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Chicken & Barley Soup

I originally found the instructions for making this chicken soup, made with a whole bird, in an out-of-print cookbook titled Woman’s Institute Library of Cookery (published in 1926).  The authors wrote of the humble soup: “…it affords the housewife a splendid opportunity to utilize many left-overs.  With the French people, who excel in the art of soup making chiefly because of their clever adaptations of seasoning to foods, their pot-au-feu is a national institution and every kitchen has its stock pot.”  This method makes a delicious, nourishing broth, particularly if you can locate (and stomach) a few chicken feet.  Adding these yields an incredibly gelatinous broth full of key nutrients for joint health (such as collagen) and calcium. Barley gives this soup some additional flavor, and makes it more filling.  Be sure to start this soup early in the day on a day you plan to be home, so you don't leave the stove on unattended!  It usually takes me about 5-6 hours from start to finish to make this soup, most of which is pretty hands-off as the soup simmers.  A challenge for me with my homemade chicken soup has always been how to get all those little bones out of the soup...my solution is to cook the chicken and onions plus a couple flavorful additions first, then strain through a mesh sieve, and then finish adding the veggies, herbs and barley in at the end.  The main difference between this recipe and my chicken stock recipe is that this one has more meat, veggies, and barley.

Makes about 4 quarts (16 cups) of soup, enough for 5-6 people

Ingredients

Carcass, wings, and legs from one whole free-range chicken, skin-on
2-3 chicken feet (optional), washed, blanched in scalding water (to remove the crinkly yellow membrane), nails removed at the first knuckle (please see my article on cooking with chicken feet).
1/2 tsp. organic apple cider vinegar
1/2 onion (yellow or white), rough-chopped, or an equal amount of chopped leeks or green onions
1 bay leaf
2 cremini mushrooms, rinsed and quartered
Sprinkling of black peppercorns
3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped (purple carrots work just as well as orange ones here)
4-5 stalks celery, chopped, with any fronds that are fresh enough to use
1/2 cup pearled barley
Fresh chopped herbs, such as parsley and thyme, to taste
 

Directions

Starting with a whole, free-range chicken, remove the paper sack with the giblets (organ meats) from inside the bird.  Next, hold the bird over the kitchen sink and let any accumulated blood drain out.  Don't rinse the chicken, as this will just splatter bacteria around the kitchen!  On a cutting board, use a sharp knife (and kitchen scissors, as needed) to cut off the legs (at the hip joint) and chicken breasts (away from either side of the breastbone).  See photo gallery, below, for more detail.  This will leave you with the carcass & wings as once piece.  Finally, refrigerate the chicken breasts for later, or freeze them, and use the rest of the bird in this soup recipe.  

Place the chicken carcass, wings, legs, and chicken feet (if using, you definitely don't have to) in an 8-quart stockpot with lid.  Cover with filtered water until the pot is about 2/3rds of the way full, and slowly bring to a low boil.  Skim off the foamy residue (congealed protein) that rises to the surface (click here for how to skim).  Add apple cider vinegar--actually measure it here, or else you might splash in a bunch and then the soup will taste really vinegary! Add onion, bay leaf, mushrooms, and peppercorns, and reduce heat to a gentle simmer.  Cover with lid and cook for several hours (if you need the soup sooner than that, just make sure the chicken meat registers 165°F on a meat thermometer).  The longer this cooks, the more golden and nutritious the broth will be!  I like to simmer my stock 5-6 hours, or longer as I have time. Check on the soup at least every hour that it cooks, to make sure you don't need to add more water to the stock.  Never leave the house when you're making soup on the stovetop, in case of kitchen fire.

Once the soup has simmered for several hours (and really, you can let it go all day if you want to), remove the chicken pieces from the stock and set aside to cool on a large plate.  Then set a second large stockpot in the kitchen sink, one that will work with a fine-mesh sieve set across the top to catch any chicken bones (see photo gallery, below, for the setup I use to strain stock).  Using hot mitts to protect your hands, carefully pour the hot stock from one pot through the sieve and into the other.  Chicken have lots of teeny, tiny bones that can only be completely removed by this method!  

Once you've strained the stock, you can pour it back into the original stockpot, and then add the chopped carrots, onions, barley, and herbs.  Bring the stock up to a medium boil.  While the veggies and barley cook, you can start pulling the chicken meat off the bones, adding it back into the soup as you go. Throw away the leftover bones and don't feed them to your dogs...chicken bones can fracture when pets eat them, and cause serious GI issues (my pets love the chicken skin and any bits of meat I don't want, however).  Once you've added all the chopped chicken back in, cover the pot and adjust heat (as needed) to keep the barley cooking at a nice low boil.  Let cook about 40-50 minutes, or until the vegetables and barley are soft.  

Ladle into bowls, and enjoy!

PHOTO GALLERY
(NOT, PERHAPS, FOR THE SQUEAMISH...)