(I didn't know when I took these pictures in my studio apartment, let alone this visit to the San Francisco Farmer's Market, would be my last as a resident of one of my favorite cities on earth, so this post is important to me. In a city that always has so many things going on, I would find myself on many weekend days wanting to do nothing but escape the craziness of the "City by the Bay" and just hole up in my apartment, cooking all day. Making this chicken soup was one of my favorite things to do. I hope you enjoy!)
I love chicken and vegetable soup. It is so simple, healthy, and satisfying. Just the smells of chicken, carrots, onions, and celery (possible aromas of potatoes or pasta as well...) evoke memories of being a young girl, sick at home from school, my mom in the kitchen whipping up some chicken soup to warm my bones and settle my stomach. I grandly remember her saying "this WILL make you feel better. It is really good for you!"
And that it did. For some reason I was "magically" better after a few bowls.
In college, living on my own for the first time, there were many days and nights, feeling very under the weather, that I would crave being at home: wrapped up in a blanket, my Mom back in the kitchen heating up some chicken soup for me to heal my aches and cough. I would trudgingly drag myself to the supermarket and pick up a few cans of chicken soup, heat them up, and try to get each drip of broth and chunk of veg or chicken down in order to get better. The cans never tasted the same as my Mom's soup - but it was a decent substitute to bring me back to health, even if it was all mental that the soup was making me feel "better".
It wasn't until culinary school that I really started to understand the building blocks to making a fantastic chicken soup, and, of course, it all starts with one thing: the chicken stock. Well, technically it starts with the chicken, but the broth/stock is the biggest flavor agent, so it takes some time and TLC to bring all of the flavors of the chicken bones, vegetables, and aromatics together.
So beyond relating chicken soup to just something I eat when I am sick, it is also something I immediately think to make on a lazy Saturday or Sunday. Over the course of the day, I love roasting the chicken, shredding the meat, simmering the bones with onion or leek, celery, carrots and thyme, straining my stock, and then putting it all back together for an incredibly simple, delicious, and healthy chicken vegetable soup.
As you all know, I am a huge supporter of all things sustainable, organic, home-grown or straight from the farmer's market. So, we set off for the San Francisco Ferry Building one Saturday and began to pick our fresh ingredients, right down to the chicken. I immediately hit up Marin Sun Farms for our bird. We picked up our carrots, shallots, and celery from a couple other purveyors as well as a bunch of fresh thyme. Just on a whim, I decided to pick up some fresh chicken stock from Golden Gate Meats to do a side-by-side taste test, but I will get to that in a bit.
We got back to our apartment and I began my happy culinary Saturday in the kitchen.
In the case of roasting chicken for this soup, I simply rub the skin with olive oil and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper (sometimes lemon pepper). You could use other aromatics, such as citrus, herbs, vegetables, etc., but I don't think they are needed in this process - rather, I try to maximize the flavor of the chicken.
When roasting this chicken, I preheat the oven to about 450F, pop the chicken in breast side up, and roast it for about 30 minutes; I then reduce the heat to 350F and allow the bird to cook until a thermometer inserted into the thigh area reads about 165F (time depends on size of chicken). Once the bird is cooked, I cover it with foil and allow it to sit for about 30 minutes before I begin carving the meat to shred for the soup.
I prefer to carve the chicken, starting with the breast and finishing with the legs and thighs and THEN slice the meat as much as possible. Whatever method you choose, just prepared to be "one" with your chicken as you want to get as much of that succulent meat saved for your soup.
Bones, meat, skin and all...the whole process really gives you more respect for what you are eating!
Meanwhile, I chopped up some carrots, shallots, and celery to use to make my stock. You could use leeks or white onions instead of shallots and any other vegetable you would like to flavor your stock. Remember, any of these flavors added at this stage will be present in the broth for your soup.
When making my stock, I like to keep it really simple. In addition to the chicken bones and veggies, I add fresh thyme sprigs, a bay leaf, and cracked pepper. Add all to a stock pot and cover with cold water just to cover.
Bring stock to a boil, skim off any foam that forms, and reduce the heat so that the stock gently simmers. Timing on the stock varies, as I greatly appreciate getting it on the stove, doing things around my apartment, and coming back to check on it periodically. If I had to put a time on it? About 2 hours (but remember, my chicken was SMALL), roughly, but I favor the idea of tasting the stock as you go. Too watery? Let it go a bit longer. The stock created will not be enough for a whole pot of soup, but it really adds body to the soup, plus it is therapeutic to make!
So, back to my point of the stock I bought from Golden Gate Meats. First, this is in no way meant to be a jab at GGM, but I was truly fascinated to taste my basic stock side by side with theirs. Mine was clean on the palate with little to no residual fat, bright with onion, celery, and shallot with a hint of thyme. GGM's was greasy on the palate and tasted flat of chicken. It gave me further happiness that the time put into my stock, though it only yielded about 2 full cups, was well worth the effort. I always prefer to use fresh stock, but when adding additional stock/broth to the soup, I also like Pacific Natural Foods and whatever-brand-they-sell-at-Trader Joes Organic Chicken Broth.
Next, I add my veggies to the pot...
And I add the chicken, chicken stock, extra chicken broth, and fresh thyme to the pot. I let that simmer for a while to let the flavors "marry".
Simple ingredients, happy stomach, happy heart. Um, does it get any more satisfying?
Oh, wait, the next day, it WAS more satisfying. But, then again, soup the following day is always better.