Chicken Soup from Scratch
Cooking Time: 1 ½ - 2 hours
I think I originally found the instructions for making this chicken soup, with a whole bird, in an out-of-print cookbook titled Woman’s Institute Library of Cookery, Vol. III (published in 1927). The authors wrote of 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.
1 whole chicken (3-4 lbs.), preferably local and raised roaming around on pasture, trussed (many come trussed, or you can simply tie the legs together, crossed, with cooking twine yourself), and gizzards removed (they come in a small paper sack stuffed into the chicken’s body cavity from most butchers). You can also use an equivalent amount of bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (wings, thighs, etc.)
Chicken feet, washed, blanched in scalding water (to remove the crinkly yellow membrane), talons removed at the first knuckle (please see my article on cooking with chicken feet).
½ white onion, peeled and diced (not sweet or red)
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped, with any fronds that are fresh enough to use
Small bunch leafy Italian parsley, chopped, about ¼ cup
Place the chicken and chicken feet (as desired) in a large stockpot. Cover with filtered water, 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 the chopped vegetables and herbs, and bring the soup to a gentle simmer. One issue I’ve had with this method: the chicken can get overly dry and chewy, especially the breast if using a whole chicken. Here’s an excellent explanation of why boiling the chicken results in tough, stringy meat.
(To avoid tough chicken in the soup, I suppose you could create a stock using a bunch of chicken feet and vegetables, THEN add chicken pieces (rather than using a whole chicken) at the end, and poach them until done, as suggested in the link above (chicken is considered fully-cooked at 165°F.) I will give that a shot next time and let you know how it goes! I bet it would result in a much nicer texture as far the chicken is concerned.)
Simmer the soup gently for 1 ½ to 2 hours, partly covered with a lid, making sure it doesn’t come back to a boil. You can add more water as needed if too much cooks off. I also like to turn the bird over in the pot about halfway through (if using a whole bird) to ensure even cooking. Just don’t burn yourself with the splashing hot water while performing this feat! Kitchen mitts help. Towards the end of the cooking time, carefully remove the chicken and feet from the pot and place on a large cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut away the chicken from the bone. If you want to make extra-sure that there are no small/sharp bone bits left in the broth, the best way to get them out is by removing the cooked vegetables, and then pouring the broth through a fine-mesh sieve (carefully, again it is hot liquid!). Biting down on a bone in your soup is not fun, and when using a whole chicken you will discover that there are lots of teeny, tiny bones in a chicken, particularly along the spine.
Return the chicken and cooked veggies to the broth. Hold the feet…but you may leave them in while serving soup to those guests whom you would like to discourage from returning to your table in future. (As an aside: this is why, back in the day, a proper hostess never allowed guests in her kitchen…you never knew what you might find back there.)
Ladle into bowls, and enjoy!
Resources for Cooking With Chicken Feet
Nourishing Broth: An Old-Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World by Sally Fallon Morrell (2014)