I'm not sure I can call myself a vegetarian any more, or even a fish-a-tarian (I think the proper word is pescatarian) because at least once a month I'm eating meat.
When I am sick, my Jewish grandmothers rise from the grave and say MAKE CHICKEN SOUP! So I do.
The recipe begins, of course, with "take a chicken."
Here's what you'll need. It's what I used Saturday after I got home from teaching the deacon candidates' theology class, during which I realized I was really not feeling too well.
1. Large cooking pot, the largest you have.
3. Sharp knife.
4. Other utensils ad hoc, though you can do without them. A ladle is nice, though, to deal with the final result.
5. A chicken. *Auntie Jane says: not just any chicken! Because I was in Hillsborough (North Carolina, near Chapel Hill) and because on my way out of town was the local branch of the fabulous Weaver Street Market, a much bigger food co-op than the one we have in Greensboro and somewhat like Whole Foods (a.k.a. Whole Paycheck), but less expensive, I stopped in to do my food shopping. They had a sale on chicken with whole, sustainably raised, died-while-listening-to-Mozart-and-watching-PBS, in the prime of life, happy, hormone-free, fed with healthy stuff, chickens. I bought one. It was a little over 5 dollars and of a goodly size.
6. A couple of onions. I used two, you can use three, one will work. Whatever you have around is fine. You do keep onions around, don't you? I used your basic yellow onions, not too small.
7. Some celery.
8. A few carrots.
9. Some thyme.
10. A bay leaf or two. I used two 'cause it was a very big pot.
11. Hot red pepper flakes. That was my magical ingredient. Not too much, now! Enough for just a little zing and an extra sweat on top of the chicken soup factor.
12. Some salt. I used kosher salt, 'cause it was chicken soup. Use whatever you have around.
Rinse the chicken. Take the innards out if there are innards wrapped in paper inside. Keep the neck for the soup. Saute the liver for a little snack. If there is a heart (there was none in my chicken, s/he had probably donated her/his heart to science) save it for the soup.
Put the chicken in the pot with the neck and (if it's there) the heart. You can put the liver in there too, but I wouldn't miss out on the opportunity to have sauted chicken liver as a snack, with a little salt. It'll cook in two minutes. But I digress.
Cover the chicken with water. In other words, fill the pot.
Cover the pot and put it on the stove on "high."
Chop up the onions, put them in the pot with the chicken.
Peel and slice the carrots, put the slices in the pot.
Slice the celery thinly, put the slices in the pot.
Add the thyme and bay leaf and the salt and hot red pepper.
Once the water in the pot has boiled, turn the stove down to "low." Go about your business for somewhere between 30 mn and an hour, more or less. You'll have to keep track. Test by checking the chicken meat. When you can take it off the bones with a fork, it's probably ready. If it has started falling off the bones, it is definitely ready! Don't cook it too much or it will lose its tenderness. When you can eat the chicken, the soup is ready.
If you are like me and you are in a hurry to have a bowl of soup (which I was Saturday evening after teaching the deacon candidates' theology class in Hillsborough and driving home, with the chicken safely wrapped in ice), ladle some broth and vegetables into a bowl, add some of the chicken meat, and voilà. Yummmm.
(You can add rice or noodles but I didn't - until the second night when I realized I had some leftover cooked brown rice in the fridge and stuck it in the part of the soup I was reheating for a meal, with some collard greens, sliced thin: the soup was ready once the collard greens were cooked. I don't want to eat a lot of carbs, so I'm keeping the original soup as is, no rice and no noodles. If you do put carbs in it, add them late in the process so they don't get mushy. You can make the soup Asian by adding baby bok choy, snow peas, some kind of Asian mushrooms, etc. You can turn the soup into tortilla soup by adding tortilla chips or strips, a little chopped avocado, fresh cilantro, and some chili powder or bits of jalapeno. Me, I am a purist. I wait till I am in San Antonio to have tortilla soup. They make it better than I ever could.)
Then let the soup cool. No, it won't poison you to leave it out for a couple of hours, just sitting there. I'm still here. If you are paranoid, refrigerate it right away.
Then come two more stages:
1. Separate the bones from the meat. It's easier once you have let the pot of soup cool off. Wash your hands well and use your fingers as needed. Save the bones and whatever meat still clings to them despite your efforts, and put them in a bowl.
2. You've put the meat back into the broth. That's your soup. Put it in containers or leave it in the pot and refrigerate it overnight. Once you have refrigerated the chicken soup overnight (which I did once it had cooled off and I had taken the bones out, but you can just refrigerate it after you've had that first bowl and do the rest of the work the next day) there will be a thin layer of yellow chicken fat on top. Take it off with a spoon, unless you want fatty soup. My chicken was amazingly non-fatty. I had cut off a bit of the fattiest parts before cooking, of course. A little fat in the soup is good. You want to watch your fat intake, though.
You can reserve the fat if you're into Eastern European Jewish cooking and use it in some other dish. Or just throw it out.
The fat is one of the reasons you want a happy sustainably raised chicken. If you buy a yucky yellow fatty Purdue chicken (or similar commercially raised bird) you will have a chicken that has stored nasty things like hormones and other chemicals in its liver and fat. Ptui, ptui, ptui! That is not healthy.
3. If you have saved the bones, to which a bit of meat still clings, and put them back in the pot, to which a little onion still clings, put some water on them, boil 'em once, cook 'em on low for an hour, and voilà, chicken broth. Freeze it in quart-sized yogurt containers (the ones you saved because municipalities are only recycling plastics #1 and #2 and you couldn't bear to dump the yogurt containers into the environment), remembering to label them. Or freeze them in smaller containers. I didn't salt the broth, so I have to remember it will need salt. You'll have frozen chicken broth you can use for soup, sauces, or whatever you want, and you will have gotten the most out of those happy chicken bones.
Now throw out the bones, and don't let your cat near them, chicken bones are not good for such beasts, there is too much danger of their getting one of them stuck in their throat, Godde forbid. Ptui, ptui, ptui. (Eastern European Jewish triple spitting between two fingers to keep away the evil eye.)
Thank the chicken and thank Godde (or Mother Nature, depending on your proclivities) for the chicken, the vegetables, the herbs, the spices, the water, the pot, and all those whose labor brought these gifts to you.
If you have a cat, s/he will pester you as soon as the chicken enters the house (dead though it may be) and even more so when it starts cooking. Give in once the soup has cooked and take a little piece of chicken breast and feed it to the cat.
You will both sleep very well after all this. We did.