Because, come on. CHICKEN SOUP. A good chicken soup can slay even the nastiest physical or mental cold-weather malaise. It also freezes great, and is the perfect thing to grab and run over to a sick friend's house. (Also, I've noticed that pretty much every winter I post some recipe…I think it's because winter is my natural enemy, and I've been fighting it with food for quite a while now — and winning, if I do say so myself! \o/)
I don't hold with watery or bland soup; mine is NUTRITIOUS and will stick around, keeping you full and your energy up. (It is, in the tradition of soup, easy to digest, though. For tender stomachs or weak digestive systems, you can dial the spicy back / make mild batches and limit or eliminate the chunks of meat.)
I *am* a fan of broth, as a nice hot not-sweet not-caffeinated drink for the cold night hours especially. Since I make my own broth/stock and use it to make this soup, I'm going to tell you how to do both!
(Making your own stock/broth is in no way mandatory — you can use storebought or, if you give it a little extra time and seasonings to compensate, just skip the broth altogether. But making it is not only cheap, it actually saves you money by using ingredients you'd otherwise throw out; and it's fun and awesome to have around, so why wouldn't you? If you have the freezer space, make stock!)
I. THE STOCK
– put a gallon freezer bag in your freezer. Label it "STOCK" or something equally clever.
– whenever you have scraps from cutting up veggies, or bones from meat, or awesome sauce left over from making a thing — seriously, basically ANYTHING — instead of throwing it away, put it in the stock bag. (Obviously you can use only veggie ingredients to have vegetarian stock, if you prefer.) Just fill that sucker with anything that looks like it could be a good flavoring for liquid. Carrot tops, potato shavings, rib bones, chicken skin, the scrapings from the pan when you made that awesome thing — whaaatever. Cooked or raw; doesn't matter as long as it's not rotten. Just freeze evvvvvverything, until the bag is full.
– when the bag is full, put on a large pot (the big ones are called "stockpots" for a reason) and fill it with 3-4 gallons (yup, gallons) of water. Or just use a big pot that holds a gallon or two and make several batches.
– at some point before it boils, empty that bag into it
– check your fridge for leftovers too, while you're at it, and throw in anything that will taste good. You're going to strain out all the bits and just use the liquid here, so almost anything you liked the seasoning of, or which contains meat or veggies that still have some flavor to offer, is fair game. Plus, stock that has seasonings in it from past meals is always tastier than just the plain-veggies kind; AND it lets you use things you might have otherwise thrown out, so go for it!
(Gods I love stock. Even writing about it is fun. :D)
– bring to a boil, then lower the temperature so that it's barely boiling / simmering
– ignore for as long as you can — stock that cooks all day is wicked good, but an hour is enough for the basics. Just make sure you leave the lid closed and keep the heat low enough so you don't boil off all the water! If it starts to get low, just add a little more water to compensate, but try not to do that too much.
– you can add extra seasoning if you want, but I don't! You're going to use this magic fluid for cooking other things mostly, so you'll have a chance to salt/spicy/etc it later. Some people who really like a certain seasoning (garlic, cumin, whatever) add it to their stock for that extra-layered oh-hell-yeah flavor — go for it. Stock is really hard to screw up, if you haven't figured that out yet!
– once you declare it Done, strain it all into containers, cool and freeze the extra. Now USE IT IN EVERYTHING, because it's amazing and nutritious and it was free! Dump it in soup/stew/etc., use it in the crockpot with anything, pour it over food you're cooking that needs a little moisture, you name it.
– you can also just drink stock, as mentioned above; I ususally salt it a little and yup, that's it, just drink it. If you like tea and sometimes want a savory hot thing that's low on calories (especially if it's veggie stock, but stock made by boiling meat-bones forever is not exactly high-cal either), go for it. You can honestly do pretty much anything with this stuff!
FOR INSTANCE, YOU CAN DO THIS:
II. THE SOUP
– there are three layers to a good soup: The allium layer (garlic, onions, shallots, whatever kinds of those things you like), the meat layer (if using meat; I'm just assuming you are but obviously feel free to skip it if that's your bag — if you substitute tofu or mushrooms or something though, do the same things to it that I talk about here for meat), and the veggie layer.
– almost EVERY ingredient here is substitutable, as long as you have something from each of those three categories. I'll make suggestions, but wow are they *just* suggestions! You can also have just one thing, or sixty things; it's all gonna be good. BE BRAVE, because this is some of the hardest-to-ruin food there is, given these basic steps.
– start by prepping / chopping the alliums, chicken/whatever, and big or hard veggies like potatoes and carrots. Go any size/shape you want.
BTW, I REALLY like using chicken gizzards (especially hearts, but all gizzards are good really) — they're high-nutrition, wicked cheap (because they're not great for a lot besides soup) and taste wonderful when chopped smallish and cooked forever like this.
A NOTE ON MUSHROOMS: You can add these in either with the meat, so they get super soft and seasony, or near the end, with the "soft veggies", so they stay bigger and chewier. What you want may differ by soup, and by mushroom, so experiment or just shrug and guess; it's all good. :) Oh, and super crazy hint: There's an asian mushroom called the Drum Mushroom (at least that's how my local store translates it) that is ~excellent~ in soup; it's very firm and pleasingly chewy, takes seasoning well, and never disintegrates. I use it like crazy (it's also cheap, whee) and add it in with (or instead of) the meat.
– STEP ONE: put about 2tbsp of butter in the pot and turn it on med-high. (Yes you can use oil, but there's no good reason to. Butter tastes great, does the trick, and you're putting a spoonful of it into a WHOLE POT of soup. It's not fattening in this context, lol.) Wait for it to melt and then add the alliums and stir. Cook them by themselves until they smell amazing and have gone clear/floppy.
– STEP TWO: Add the meat (or tofu/whatever). Season it about twice as much as you think you should (with any seasoning you happen to like / want your soup-meat to taste like), and cook it for a while with the alliums, until the meat looks mostly done. You want to fry the meat to cook it, rather than boil it, because it'll be tastier and more tender. The boiling is for the veggies. :D
– STEP THREE: Add the hard veggies (or just all of them; it doesn't terribly matter — I add soft veggies later to keep them from falling apart, but it's not like it's bad if they do). Carrots, potatoes, radishes, bok choi, turnips, *any* veggies, seriously. Whatever you've got or feel like buying, it's probably great. (Hard things like turnips and yucca will mean you have to cook the soup a little longer to soften them, FYI.) Then fill the pot with liquid to a sane level. I use either half water and half stock, or if I have a lot of stock, all stock! The more stock the tastier. Even a little bit really adds depth to the flavor, though.
– bring it back up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let it do its thing for at least 30m, preferably longer
– about half an hour before you want to stop cooking it, add these things: A cup or two of rice (one cup will give it a nice heft and extra healthy-carbs; two cups will make it thick, almost a congee…I like both!); the soft veggies you want to survive intact, if any (usually celery and maybe mushrooms, for me); and a good amount of salt and pepper…and cayenne if you like your winter soups to have a kick (I do). You want it to be not bland, and it takes more salt and pepper than you probably think to bring actual taste to a whole potful of soup — but also remember that a) soup is easy to season to taste per individual bowl, and b) it'll get more seasoned-tasting when it's reheated, so don't overdo it. If you do though, don't panic; just add more water and cook a little longer. You can also cut it with water to reduce the seasoning/spice when you re-heat it, if needed, too; it won't care. Like I said, this stuff is HARD to mess up. :D
If you don't believe me, ask anybody: I roll a pretty continuous batch of random-ingredient stock AND soup, and my friends and roommates vacuum it up happily, as do I. I love that I can switch ingredients all the time; it keeps it from being boring. And I can cook this stuff while watching TV and cleaning and napping and generally barely giving a crap about it, which is *precisely* how I like my cooking to go, heh.
Happy weather-related challenge time, everyone! Enjoy!