It’s Monday evening around cocktail hour, and I’d like a gin and tonic, but first I’ll write. Marley is resting on our green chair that I purchased from Joe, the guy on OKC Craig’s List that likes to find, re-do, and resale mid-century-modern furniture. Harley is sprawled out on the floor by the front door. He’d be gazing out it, were it open, but the Oklahoma summer sun is in full effect at this hour, and, from where I’m sitting, blinding. It’s also disgustingly hot outside come summertime in Oklahoma. We keep our door closed, perhaps in an attempt to let Summer know its heat isn’t welcome here.
Jamie’s at the food bar and I know he’s exhausted, but he’ll rarely admit to it. Or, more accurately, he doesn’t give much energy to it. Work is hard right now, but rewarding in a deep, soulful way. It is what it is, and we’re doing what we have to do. There have been times when I think we are crazy for choosing to do this — to run a business together. But we’re finding our stride together, figuring things out; and if you put your blinders on and don’t think too hard about it, it’s actually quite nice. It requires a lot of focus and prioritization, which isn’t so bad because I don’t have time to get knocked down by the heavy hits of bad news we’re waking up to in this world these days.
That isn’t to say that I don’t put thought into the usually-disappointing news spewing out from NPR shows — I do. But I get to do it over cooking/admin tasks, and somehow that makes it a little easier to process. My favorite thing to cook these days just so happens to also be comforting and restorative, which works out nicely. That thing would be chicken soup.
I’ve been making and eating this soup for most of the month of June because I’m currently very into making chicken stock. The smell that fills our house as it simmers all night on our stove is beguiling — a word, by the way, I’ve always wanted to use, but could never bring myself to because I wasn’t fully sure I had yet experienced what it means — and it over-delivers when you consider the little amount of work that goes into making it. I can use it to lend flavor to all sorts of vegetables when I steam or sauté them, make a variety of soups, and even sip it when I’m feeling out of sorts, which, now that I’m thinking about it, isn’t so often since I’ve been on this soup kick.
I’ll first start with the base, a recipe derived from several sources that has morphed into my own over the past year.
1 whole chicken
4-5 quarts of water, or enough to cover
1 yellow onion
6 cloves of garlic
1-inch chunk of ginger
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon of sea salt, plus more to taste
If the chicken is frozen, let it thaw before beginning the stock. While it’s doing so, quarter the onion, roughly chop the carrot, and peel (or don’t) the garlic. I’ve read that crushing the garlic before adding it to the stock lends more flavor, but I haven’t noticed a big enough difference to commit to it.
Rinse the chicken, then place it in a deep pot with the onion, carrot, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper; cover all of it with cold water, then bring it to a simmer. Cover the pot and leave it alone for a few hours. I typically begin my stock in the early evening, a couple of hours before bed, and let it simmer all night long; however, if you want to eat the meat (it’s surprisingly good), you’ll want to remove it after 1.5 to 2 hours of cooking. To do this, carefully remove the chicken from the pot — letting the liquid and other items continue to simmer — and allow it to cool a little before handling. Once you’ve removed all the meat you’d like to eat, add the bones and carcass back to the pot, cover, and bring the mixture back to a gentle simmer. (When you’re ready to eat the chicken, remember that a good amount of the chicken’s flavor was given to the stock; so don’t be shy when salting or peppering.)
After the stock has cooked for several hours, strain it. If you plan to freeze some of it, let it cool before tucking it away in the freezer. Otherwise, it keeps for 5-7 days in the refrigerator.
For the chicken soup, I don’t follow any specific recipe, but I usually do the following:
2 quarts chicken broth, plus more for thinning, if needed
3 large carrots, cut into rounds
2 medium leeks, halved (length wise), rinsed, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 to 1/2 yellow onion, sliced thinly, length wise
2 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
1-2 pounds of shredded chicken, if you want
leaves from a few sprigs of thyme
Pour the chicken broth into a large stockpot, and add to it the carrots, leeks, onions, and 2-3 generous pinches of salt. Bring it to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, then let it stay there for 25 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the thyme and let it cook for another 5 minutes. Then add the chicken and garlic. Let it cook for 5 more minutes. Taste for salt seasoning, and add more, if needed, plus black pepper, if you’d like.
Place into bowls and serve — it provides roughly 8 cups of soup, probably a little more, if you aren’t being exact. It stores well, covered in the refrigerator, for 5 to 7 days.