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Wednesday, 10 January 2007
Twenty years ago, flush from a stint in a Paris cooking school, the thought of making a good soup using canned broth was quelle horreur! I was, by all accounts, a bit of a food snob.

Time — or the lack of it — has since cured me of my predilection. I do what I must to feed myself and yes, with apologies to Chef Claude, I often depend on a box of Swanson's organic broth.

Still, making soup is one of my favorite Sunday afternoon pursuits. And right now, this means chicken soup. Really good chicken soup. The kind made with a stock that's almost lush.

Let's get the issue of time out of the way. Making the stock doesn't need to be a two-day process. Unlike brown-beef stock, with its lengthy steps of browning bones and simmering the stock for a minimum of 6 hours, chicken stock can be ready, start to finish, in about 90 minutes. And what a difference it makes.

Certainly, if time allows, the stock can be made a day in advance and chilled for degreasing the next day.

But I've discovered a time-saving trick that let's me make both stock and soup on the same day. Although a lot of the chicken's flavor is in the fat, I often remove the skin from the breast and leg/thigh pieces before cooking so that degreasing the finished stock is less of an issue. When the chicken is cooked, usually 35 minutes for cut-up pieces to 45 minutes for a whole bird, I remove it and continue to simmer and reduce the stock for about 20 minutes. When my hands can stand the heat, I remove the meat from the bones, which not only add flavor but a bit of the lush quality that separates canned broth from homemade, and add the bones to the stock for its final reduction.

Some cookbook authors suggest freezing bones from both raw and cooked poultry to be used later for stock. It's a good suggestion but requires a certain level of organization and awareness that presently escapes me. I would most likely forget this well-intentioned plan, only to find the package loaded with freezer frost two years later.

So I begin with a fresh chicken fryer, either whole or cut-up, adding coarsely cut (and quick to prepare) vegetables, salt and a few black peppercorns. Cover with cold water by about 2 inches and simmer away. Très simple, correct?

With this master recipe in hand, the variations for chicken soup are endless. Evidently the human race has always had a need for a bit of soul soothing, which may explain why so many cultures have their own interpretation of chicken soup. Close your eyes, spin a world globe and place your finger at random. You'll discover a golden Sopa de Pollo from Cuba that's hearty with noodles or Brazil's Canja thickened with white rice and seasoned with ground cumin and bay leaf. Mexico's Sopa de Tortilla uses crisply fried shreds of corn tortillas for both flavor and texture. There's creamy Waterzooi from Belgium and a number of soups from China that are seasoned with fresh ginger, green onions, dried chilies, soy sauce, sake or sesame oil. And let's not forget the hearty chicken soup loaded with egg noodles that American moms, Jewish or otherwise, have been feeding their children for decades.

Sure, the box of Swanson's will always be a staple in my pantry. But for the best bowl of chicken soup, nothing beats a homemade stock.


CeCe Sullivan: csullivan@seattletimes.com


Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

Posted by: AT 04:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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