Sunday, August 30, 2009

Chicken Noodle Soup, Completely From Scratch

My wife was sick today, so I made her chicken noodle soup. I did the whole bit from scratch, save one little flavor-amplifying corner that I cut. It looked good; here's her picture of her bowl of soup:
chicken noodle soup completely from scratchNotice how it is excitingly not yellow.

Here's a little warning for you: this takes all day, but here's the light at the end of that tunnel: it's completely worth it because it's the best chicken noodle soup ever.

Start by making a real, nice chicken stock. This is where I cut corners and used store-bought (fancy-pants kind) chicken stock in my chicken stock. To make it you're basically going to throw most of the kitchen sink into a pot and boil it for a long time. If you have ready access to some nice herbs in your garden, then that's going to help. If not, you'll be okay using dried ones or paying top-dollar for them at the store. You could also not use them, but there just seems to be something almost morally wrong with chicken soup without parsley in it. Also, my ingredient list carries a lot of weird stuff in it because I was going for "medicinal" soup, not just dinner (although it wasn't medicine, strictly speaking, so we all could enjoy it). Thus, my ingredient list includes a few somewhat strange items. It also includes a few nonstandard things because my garden gave me too many of some things that just had to be used somehow. Here's what I put in mine. I'll put "more standard" stock ingredients in italics for you and try to list them all first.

  • One whole chicken, cut into pieces (I included the giblets too -- ew);
  • Three medium carrots, scrubbed and chopped into large-ish pieces;
  • Two ribs of celery, washed and chopped likewise;
  • One onion (a small, red one for me), peeled and roughly chopped;
  • A few (five for me) cloves of garlic, smashed and roughly chopped (first);
  • A few (five or six for me) bay leaves;
  • Some (maybe 15-20) black peppercorns, whole;
  • About a tablespoon (?) of sea salt;
  • A few sprigs of fresh herbs or their dried equivalent (I used a sprig of rosemary, three of thyme, two of basil, a handful of chives, and two sprigs of oregano);
  • One quart chicken or vegetable stock and one quart water, lightly salted, or two quarts of water, slightly less lightly salted;
  • Two white mushrooms (all I had left), chopped roughly;
  • About an inch of ginger sliced thinly;
  • Approximately one ounce of goji berries;
  • Approximately 30-40 dried schizandra berries;
  • Half a teaspoon each of whole cumin and fennel seeds;
  • Approximately one teaspoon of dried elderberries;
  • About a dozen Nardello peppers and two sweet bell peppers (garden overload!) sliced roughly;
  • One very small acorn squash (from the garden, unlikely to be used otherwise), sliced into large pieces (seeds included in stock);
  • The peels of a potato and a small turnip.
making a proper chicken stockBasically, all I did was cut everything up and put it all into a big pot, poured in the stock first and then water until everything was more-or-less covered, and put it over medium-high heat until it boiled. Then I covered it and let it cook like that over medium heat for about thirty-five or forty minutes, until I was pretty sure the chicken was done. The only special note here is that I planned to use a potato and a turnip in my finished soup, and so I peeled those, included the peels in the stock, and put both in a bowl of cold water to keep them from "rusting." I left the skin on the chicken because it is full of lovely virtuous substances like gelatin and fat, but if you're less into fat, you could have cut it off first and not included it.

Once the chicken was done, meaning cooked through enough to where it was ready to fall off the bone, I fished all of it out, which took a little while. The giblets that I put into the pot stayed there and continued to do what they would to the stock. Once it was all out, I re-covered the pot and let the chicken cool for about ten minutes, and then I proceeded to pick all of that lovely meat off of those bones and set it aside, covered, until the very end of this whole story. I put the bones and skin and chewy bits back into the pot because their virtues hadn't all made it into the soup. I let them cook in there with the veggies for another half an hour or so before finishing the stock.

As this boiling process continued, I cut up the vegetables that I actually wanted in the soup (since the stock veggies were all to be discarded). Those would be
  • Two more carrots cut into small pieces;
  • The turnip and potato cut into matching small pieces;
  • One rib of celery cut into small pieces;
  • One shallot, chopped a bit more finely than I meant to;
  • Three sprigs of flat-leafed parsley, roughly chopped;
  • Three tablespoons of unsalted butter (not a veggie but needed in the next step).
When I finished with that, I had conveniently let the bones and veggies cook for just long enough (for me today... I probably could have obtained even more virtue from the bones over the course of another couple hours over medium-low heat), I started the "straining the stock" process, which consists of "pouring" the stock into another large pot or bowl through a fine-mesh strainer. That would be easy enough if I had a second giant pot and a professional-sized strainer, but I don't. That means there was pouring; then there was spooning things out in "strainer-full-sized" scoops and letting it drain. It took a while to get it all done, but eventually I did.

cooking veggies for homemade chicken noodle soupWhile the last scoop dripped its last bits of stock into the other pot, I started cooking the veggies for the soup in three tablespoons of butter. I wanted to do this for the same amount of time as it takes for onions to go roughly translucent, so I let this happen for about five or six minutes, stirring frequently and salting it lightly while it cooked. You might notice that this is in the same pot. I washed it in between stock-making and veggie cooking.

adding brown chicken stock to homemade chicken noodle soupOnce the veggies had cooked for long enough to have softened a bit, I poured in the stock, through the strainer again just in case I missed anything on the first pass (I hadn't, it turned out). You can see in this picture how the stock is a lovely shade of brown instead of a weak yellow tone. That indicates remarkable goodness in the stock and a delicious flavor to come. You can make a darker brown chicken stock, incidentally, from using the bones of a roasted chicken, which you could even further roast to really get them nice and dark. You can also see that turnips and celery float better than carrots, shallots, and potatoes. The scientist in me is dying to talk about density or specific gravity here....
shaved noodles dough for homemade chicken noodle soupThe next thing I did was start to make the dough for the hand-made shaved noodles (刀削面, dao xiao mian), which I already mentioned how to make (see the recipe on the link). I'm finding that the right proportion for the water and flour is 3 and a quarter flours to one water with a pinch of salt and a lot of kneading, but I never get it quite right on the first try anyway. Here's what it looked like after I let it rest for a little bit (in the shape of a lovely ball).

a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup from scratchI finished the soup by shaving the pasta into the boiling soup just after I confirmed that the potatoes and turnips were done and that the salt was correct, if not just a bit strong, for the stock (strong to compensate for the noodles). After the noodles finished cooking, which took maybe three or four minutes, I put in some frozen peas (because we didn't grow them this year to have fresh ones) and let them thaw through before turning off the heat and double-checking the salt (it needed a little more, actually).

Just looking at the picture again a few minutes ago made my wife let out a growling "Mmmm," so this one really must have been done right!

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