I now present to you:
Mama Amy's Chicken Soup
This is a hearty chicken-vegetable soup, almost a stew. I make up a huge pot of it and freeze it in single-serving baggies.
Start by roasting a five-pound chicken. Yeah, you could boil it or stick it in the crock pot. But I think that the soup ends up with a more homemade flavor from a roasted chicken. I use a roasting rack in a 375 degree oven for two and a half hours, give or take. If I were going to be eating the chicken just as it is, I'd be paranoid about making sure it was at 180 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh. But since I'll be cooking the meat again in the broth, I don't worry. As long as it's all crispy and beautiful, it's good enough. I also don't worry about seasoning or trussing the bird. I season the soup plenty. Oh, and keep the neck, if it came with the bird. That's full of yummy-ness for the stock. Stick it in a baggie in the fridge. I toss out the giblets, though. I've got a thing about organ meat, especially livers. Who wants to eat a filter?
Once the bird is out of the oven, let it cool enough that you can handle it without burning yourself, and pick the meat off. I usually put the roasting pan in front of me on the table. (On potholders! I like my table's finish the way it is!) The meat goes in a large bowl, shredded as I go into bite-size pieces. Everything else (bones, skin, fat and gristle... yum!) goes into my large stock pot. The meat then goes into a ziplock baggie and into the fridge.
Put the stock pot in the sink. Add:
The neck from the fridge.
One onion, peeled and chopped roughly. I like brown onions, but yellow or white would be fine, too.
The tops and bottoms from a bundle of celery. Put the good parts (the stalks that you'd normally dip in peanut butter) back in the fridge for the soup.
The tops, bottoms, and peelings from a pound of carrots. The good parts go in the fridge with the celery. Note: When I first started making this soup, I used baby carrots because they were already peeled. Don't! They're way too sweet.
Water to about two inches from the top of the pot.
Put the pot on the stove on medium-low, and walk away. Let it boil for an hour or two, or longer if you have time. If the water level gets low, add more.
Once you just can't take it anymore, turn the heat off and carefully move the pot back to the sink. In the other sink (you have a double sink, right?) put a one-gallon pitcher with a fine-mesh strainer on top of it. Using a ladle, transfer everything from the pot into the pitcher. Empty the strainer into the trash as it fills up. I usually need two pitchers. Now for the fun part. Skimming off the fat? Hah! Too much work. Once the broth is no longer hot, place the pitchers in the fridge. The fat will rise to the top and solidify when it gets cold, and you can just scoop it off.
The next day or so...
Stock pot (washed and ready) goes on the stove. Get one of your pitchers of broth out and scoop about a tablespoon of the fat into the bottom of the pan. (Oh, come on. Live a little.) Turn the heat to low, and add the chopped leek, onion, and a heaping tablespoon of garlic. Note: I am a huge fan of the Allium family, and make a fairly onion-y soup. Tone it down if you're not like me. Saute the yummy goodness until the onions are clear. Skim the fat off the broth and add it to the pot. Chop up the carrots and celery and add them in.
At this point, I like to add some grains. If I were making this for dinner that day, I'd add some potatoes or noodles, but they don't freeze well. Instead, I add a cup of pearled barley. Brown rice works nicely, too. Just make sure that it's a whole grain that takes a while to cook. Instant rice breaks up too quickly. Walk away again for about 45 minutes. Do some laundry. Read a book. Negotiate a peace treaty in the Middle East.
At this point, the soup should be simmering, or at least steaming. Add in the shredded chicken, the rest of your veggies, and your herbs. The reason that these veggies get added later than the onion, celery, and carrots is that they are softer, and need less cooking time.
Veggies that I use (in addition to the ones already in the pot):
2 yellow squash, chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
4 smallish roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 cups frozen corn
2 cups frozen peas
Herbs that I use: (I use dried, but if you have fresh, go for it! Just remember that fresh herbs are less potent, so you'll need probably about twice the amount.)
One heaping teaspoon each of:
Turn the heat all the way up and let it boil for 20 minutes. At this point, taste the broth, and add what you need. This part is all to taste. I usually find that it's still not chicken-y enough, so I a tablespoon of granulated chicken bullion.
Turn the heat off, and let it cool for a half hour or so. Then pour it back into those pitchers (you washed them, right?) and back into the fridge overnight. I find that it's easier to portion out the soup when it's cold. It gels up a bit, so there are fewer splashes and less mess. Plus, measuring boiling hot soup into baggies is a quick way to get a first-degree burn.
This usually makes about 14-15 servings. I find that three ladlefuls of soup in a quart-size freezer baggie is just about right for one serving. They also stack flat for freezing. Note! Do not lay the baggies straight onto your freezer shelf, especially if it's a wire shelf. It will droop a bit between the bars and be impossible to lift off once it's frozen. I've found a box that just about fits the bags, keeping them stacked neatly. I also put a paper towel or napkin between each baggie so they don't stick together when they freeze.
So, there it is! It sounds like a lot of work, but most of it is waiting around while the chicken roasts, then again while the soup cooks. Give it a try, and let me know how it went!
1 five-pound chicken
bundle of celery
1 pound of carrots
two small or one large leek
garlic (I use jarred, but one head should be fine)
2 yellow squashes
4 small roma tomatoes
16 oz bag frozen peas
16 oz bag frozen corn (try not to get sweet corn)
granulated chicken bullion
Large stock pot
2 gallon-sized pitchers
quart-size freezer baggies