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Chicken soup: getting started

When you shop at a regular grocery store for chicken to make soup, is there a particular kind of chicken you are best to use? Is a Roasting Chicken an old chicken? I buy a whole bird and ask the butcher to cut it up.
I freeze the breasts to roast later for chicken salad with apples, golden raisons. Greek yoghurt, celery and curry powder.,Having purchased the bird for the soup, do you put it in a pot and boil or do you brown it first to get some fond?
I tried roasting the chicken first but found the process left me without the desirable flavor of fat.
I've finally learned to take the chicken out of the pot when it's done, debone it and set aside, then add the vegetables and let them cook, then return the chicken to finish.
I don't add noodles to the soup. I add soup to the noodles/rice. If I add the starches to the soup, it makes the soup too thick/soggy.
I've used the boil method and sometimes there was no scum. I wonder why. Hmmm.
I have skimmed off the fat, but find that makes the soup bland.
I've tried adding a very small head of cabbage. I liked it but I like the soup better without it.
Read somewhere a caveat: not removing an errant bay leaf while cooking the soup may remind you of its presence, even though chewed up, on its way out of you.

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  1. Chickens don't have much flavor these days, so I cheat. My chicken soup is based on turkey necks. Chop the necks into two or three pieces, sear in a little oil or duck fat (roasting would work as well, if not better), then make broth or stock. Once that's done I cook a cut up chicken or parts in the broth/stock. This way I don't need to overcook the chicken trying to make a decent broth.

    Yes, cook the rice or noodles separately and add just before serving. Nothing worse than soggy starch.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Zeldog

      Great idea to reinforce the flavors.

      1. re: Zeldog

        you're not really looking for flavor from the meat. it's from the bones and other inside bits. professional kitchens do not use bones with flesh on them for stocks.

      2. Most often, I roast a 6 to 8 lb bird for dinner, then pull off all the rest of the meat, dumping the skin, bones and tough stuff into a soup pot. I add a cup or two of water to the roasting pan that has all the drippings and good brown bits in it, swirl it around a little on a hot burner to loosen up the stuck bits and dump that into the soup pot. Cover the bones with water, add a couple carrots, celery stalks, an onion with skin, some thyme, dill and a bay leaf, and let it simmer for 3 or 4 hours. Refrigerate the whole lot overnight, and strain it out the next afternoon before I make soup out of it.

        As far as I know, a roaster is just big, not old. I think it has a richer flavor than the little 3 pounders, though. I agree with you about the noodles. Hate when they are flabby in the soup.

        8 Replies
        1. re: jmcarthur8

          I like using that method. I learned not to throw out the fat when roasting, but to save it for the soup.
          Sometimes, I freeze nicer pieces of chicken meat to make chicken/curry salad or slice-ready for panini.

          1. re: jmcarthur8

            ...on the noodles/dumplings, I make a fresh batch of noodles each time I want left over, reheated soup. I used to automatically use the "extra wide" noodles (which really aren't that wide),
            but lately I've been eating Cut Fideo...the exact opposite...sometimes brown/wild rice.

            1. re: jmcarthur8

              Variations I recommend: Replace a carrot with parsnip. Stick a clove each in a quarter or half onion. Add several whole black peppercorns. (Cooks Illustrated recommends using ground chicken for a flavor boost, but I've never tried that.)

              Try to use necks and feet. Getting chickens from Asian markets, which tend to come with the entire head and neck (heads bobbing in the stock are fun, but I don't waste anything) and feet. Chicken feet also come separately packaged in those markets.

              Finally, the chicken that is used to make the soup is not the chicken that is eaten in the soup: the chicken used to make the soup is fed to the dog. Roast another chicken and shred (Do.Not.Dice.) it up for be eaten in the soup (I like to lade the soup over it rather than re-cook it).

              1. re: Karl S

                PS: Interesting discovery. When I buy rotisserie chickens (Costco), I buy a pair, debone them entirely, and throw the bones in the pressure cooker with all my usual stock ingredients, and make stock. Then I freeze most of the stock and ladle some over shredded chicken in subsequent days.

                This weekend, I forgot I didn't have carrots. But I did have golden beets from the last farmer's market of the season. I peeled those (beet peels can be quite bitter; normally, I don't peel stock ingredients), quartered them, and used them instead of carrots. And, lo, it's better than with carrots.

                1. re: Karl S

                  I'll be doing that next time I have beets on hand, sounds delicious. Carrots have such an off taste sometimes, especially this time of year.

                  1. re: coll

                    This was an interesting gamble for me. I often find carrot unbalanced in flavor. The golden beets seemed to be better in balance. It didn't quite smell the same in the pot, but the flavors on the tongue the next day were better. Who knew?

                2. re: Karl S

                  Karl S
                  Yes, I see that some chicken soups are made with a broth created from one chicken. That and the vegetables can be tossed after their flavors are given up. Then another chicken is cooked to add to the finished soup. I didn't know this.

                3. re: jmcarthur8

                  Right there with you jm! I stuff my chicken with a whole head of garlic, a lemon, and an onion that's been quartered. All of that goes in the pot with the carcass and skin, carrots, celery and thyme.

                4. If you roast the chicken before, you can deglaze the pan drippings with water and add that to the stock pot.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Maximilien

                    In the past my mistake was tossing out the pan drippings and the flavor of the soup suffered.
                    So, I've learned to have respect for the fat I euphamistically call pan drippings by using it.

                    1. re: Maximilien

                      Why not just sear/brown the chicken in the crock pot and then begin the soup?
                      Does the roasting instead make for a better flavor?

                      1. re: sylvan

                        (personal experience)

                        I find that roasting give a deeper flavour than just browning the meat; you can also roast some aromatic vegetables at the same time (onions, celery, carrots), and the sweetness will give the broth something different.

                        But that will result in a different broth flavour than just boiling the chicken.

                        1. re: Maximilien

                          I agree, Maximilien. The roasted skin and bones just give a richer flavor to the stock.

                    2. My caribbean/asian market sells a pair of 2 pound birds labeled soup chicken. They are dirt cheap and are still tough and rubbery after 5 hours of simmering. But the stock is awesome. Beats any of the free range birds I get in the area. They are normally tender in 3 hours or so and are edible.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                        why do you think the tough/rubbery birds render more flavor to the broth (I assume you don't eat the meat) than the happy range birds?

                      2. Stewing hens are both cheaper than roasting chickens and make great stock. Necks are useful as well, as Zeldog said.

                        1. Chicken backs and necks, as well as saved bones are my mainstays for chicken soup. Most larger supermarkets still sell fowl for making soups/stew, as do most Asian markets (if you have any near you).
                          As far as vegetables go, I usually add a few slices of onion, a leaf or two of cabbage, a few leaves of lettuce, and sometimes some carrot (but not always. Of course, NEVER let the soup boil...just a slow simmer for a good while, and don'r season with salt it until near the end (you can add pepper--white or black--- after you've skimmed off the coagulated proteins that form as the stuff heats up).

                          The result is always a nice, clear stock without un-natural yellow color you often see in restaurant or canned soups. To me, a great chicken soup should be clear, and with only the palest of color. But if you have to have more of a yellow color to your soup (as many people seem to expect and prefer) some tumeric or a bit of saffron (added at the end of the cooking) will provide that.

                          1. Color= carrots and onion skin.

                            1. For a basic and versatile stock, I pretty much just stick all of my leftover bones from any roast chicken in the freezer and when I have a bunch, I defrost and make a big batch of stock. I remove the skin because it makes the stock greasy. I put a touch of olive oil in a stock pot, get it hot, and brown the bones first. Then deglaze with a little vermouth or sherry. Add about equal parts of celery and carrot and double of onion. Throw in a bay leaf and a bunch of peppercorns and just cover the bones with water. Bring to a vigorous simmer and skim off the scum. Keep at a simmer, skimming occasionally until the stock is a deep chickeny flavor. It may seem a tad bland, but remember, there is no salt yet! Strain out the solids and you have a stock that is a good base for any soup or sauce, but you can always add leeks, garlic, or other flavors while it's simmering depending on what you plan to use it for.

                              1. If you see a package of chicken feet, freeze them and put a few into the pot when making stock. It will add lots of flavor and body.

                                I really like turkey better for soup, chicken can be underwhelming compared to it. I freeze my bones, and often will use both for one pot of broth when the time comes.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: coll

                                  Yes, I've read in several articles that chicken feet are good in soup. There are no asian markets where I live and the supermarkets don't carry them.

                                  1. re: sylvan

                                    I usually get them at Spanish grocery stores, if that helps. We also have a chain here that specializes in meat and produce mostly, and they always have some out.

                                    I'm guessing regular supermarkets wouldn't carry them just because it looks so weird to see all those little clawed feet crammed into the package, it is sort of upsetting til you get used to it.


                                    1. re: sylvan

                                      Guess I'm lucky here in NJ...the local ShopRite, Stop & Shop, and A&P all carry them! The Stop & Shop labels them "chicken paws" LOL
                                      I would imagine that the big chains here carry them because of the large Asian and Hispanic populations in this part of the state.

                                      1. re: The Professor

                                        Ha, when I was at Tyson visiting their factory, they called them "chicken paws". We were joking about it all night long, til we were hiccuping!

                                  2. One thing I rarely see mentioned in chicken soup threads is the juice of a lemon. It makes such an amazing difference. The soup doesn't taste lemony, just brighter and better.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: southernitalian

                                      And, when making stock from chicken bones, adding some vinegar will improve the extraction from the bones....

                                    2. backs, feet and heads. i don 't really care for poached chicken meat, so have stopped trying to use more traditional westerner-accepted parts of the bird for stock. onion with skin, chopped carrot, 5-6 garlic cloves, dried thyme, bay leaves, sometimes chopped ginger and/or tomato if i have it and a bunch of parsley. no salt. bring up to a boil, and then simmer for several hours.

                                      i let everything sit overnight and then strain out all the solids. portion and freeze. so richly flavored and textured. perfect base for so much. so so so easy.