, radish, and scallion.

    happy brothing as the air turns cold!

  2. crabappleherbs said,

    October 24, 2006 @ 3:03 pm

    Thanks, Andy!

    Wonderful ideas… there are really so many things that can be used for broth. I also keep a bag of bones and other bits in the freezer for soup-making. (It just happened that this time it was empty.)

    As far as salt goes, I throw some in at the beginning just to draw out the flavor from the bones, but not so much that the broth gets oversalty as it cooks down. Definitely something to be careful of.

  3. The Herbwife’s Kitchen » Winter cold care: lymph love. said,

    February 6, 2007 @ 4:00 pm

    […] 5. And, of course, there’s always chicken soup. […]

  4. Sue Kemp said,

    May 6, 2007 @ 11:24 am

    Stumbled on your site by accident all the way from South Africa – bookmarked!

  5. Sue Kemp said,

    May 6, 2007 @ 11:26 am

    Stmbled on you site by accident from South Africa – bookmarked!

  6. The Herbwife’s Kitchen » Thanksgiving, season of schmaltz. said,

    November 20, 2007 @ 11:28 pm

    […] pour the extra fat off the juices in your roasting pan. And save the fat from the broth you make with the bones. And that little lump of fat inside the bird? You can leave it on if you […]

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