I’m sure that anyone who makes soup from scratch has their own favorite version of chicken soup. I decided to share this recipe as it always gets rave reviews and I’m asked to make it on a regular basis. The ingredients change slightly depending on what’s in season, but the basics remain the same, including roasting the whole chicken first.
I must confess that there’s nothing ‘fast’ about this recipe. However, it is fabulous; a labor of love that’s worth every minute spent roasting, chopping, simmering, straining, shredding and everything else that’s involved in it’s general assembly – and also why I make it in large batches to freeze.
Just imagine coming home exhausted, hungry and definitely not in a mood to cook but you’re craving something delicious and wholesome. Having a few containers of this wonderful soup in the freezer means you’ll enjoy a heartwarming, nourishing, complete meal in a bowl, perhaps with some crusty bread on the side – but I rarely bother with bread and you certainly won’t miss it here.
In warmer weather I’ll add lentils and maybe leave out the potatoes; when it gets a little chillier, I replace the lentils with pearled barley. I add potatoes, sweet potatoes and fresh green beans towards the end of the cooking time so that they don’t fall apart. Baby spinach is also great added at the very end as it wilts immediately and retains its bright green color.
I recommend staying away from watery veg such as zucchini (courgettes) – they just turn to mush and frankly don’t add much in the way of flavor, unlike swede (rutabaga) or baby turnips for instance.
The choice and quantities of vegetables are approximate and depend on your preference but what I’m suggesting here will create about 15 servings, so adjust the quantities based upon your needs and /or available freezer space.
You’ll definitely need a fork and spoon for this one.
CHUNKY CHICKEN SOUP
(Serves approx 15)
A whole free-range chicken, preferably organic, weighing 5- 5.5 lbs (2.25 – 2.5 kilos)
3-4 quarts of organic chicken stock
1 cup (240ml measure) of barley or lentils, picked over and washed
A few sticks of celery, washed and chopped
A good handful of peeled baby carrots, left whole
2 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only, rinsed and chopped
A couple of parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks (turnips and swede/rutabaga are also very good)
A couple of medium sized onions, finely chopped – plus an extra half onion, peeled
1 or two large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) chunks
Half a dozen very small red potatoes of equal size, washed and halved
A bunch of kale, stalks discarded, leaves torn into shreds
A bag of washed baby spinach
A bunch of fresh parsley
A few stalks of thyme
A couple of sprigs of rosemary or tarragon or both
A bay leaf
Half a lemon
2 or three cloves of garlic, peeled
One large glass of white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Start with the whole chicken. Preheat the oven to 350F /180C. In a large, preferably cast-iron casserole/dutch oven with a lid, large enough to take the whole chicken, arrange half an onion, a stalk of celery and a carrot or two on the bottom. Tuck in the bay leaf, a sprig each of rosemary, tarragon (if using) and thyme, plus a good handful of parsley, stalks and all.
Remove the giblets from the cavity of the chicken and add those as well. Season the chicken cavity with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper then stuff the garlic and half lemon into the chicken’s cavity. Place the whole chicken on top of the herbs and veg, pour the wine over the chicken, season with sea salt and pepper then put the lid on and stick it into the oven for 20 mins per lb (1/2 kilo), plus another 20 minutes. You can do this ahead and assemble the soup later.
Take the casserole out of the oven and carefully transfer the chicken to a deep dish. Strain all the collected juices from the bottom of the pot into a bowl – discard the solids. This liquid with form about half a pint of wonderful jellified stock that goes into the soup. Set the stock aside and once cooled, cover and refrigerate it until you’re ready to make the soup.
As soon as the chicken is cool enough to handle, strip all the meat from the bones and shred it into roughly similar sized pieces. Discard the skin and bones (unless you want to use them to make another batch of stock). Be on the lookout for those really tiny bones that sometimes lurk in the flesh. Refrigerate the shredded chicken – it will be added at the end of the soup’s cooking time.
When you’re ready to make the soup, you’ll need a very large pot with a lid – maybe the same one you cooked the chicken in.
Add all the vegetables (except for the potato, sweet potato, green beans and spinach if using), barley or lentils, a sprig each of thyme, rosemary and a good handful of chopped parsley to the pot. Throw in the strained jellified broth from the chicken and pour over 3-4 quarts of chicken stock. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and bring everything to a boil. Turn the heat down, cover with a lid and simmer for 45 mins to an hour.
Check that the lentils (or barley), carrots and celery are cooked through, then add the potatoes and sweet potatoes. Cook for another 15 minutes then add green beans (if using) – cook for another 5 minutes then finally add the spinach followed by the shredded chicken.
Warm everything through, check the seasoning and serve in bowls, scattered with a little fresh parsley if you like. If you have room in your fridge, it tastes even better the next day and will keep for a couple of days, refrigerated.
Otherwise, cool the soup and store it in plastic containers in the freezer.