Saturday, November 19, 2005

Basic chicken soup

Safety first should be your key goal when freezing or thawing food. One of the reasons I use ziploc bags to freeze most of my food is because it allows me to lay the bags flat. That way the food spreads out thinner and freezes faster. The faster it freezes the less time bacteria have to settle in. And this goes the other way too, the faster food defrosts, the sooner you can use it and less time there is for all these bugs to go haywire. For more information on freezing and thawing, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation website (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/gen_freeze.html).

At this point I have a whopping six pound frozen whole chicken defrosting in the refrigerator. I packed it in a plastic shopping bag and wrapped it well before freezing, and that's how I am thawing it. On the bottom shelf of the fridge, in a deep plate so that no juices can spill over into the crisper. There is quite a bit of money to be saved when buying whole chickens, instead of chicken breasts, thighs and wings separately. From one chicken I can make three to four meals easily, and make a big pot of chicken soup to boot.

If you have never cut up a whole chicken, it takes a bit of practice, but it gets easier every time and you soon will develop a sixth sense of where to cut. When the chicken has thawed, remove the giblets, neck and other items from the cavity. Save the giblets to make dog cookies, and set the neck aside. Place the chicken belly up towards you, on a cutting board. No wood! The juices will seep into the woodgrains so make sure the board is plastic or glass. Pull the left leg towards you and bend slightly to the left. With your thumb and index finger, follow the bones in the leg, starting from the ankle to the "knee" (move the leg and notice the joint). Now move up towards the body of the chicken, there is another joint where the leg attaches to the hip. Make an incision in the skin and see where the bones connect. Cut through the joint and remove the left leg. Chicken bones are notorious for easy shattering so make sure you have a sharp knife! Do the same with the right leg. Put them aside. Follow the same procedure with the wings. Since I don't care much for all the fat, I remove all of the skin, and cut away as much fat as I can. I don't bother with saving it for anything so in the garbage can it goes, but if you have some great idea on what to do with it, do let me know!

Place the tip of the knife in the separation of the two breast and score the meat. This part is more difficult, but if you just carefully follow the bone structure in the chicken, you will be able to remove two nice pieces of breastmeat from this baby! Next time I cut up a chicken I will take pictures, for now you may want to go to this website to see for yourself: http://ianrpubs.unl.edu/foods/heg146.htm

The nice thing about having a huge pot of chicken soup is that it is so versatile. The first two days we eat it like a broth with vegetables and chunks of chicken, by day three I add a can of stewed Italian tomatoes and some vermicelli (like alphabet noodles or rice) or little potatoes. Be creative!

Basic Chicken Soup

10 cups of water
1 large onion
1 tomato
3 ribs of celery
1 whole leek
2 large carrots
2 chicken broth cubes
chicken neck, wings, carcass (for more meat add the thighs and the drumsticks)

Put a big pot with cold water on the stove and add a whole peeled onion and an unpeeled tomato. This will bring a bit more flavoring to the broth. (If you want a darker broth, just cut the top and the bottom of the onion and leave the skins on, we'll remove these later). Rinse the chicken neck, the carcass and remove the skin from the wings. Add to the pot. Let the water come to a boil and lower heat to simmer for two hours. Remove the chicken, the onion and the tomato. Filter the broth through a dish towel (cotton, not terry cloth!) in a colander, transfer it to a clean pot and add one or two chicken bouillon cubes to it. Cut the onion in pieces, remove the skins if you left them on and place it back in the pot, return the tomato as well. Wash and cut celery ribs to bite size pieces, wash and ring the leeks (you may want to add some of the more tender green tops, ringed as well) and chop the two carrots or use baby carrots. This your basic chicken soup broth. When the carcass has cooled down a bit, proceed to remove the meat from the bones, making sure you catch all the little bones! Return the meat to the pot and let it simmer.

Every day, make sure you boil the soup and let it simmer for at least ten minutes. All the ingredients are fresh and it would be sad to let this soup go to waste!

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