Chicken Soup OF the Soul

This is not a blog about Chicken Soup For the soul.  This is about Chicken soup OF the soul.  Chicken soup is so simple a thing and yet it is so unique to each and every person.  Sometimes I wonder if our soup reflects something of what we are.Ingredients:

Water 80% - 90%

Chicken 9.5%-19%

Salt. 0.5%-1%


There you have it, the essential recipe in decreasing order of importance and quantity.  That is all you need to make this simple meal.  Combine all ingredients to taste in these percentages, more or less.  add whatever you think tastes good.  it's whatever you like really.  


Some people ive by TSP and cup, or ounces  or grams, I live by ratios.  Ask me sometime how I make stir fry (2/3 mixed veggies, 1/3 meat, sauce = 1/3 soy sauce, 1/3 sake, 1/6 white karo syrup, 1/12 anchovy sauce, 1/12 extras (chili paste, water, cornstarch, sugar, garlic/onion, ginger, white pepper, black pepper, 5-spice powder,  usually)  At least I think those are about right.  I never measure anymore, I just look and taste.


But chicken soup is something else.  My friend and I were sitting around sipping an Australian Riesling/Traminer blend that tasted so much of honeysuckle and grapefruit that it was like sunshine in a bottle (that cost $3.99 on the clearance rack) and waiting on the crockpot to finish it's excruciatingly slow magic upon the chicken.  that is the nature of the crockpot though.  YOu put things in it and wait for hours until what comes through the other side of that wait is food so deliciously blended in flavor that it warms you up and takes you back to all of those good times in your life.  


At one point, she and I talked about the making of soup.  My friend grew up raising chickens, so she understood the vital deliciousness of getting a chicken with the feet still attached, about how good a soup could be sipped in the evening when the meat you shoved into your mouth had been running around the barnyard that morning.  She misses those days.  Commercial meat is never quite the same.  


She has a great palate for all things avian, so I consider her to be a great judge of soups.  but her soups are different from mine,  They are also different from another friend's soup.  She has to keep hers gluten-free, but it's no less tasty.  It's just different.  My mom made a very salty chicken soup, and a very bland beef soup.  My grandma makes hers low sodium but the spices she uses makes up for the lack of salinity.  I experiment with my soups while I am more reserved with other foods.  Mine are never the same twice.  Some people use the same ingredients the same way for years.  I have a theory that chicken soup is one of those things that is soul food, not just because its comforting, but because the creation of it is an expression of one's own soul.  


So that recipe up there is kind of like a template for standard dead soup.  There is no love there, there is no comfort or warmth.  What makes a soup fabulous is the additions to it; that is how you treat it, what spices, vegetables, and starches you add.  


spices are the first key to making this unique and great.  No two people's soups will be exactly alike.  Some people pour spices all at once and hope for the best.  some people put them onto spice balls and drop them in.  Some layer spices.  .  


The most commonly used spices are really famous in the son "Greensleeves"   If you have lived under a rock since the 60's let me review :  Parsley, sage,rosemary, thyme. Also commonly used (not necessarily all together) are Californian bay leaf, Mediterranean bay leaf,  garlic, white pepper, black pepper, celery seed, basil, clove, anise, Hungarian paprika, Spanish paprika, oregano, dried onion.  Since I am an eclectic when it comes to my soup, I have also used to some success in various experiments:  black, green or oolong tea, crushed red pepper, cilantro, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, turmeric, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, shiitake mushrooms, kombu seaweed, wakame seaweed, red or white miso, baking chocolate, sun dried tomato. mint, chamomile, , yerba mate, safflower, horseradish,  lemon, lime, coconut, white wine (Riesling or muscat  is the best for this), anchovy sauce, bonito stock, soy sauce, rice vinegar, thai chili paste, lemongrass, yogurt, cream, soy milk,  


Is it starting to look like I empty the contents of a spice shop into my soup?  yeah, sure.  I admit, I experiment with my flavors.  I don't put it all in at once, mind you.  The more I cook, the more I am believing in the Chinese philosophy of balancing five different flavors sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, spicy.  If I feel like I want something light, I will use a chicken stock with reduced salt and add mint, lime, lemongrass, white wine and kombu.  On a cold winter, add shiitake, fenugreek, chili paste, coconut, cumin, fenugreek, garlic. . .you get the picture.  Something sweet and asian, white miso(dropped in right before serving), shiitake,  cinnamon, lemongrass and ginger garnished with green onion.  Something italian, sun dried tomato, parsley, basil, garlic, onion, oregano.  Something spanish:  paprika, tomato, garlic, onion, cilantro, lime.  something Indian, fenugreek, corriander, cumin, chili paste, tumeric, garlic, onion and yogurt.  Something Mexican would be safflower, chili paste, pepper, cilantro, garlic, onion, allspice, sun dried tomato.   It's just a vast experiment in flavor.  If you want an acidic creamy soup, try yogurt.  A rich, nutty soup, try coconut milk.  Use soy if you want an opaque broth, but don't want the milky flavor.  


I like experimenting with spices in soup because you can add spices at different times in the cooking process and experiment with what the taste differences are  between say, adding onion in the beginning versus adding it with the rest of the vegetables, or what happens when you omit the bay leaf and celery seed at the beginning or why you should wait on adding parsley and paprika until the end.


then comes the addition of starch.  Starch is incredibly important to a chicken soup, but how are you going to deliver it?  ramen noodles, glass noodles, semolina noodles, egg noodles homestyle noodles, tofu noodles, udon, buckwheat noodles, gnocchi, pot stickers, wontons,  barley, rice, lentils, potatoes, cracked wheat, or how about dumplings?  each has their own delightful thing. Starches suck up flavor and also lend flavor.  If you don't add noodles or grains, consider cornstarch or flour to thicken the broth and concentrate the flavor.  


Vegetables:  carrots, onions, celery, and peas are all you'll ever need, but okra adds a bit of texture and a subtle flavor.  For alternatives, think about greens!  spinach, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, turnip greens, mustard greens, or collard greens.  sprinkle with green onion at the end for egg drop soup.  don't bother with red cabbage or red onions.  the color leeches right out of them.  Edamame (green soybeans) is really an interesting choice, or Lima beans.  If you want pod peas, you should add them last.  the pods get mushy.   What happens when you use parsnip, burdock (gobo) root or turnips instead of potatoes and carrots?             


The secret in here between the store made stuff and homemade deliciousness is not in the spices, but in the tempering of the soup.  Chicken soup is a little bit like making steel.  You have all sorts of things that go into this alloy, and how well they blend depends on not only temperature, but the length of time any given lump of metal reaches certain temperatures, when the different elements are added, and for how long it is kept at certain temperatures.  Your soup is the same way.  


Everyone as different pallates.  Everyone likes different things.  your soup should be an expression of yourself, your feelings, maybe even your dreams.  I know that sounds sort of new age, but let your broth reflect something unique about you.  Do you consider yourself spicy?  add capsicums, pepper, or Spanish paprika.  Complicated?  try a small amount of lots of spices.  Taste often.  In a short amount of time you'll figure out when it needs to be balanced between the five tastes.


Here is my method for traditional American chicken soup:  You boil a chicken with bay leaves, sea salt, black pepper, and celery seed until the water evaporates about 2/3, and cool it by adding water adding sage and rosemary, boil the water down again cool it by adding water and onion and garlic, then boil it down, remove the chicken, cool the broth and the meat, remove the meat from the bones, crack open the thigh and leg bones, put the giblets and bones in cheesecloth, tie, throw it into the pot, throw pulled dark meat in, reserve white meat, add white wine,  parsley, white pepper, boil it down again.  remove cheesecloth, toss out.  let pot cool, then put in fridge.  the schmaltz will rise to the top.  When schmaltz is congealed, scrape off top.  the broth underneath should be congealed too, like jello.  If not, don't worry.  after skimming schmaltz, heat up the broth, if you're going to use them, add grains at this time and cook them until they are just short of done.  Then, add vegetables (carrot, celery, onion), white meat, and maybe a little basil or lemongrass.  Boil until the carrots are nearly soft and the onions are clear-ish.  Add noodles or dumplings if you are going to add them.  when noodles or dumplings are done, or if you didn't use them, when your veggies and grains are both done, your soup is done.  cool to a palatable level and serve.  garnish with parsley and/or green onions


what do i think my soup says about me?  I think it says that I don't really know what I want in life, but I am willing to try everything within reason to figure it out, but I do know that in the end it will be rich and fulfilling and my life will at least make others happy, if only for a fleeting moment..     



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