Template For Chicken Noodle Soup

Templates teach you the basics of a given dish, from which you can create endless variations suited to your taste, the season, and what you have in the fridge. Today's template teaches you how to make any kind of chicken soup.

Even the most staunchly trendy foodies, when faced with the ubiquitous winter cold, will bypass the lobster foams and sous-vided confits in favor of a nice bowl of chicken soup.  Warm and comforting, chicken soup makes even the worst days a little better. The best part? Making chicken soup is easy, even when you're waylaid by whatever nasty bug has been going around. If you've got leftovers from roasted chicken, a pot, and a few vegetables, you've got chicken soup.

Image courtesy George Eastman House

Image courtesy George Eastman House

For me, chicken soup starts out as the leftovers from a roast chicken meal earlier in the week. When I roast a chicken, I typically eat the legs, thighs, wings, and skin, leaving the breast meat and carcass as leftovers. You don't need to roast the chicken yourself, though, if you don't want to. Many grocery stores sell rotisserie chickens that are almost as good as home roasted, and they'll work just as well. What's important is that you have some sort of chicken, as it will form the base for your soup.

Chicken Broth Base

  • To prep chicken, pull meat from carcass and reserve in refrigerator
  • OptionalIf you have a cleaver and feel comfortable using it, you can hack the carcass into small pieces. This yields a slightly more flavorful stock, but I won't tell anyone if you don't feel like doing it.
  • Place the chicken carcass in large soup pot. I use my 5.5 quart Le Creuset dutch oven, but any pot larger than 5 quarts should work fine. 
  • Cover the chicken with cold water. I've found that the sweet spot for most chickens is around 2.5-3.5 quarts (that's 10-14 cups), and I usually err towards adding 3.5 quarts, as some of the broth will boil off.
  • Bring this to a slow simmer and cook for 2-4 hours on the stovetop. 

Alternatively, you can make your chicken broth base in your slow cooker. Just prepare the carcass the same way in the morning, add the cold water, and cook all day on low. The broth will be ready when you come back from work.

When you feel like your broth is done, you can strain it through a colander or fine mesh strainer into a sturdy container. Just make sure you don't accidentally pour your lovely stock down the drain! Often, I just use a small, hand-held mesh strainer to fish out the chicken pieces, so I don't have to dirty another dish. If you're being fancy,  you'll want to chill it and skim off the fat, but when I'm making chicken soup I'm very rarely fancy.

After you've finished making your chicken broth base, you'll want to make a vegetable base using the classic combination of diced onions, carrots, and celery.

Vegetable Base

  • Dice up an onion, two (peeled) carrots, and two ribs of celery.
  • In a skillet over medium-low heat, sauté pan, or frying pan, melt 3 or 4 tablespoons of butter.
  • Add the diced onion, carrots, and celery, as well as a generous pinch of salt. 
  • Sauté over medium-low heat until vegetables soften and just begin to brown

Putting It All Together

    After you've got your broth base, and prepared your vegetable base, you're almost done! 

    • Toss the vegetables into the broth and simmer for 20 minutes or so
    • Cut your reserved chicken into small cubes, and toss into the soup. Simmer these until they're just warmed through, as you don't want your meat overcooked.
    • Add the juice of half a lemon, or a splash of white wine or vermouth, or a splash of a light vinegar (red wine, white wine, champagne, or rice work well; I find balsamic to be far too sweet).
    • Season with salt and pepper, and fresh parsley if you have it.

    Variations

    The great thing about chicken soup is that it's endlessly variable. You can change up the vegetables, use the carcass of any other type of poultry (the Thanksgiving turkey works well, as does Christmas duck or goose, as well as game birds such as quail if you're lucky enough to have those), and add components. Here are a few typical variations:

    Chicken Noodle Soup: During the last few minutes of cooking, add some egg noodles to the soup. Noodles don't reheat well, so if you're going to eat this soup over the course of a few days, it's best to add the noodles piecemeal, when you reheat the soup.

    Chicken Vegetable Soup: I got this idea from the amazing Judith Jones, who makes a similar soup in The Pleasures of Cooking for One. Dice some potatoes (I like nutty red fingerlings, or waxy red potatoes) and sauté those along with the onions, carrots, and celery. Cut a bunch of Swiss chard into bite-sized ribbons, and toss those in along with the chicken. 

    Spicy Chicken Soup: I tried this one the other day, and loved it for its sinus clearing power. Dice up a few poblanos and sauté them with the onions, carrots, and celery. You can add a habanero, if you like it extra hot (just use gloves to dice it up). Towards the end of cooking, add a couple of cups of frozen corn (fresh is great if it's in season), and some chopped mushrooms. Add a few dashes of hot sauce and garnish with cilantro.

    Creamy Chicken Soup: Just add heavy cream once the soup is taken off heat.

    Thicker Chicken Soup: If you want to thicken your soup, create a beurre manie by mixing together equal parts butter and flour in your hands, then add it to your soup at the end of cooking. Start with one tablespoon each for just a little thickness, two if you want it even thicker.

    Chicken and Dumplings: As a kid, I always requested chicken and dumplings. My mom used canned Pilsbury biscuits, cut into 6ths and floated on the top of the soup. This would be anathema to those who swear that Bisquick is the only way to make dumplings. Really, though, any biscuit dough will work (and the estimable Thomas Keller makes dumplings elegant by using pâte à choux). Here's my easy biscuit dough recipe:

    You will need

    • 1 cup flour
    • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
    • 1/4 tablespoon salt
    • 4 tablespoons lard or butter
    • chopped fresh parsley, to taste
    • 1/3 cup milk

    In mixing bowl (or the bowl of a food processor), combine dry ingredients. Add lard or butter in small pieces, and cut in dry ingredients using pastry cutter (or the pulse feature on the food processor) until the lard is broken down into pea-sized pieces (just like you're making a pie crust). Stir in parsley, then add fresh milk until just combined (you may have to use slightly more or less milk depending on the water content of your flour).

    Drop dumpling mix by heaping spoonfuls into the soup. Simmer for 10 minutes, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes more.

    Skillet Breakfast Sandwich for a Cold Morning

    This morning, all I wanted to do was lose myself in a good book. We've been dealing with weather in the single digits, and even with the heat on the floors in our apartment are chilly. I wanted my morning to involve being curled up on the couch, with a blanket, a book, and a hot cup of coffee.

    Of course, I also like to eat, which posed something of a dilemma: how could I spend as little time as possible making breakfast? Normally, my go-to quick breakfast is a fried egg, put on top of a bed of greens and doused liberally in Sriracha. Unfortunately, we were out of eggs, so I had to come up with something else.

    I just got my little Bon Appetit mug at the thrift store: it's so small that I get to fill my coffee up three times, instead of two.

    I just got my little Bon Appetit mug at the thrift store: it's so small that I get to fill my coffee up three times, instead of two.

    Now, I know that people love toast, but generally I think that toast is pretty boring. I can get behind it if it's topped with home-cured lardo, but barring that I don't think it's filling enough for breakfast. However, I did buy some sourdough bread for us as a special treat, so I decided to use that as a component of breakfast. The next trick was figuring out what to put on it.

    I always keep pre-washed baby greens in the fridge: it makes it easy to just toss extra greens onto pretty much anything. Right now, I have baby kale, which I decided I could sauté in some olive oil along with the fresh ricotta I made a couple of nights ago. For a little protein, I decided to top it all off with some black forest ham that I had in the fridge.

    To make my little sandwich, I heated up a skillet. Once it was warm, I poured in a generous glug of olive oil, which I seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. I then put in my sourdough and fried it on both sides, until it became nice and golden brown. Next, I removed the bread to my plate and tossed in the baby kale with a little bit of crumbled ricotta, and let that wilt and warm. When it was done, I put that on top of my bread, then added sliced ham to the pan. I let this warm through, then topped the sandwich with the ham. The whole thing took less than five minutes.

    This is completely improvisational cooking, which is how I cook more or less every day. I look inside my fridge to see what I have, what's about to go bad, what sounds good, and I figure out how to make it all come together. There's no recipe written down here, because this sort of thing is infinitely adaptable: you can fry any kind of bread in any sort of fat (duck is my favorite, of course, along with bacon). You can sauté whatever greens (or any other vegetables) you have on hand and top it with whatever crumbly cheese you've got (or leave out the cheese entirely). You can slice up any sort of deli meat, or maybe top with bacon, or perhaps a fried egg, or leave off the protein entirely. It's up to you.

    Food blogs don't often give instructions for simple, home-cooking templates, and I think that's a real shame. Recipes have their uses, but to me they feel like shackles: I'm forced to conform to the tastes of the recipe writer, and I may have to give up the whole endeavor if I don't have some essential ingredient. When we really learn to cook, when we pay attention to techniques and learn the hows and whys, we free ourselves to create meals that are more convenient and more pleasing. Sometimes, like with this little sandwich, we make something that we've never had before (and might not have again). And, when our creations turn out well, we get to experience true joy.

    My breakfast was a nice reminder that it's worthwhile to take a little bit of time to start the morning off right. And, as an added bonus, it was delicious.

    Friends Before Food: The Case for an Un-fancy Dinner Party

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    For my first real, grown-up dinner party, I decided that I needed to get fancy. Not surprisingly, I thought that the best way to get fancy was to create an entire meal from a French dinner party cookbook. Naturally, there were three courses: Provençal stuffed tomatoes, chicken Basquaise with pommes Anna, and mousse au chocolat. None of these components were all that difficult on their own, but I wasn't particularly familiar with them: I didn't know how the Basque make their chicken (stewed, with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, white wine, and the incomparable piment d’Espelètte. It's superb.), and I didn't habitually stuff my tomatoes. Pommes Anna can be finicky, and the mousse has to be done well in advance, or it won't set up properly.

    By the time my guests arrived, I was in stress overload. The kitchen was in complete shambles, and I was too concerned about whether the chicken tasted authentic enough to even think about chatting with my friends or opening a bottle of wine. Plus, the timing: what if the tomatoes took too long to eat, then the chicken might be overdone, and how was I supposed to get those potatoes plated? 

    Clearly, there was an issue here: instead of spending quality time with the friends I was supposed to be entertaining, I was fretting over the potatoes.

    What I didn't realize until much later was that I wasn't throwing these dinner parties for my guests: instead of thinking about my friends, I was thinking only about myself. I wanted to come off as someone cultured and skilled at cooking, which meant that I didn't take my guests' tastes into account when I created my menus. They were coming over because they wanted to spent time with me, but I was stuck in the kitchen, ready to snap if someone messed with my mise en place. This wasn't a dinner party, it was a stage for my own insecurities. On display was the wide gulf between the person I wanted to be and the one I really was.

    Eventually, I stopped driving myself crazy with my menus, but I didn't stop inviting people over for dinner. I shifted my focus away from making multi-course dinners and towards the simple dishes that I had cooked time and time again. My friends deserved to eat food that I loved so much that I had completely mastered the technique: I started serving quiche Lorraine, boeuf Bourguignon, chili con carne (with my homemade chili powder), mussels with chorizo, and cumin-spiced pork loin. These were dishes I could make with my eyes closed, and I often served them with a ridiculously simple salad of greens and radishes tossed in a vinaigrette. Strangely enough, chicken Basquaise became a staple dish in the summers, but only after I had fallen in love with the fresh bell peppers at the Andersonville Farmer's Market.

    But the meal I kept going back to, time and time again, was simple roast chicken with vegetables. In fact, I served this over the weekend, on a snowy day, for my boyfriend and a few of our friends. The chicken went into the oven before the guests arrived, and the dishes got washed right after prep. I was able to chat with my friends as the smell of roasted chicken gradually filled the apartment. After the chicken came up to temperature, I just took it out of the oven and let it rest. Carving the chicken is the hardest part, but I've butchered so many chickens that the only annoying part of carving was having to set down my glass of wine.

    A Ridiculously Simple Dinner Party

    All you'll need for a great dinner party is a roasting chicken, around 5 pounds, and a pound and a half each of Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes. I do like to get the finest quality chicken I can find: my local grocery stores carry Amish chicken, which is the best I've tasted. 

    Before roasting a chicken, it's a good idea to temper the meat. This means bringing the chicken up to temperature so that it cooks evenly once it goes into the oven. The way I do this is by leaving the whole chicken out on the countertop for an hour before putting it in the oven. Don't worry about any health issues: this is perfectly safe (just make sure to sanitize the counter afterwards). 

    About 15 minutes before you want to start roasting the chicken, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

    The best thing about roasted chicken is super-crispy skin, which is achieved by two simple processes. The first thing you must do is make sure that the chicken is completely dry, inside and out; I do this by dabbing the chicken with paper towels until it is perfectly dry. This helps prevent steam, which makes the chicken soggier. After the chicken is completely dry, coat it liberally with coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Don't skimp on the salt: it helps to create that crispy skin, and seriously contributes to the flavor.

    Optionally, when preparing the chicken, you can quarter a lemon and an onion and toss those into the cavity with some thyme and smashed garlic. Then, truss your bird with some butcher's twine. This is nice and flavorful, but by no means necessary.

    After the bird is prepped, put it on a roasting pan with the quartered potatoes and Brussels sprouts. The fat from the bird will season the vegetables as they roast, but they do benefit from just a small sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook the whole thing at 375 until an instant read thermometer in the thigh of the bird comes out to 160 degrees. This bird took about an hour and a half, but time guidelines for whole chickens are notoriously variable, so trust your intuition, and your thermometer.

    Once the bird is finished roasting, remove from the oven and tent with foil for about 15 minutes. This allows the chicken to rest, and results in a much juicier meal. When it's finished, I usually just carve the meat to everyone's preferences, then add a nice serving-spoonful of vegetables. If you want to be fancier than that, you can carve the bird in the kitchen, then bring everything to the table in serving plates.

    The result is acrowd-pleasing meal that will allow you to spend time away from the kitchen, so that you can focus on what really matters. This is the kind of simple, honest fare that brings people together, and that's what friendship is all about.

    Wine Pairing

    A roast chicken just begs for an oaked chardonnay that has turned buttery and unctuous after undergoing malolactic fermentation (the butter flavor technically comes from diacetyl, but there's no need to get too pedantic at a dinner party). Smoking Loon Chardonnay is made in this style and can be had for less than $10 a bottle. If you want something a little pricier, Rombauer Chardonnay is a good choice. 

    I Still Love Meat and Potatoes; or, the Joy of Everyday Meals

    One reason why I wanted to start blogging about my food was to show people that they can eat well, on a daily basis, without too much expense or effort. Food these days is such a spectator sport: we watch shows like Top Chef, where we see meticulously plated chilean sea bass served with all sorts of purees, sauces, garnishes, and accoutrements. At the opposite side of the spectrum is Sandra Lee, who opens a bottle of gin and a can of frosting and calls it dinner.

    Even on the internet, there's not much of an outlet for simple fare. Food bloggers like to break down recipes from cookbooks, sharing more photographs of some sort of honey-glazed jalapeño chicken monstrosity than  your mother took of you at your first birthday party. Food like this can be fun, but it's also somewhat lacking in refinement. For everyday meals, I want the highest quality ingredients cooked simply, not tarted up. I want the culinary equivalent of Grace Kelly, not Ke$ha.

    I'm a foodie, and of course I'll wax poetic about tasting menus, foie gras, and Thomas Keller's brilliant idea take a blow torch to prime rib in order to get a perfect crust at a low temperature. But I'm certainly not too cool for meat and potatoes. 

    My not-so-dirty little secret: I eat a lot of sausage, often with potatoes.

    In fact, roasted sausage with some sort of side is one of my standard, simple suppers. I'm lucky to have access to some fantastic local butchers, who make lots of interesting sausages in-house. I'll pretty much try everything, from beer brats to chicken with spinach to lamb to chorizo. It's a special pleasure to hunt down blood sausages: people might be less grossed out by them if they knew how fantastic they taste. Source a good sausage and the hard part is over. Once you get it home, just roast and enjoy.

    Three Ingredient Dinner for Two

    Here, I've roasted spicy Italian sausage, and served it alongside a duck-fat rösti, adapted from Cooking from the Heart. It takes a little over half an hour and requires just three ingredients:

    2 uncooked sausages (whichever kind you want)

    1 very large potato or two more reasonably sized potatoes (yukon gold or russet, whatever's on hand)

    2ish tablespoons duck fat (yes, you can use any higher smoke point fat, but duck fat and potatoes are a match made in heaven. I get rendered duck fat from the same butchers where I buy sausages.)

    To make this meal, begin by preheating your oven to 375 (it seems I mostly default to heating my oven to 375; it's a good temperature). While the oven is preheating, put the potato(es) in a saucepan (2 or 3 quarts should be a sufficient size) and cover with water. Bring the potatoes to a boil and then allow to cook for 7-10 minutes, until they become somewhat tender but still firm enough to hold their shape when grated. Remove potato(es) from water and allow to rest on the counter until they're cool enough to handle.

    Meanwhile, put the sausages in the oven for about 15 minutes. Flip them over, then cook for another 10-15 minutes. After about 25 minutes in the oven, they're done. Easy peasy.

    To finish the rösti, peel the potato(es) and grate using a box grater. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then shape grated potato into a disk shape, about an inch thick. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat; once the skillet gets nice and hot, add the duck fat: it should melt fairly quickly. Add the potatoes and cook until nice and browned, then flip to brown the other side. The exact time will vary based on your skillet, your oven, and your potato(es), but it should take around 15 minutes.

    Cut the rösti in half, and serve each person half the rösti and a whole sausage. You can also serve a very simple salad of greens tossed with a vinaigrette. I served this with wine, but beer would have been better: sausage and potatoes taste wonderful with Belgian beers such as Duvel.

    Wine Pairing

    The Castillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon is one of my go-to budget reds, but this wasn't a perfect pairing. The high-tannic wine definitely held up to the meatiness of the dish, but did little to assuage the spice.