Belle’s Chicken Noodle Soup
Makes 4 1/2 quarts; 9 (2-cup servings)
If I were to choose one dish that is a quintessential motherly dish, it's chicken soup. It's perfect anytime – winter, spring, summer or fall, whether you're feeling under the weather or not. It’s a complete meal in a bowl that’s nutritious and restorative – not to mention low fat (when the fat is skimmed) and delicious. Chicken soup keeps for days, freezes well, and the boiled chicken can be used for countless other dishes.
Chicken soup is one of the easiest recipes to make. It takes no more than half an hour to prepare, and cooks on its own for a few hours while you go about your life (or are busy teaching your kids!).
Whenever my daughter Stephanie got sick we had our routine: First stop was the doctor, then to the pharmacy to get the prescribed medicine, and finally to the supermarket to pick up the ingredients for this soup. Once home, the soup was simmering on the stove within 15 minutes.
2 whole chickens, plus other carcasses if available
2 yellow onions, peeled (Love Note 1)
4 ribs celery (cut in half to fit the pot, if necessary)
4 carrots, peeled (cut in half to fit the pot, if necessary)
4 parsnips, peeled (cut in half to fit the pot, if necessary)
1 bunch Italian parsley, with stems (about 20 sprigs)
4 1/2 teaspoons salt (divided)
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (divided)
2 cups finely diced carrots
2 cups finely diced celery
1 bunch fresh dill, chopped, for garnish
2 cups cooked chicken (reserved from making broth)
1 pound cooked egg noodles
To make broth:
1. In a narrow, deep pot just large enough to hold the chickens (about 10 to 12-quart capacity), place chickens, onions, celery, carrots, parsnips and parsley. (Make sure you use a narrow pot rather than a wide one. Otherwise, you may have to use too much water to cover the chickens). Add just enough cold water to barely cover the chickens (ideally, not more than 5 quarts; 20 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Reduce heat to a simmer (rapidly boiling soup or stock often makes it look cloudy instead of clear) and season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. (You’re seasoning here because you want the chicken to have some flavor when you use it later in other dishes. The soup will be seasoned again later.)
2. Simmer the broth, uncovered, for at least 3 hours. Season with 2 ½ teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. (Taste. If it tastes like chicken it's ready. If not, let it cook a bit longer and taste again. It can cook for another hour as long as it is barely simmering, but no more than 4 hours or the chicken will dry out.)
3. When soup is done, turn off the heat, lift chicken from the pot with slotted spoons or a skimmer and set aside in a shallow bowl or baking sheet until cool enough to handle.
4. Strain the broth into a clean 6- to 8-quart pot; discard the solids. If not making the soup right away, cool and refrigerate so you can scrape off the solidified fat from the surface before continuing. Otherwise, allow the stock to sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes and spoon off the fat that rises to the surface.
5. Set pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
To make soup:
1. Add diced carrots and celery to the simmering broth, and cook until just tender, about 8 minutes (Love Note 2).
2. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper, if necessary.
3. While the vegetables are cooking, pick the meat from the chicken, leaving the pieces as large as possible, and set aside. Discard the bones.
1. Add 2 cups of the cooked chicken to the soup.
3. Place cooked noodles in serving bowls. Ladle the broth, chicken and vegetables into bowls, sprinkle with fresh chopped dill, and serve.
1. The longer a stock or broth cooks, the larger the vegetables used to flavor them can be. For example, vegetables used to flavor a veal stock can be cut larger than those for a chicken stock, because veal stock cooks longer (ideally overnight), and there is more time to extract the vegetables' flavors. In the case of chicken soup, I don’t even cut the vegetables because that’s the way my mother did it, and it saves time, too. But if it makes it easier to fit everything in the pot, feel free to cut the veggies in half.
2. Working in a four-star restaurant can be very stressful because everything must be done to perfection. As entremetier at Le Cirque, my job was to cook the vegetables that went with most of the entrées served. It was imperative to know the exact moment something was done. I did this with my favorite tool: a thin, two-pronged fork. It had long, narrow tines that allowed me to pierce the cooking vegetables without leaving a trace. I still use it to this day. When vegetables offer no resistance, I know they are cooked to perfection and stop the cooking immediately or they overcook. If the tines of the fork don’t slide in and out easily, the vegetables are not done and need to be cooked some more.
Variation: Italian Straciatella
Instead of serving this soup with noodles, you can stir in beaten eggs, parmesan and spinach for an entirely different and classically Italian soup:
Omit the diced carrots and celery and bring the strained broth to a simmer. Meanwhile, beat 3 eggs with ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese and a pinch of ground nutmeg. Pour the egg mixture into the gently simmering soup in a slow steady stream, going from one side of the pot to the other and back again in a zigzag motion. Allow eggs to cook for 1 minute without stirring. Gently run a long handled spoon through the eggs to break them up a little. Stir in 1 cup baby spinach leaves, taste and add more salt and pepper if desired. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread.