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“Simple” Chicken and Rice Soup

Recently a dear friend guffawed as I explained—at length—how to make my simple, healing, savory, comforting chicken and rice soup, the one the children request for birthdays and Christmas, the one I make a couple times of month for ordinary meals.

It has not gotten to the point yet that I am personally taking chickens to meet their telos on a backyard stump and making pillows with the feathers to sell at craft fairs, but I think my friend’s laughter indicates that it is so nearly to that peak that I should find it unreasonable to ask folks to hassle with this “simple” luxury soup.

For your reading pleasure, then, rather than your cooking pleasure, I submit to you my “Simple” Chicken and Rice Soup.  If you would like to eat it, just come on over or ask for a jar.  If you would like to make it, I can write out a prescription for lifestyle changes that would allow you to be home long enough to get the job done.  The prescription for how you might feel about the amount of pot washing involved, the forty minutes spent chopping with a giant knife, or fear over whether your chickens were roasted to the proper temperature is between you and your therapist.

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This recipe fills a 13 qt. stock pot.  It’s enough to feed my family of 8 a hearty supper, send out several quart jars of soup to friends, and have lunch leftovers the next day.  I could make a smaller batch, but I don’t play Uncle Scrooge and Silas Marner with soup.

1) Roast 2 big chickens in cast iron skillets or roasting pans at 425 degrees for approximately an hour and 15 minutes.  If your chicken is a wee bit undercooked, there is no need to panic.  The meat will be cooked again when it is added to the soup.  Err on the side of chicken that isn’t dried out by overcooking.  Alternatively, purchase tasty flavor-infused hot roasted chickens from your local grocery store. The flavor from these store chickens is really quite better than what you can make at home.  They, the commercial chicken roasters from on high, add yeast extract, guar gums, “natural flavorings,” maltodextrin, corn flour and some other things I would hesitate before pronouncing.  I do not condemn store roasted chickens.  They are tasty.  They are convenient.  They are reasonably priced.   There is therefore now no condemnation for using store roasted chickens.  Please pass by on the far side of the road for boxed broth, however.

2) After letting the chickens cool down enough that you won’t sear the flesh off your fingers, debone the chickens, set the chopped meat aside in the fridge, and put all the bones, skin, and roasting pan deglazing juices and cracklings, including the fabulous flavorful fat, in a dutch oven sized pot.  Cover with water, toss in some bay leaves if you have them, perhaps some dying celery and a couple of carrots.  Maybe an onion.  Bring pot to a simmer.  Now you’re making broth.

3) The broth will take how much ever time you have to make it.  Broth is like wedding planning.  You can barely pull off a wedding in 2 weeks or barely pull off a wedding in 24 months .  Your decision.

4) Cook 3 cups dry rice however you like to cook rice.    I cook my rice separately from the soup because I want the vegetables to be a certain consistency and my rice to be a certain consistency and it’s just too hard to make both of those things time out well in one big pot.  I make my brown rice with the following method:

– Measure 3 cups brown rice and 6 cups water into an appropriate sized pot.

– Bring to a boil.  Cover with a good fitting lid.

– Turn the heat down to simmer and simmer for 20 minutes.

– At 20 minutes check the pot.  You should see rice at the top, the surface dimpled in little craters with gurgling water below the top rice.  If not, stir and cook for a bit longer.

– If it does look right, stir the rice so that the top layer won’t turn out crunchy, replace the lid, and turn off the heat.  Let stand for 20 minutes.  The rice will keep standing for you as long as you like it to stand.

***At this point, you’ve begun counting pots.  2 roasting pans, 1 broth pot, 1 rice pot.  I’m going to add one more pot.  The actual soup pot.  But not just yet because there is about 35 minutes of vegetable chopping next up.***

5) Sharpen your knife.

6) Peel 4 pounds of carrots and slice into rounds.  Chop up a head of celery including the celery leaves which I think make the soup look lovely.  Chop 2 large sweet yellow onions into small pieces. Just a note about carrots:  those pre-peeled mini carrots are not soup friendly.  “Baby Carrots” are merely carrots that were too ugly and tough to sell whole so they were whittled down into a baby carrot shape by a baby-carrot-shape-whittling machine.  They are challenging to chop and they don’t cook up nicely.  Avoid.

7) Chop 16 oz. of mushrooms into bite sized pieces. This is a great job for kids. Mushrooms shrink when cooking so if your 8 year old cuts “bite-sized pieces” the size of a jumbo jaw breaker, it’s really going to be O.K.

8) Harvest a large handful of sage from your garden.  You did plant an herb garden and keep it alive over the winter, right?  Finely chop.

9) Pull out 2 pounds of frozen peas from your freezer and let them thaw on the counter.

10) Get out your big soup pot.

11) Heat up olive oil in the pot, stir in the carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms and sage.  Cover with a lid, stir frequently.  Some people call this sautéing, some people call it sweating.  Whatever you call it, the goal is to cook the veggies over medium high to high heat until they become tender.  The advantage of doing it in this way, rather than boiling them in broth, is that the quick heat brings out a natural sweetness in the veggies.  I also think that it is faster than cooking the veggies in broth that takes forever to come to boil.

12) I cook the veggies till the carrots are tender but still a bit toothy, as in pasta al-dente.

13) Strain your broth.  I’m very sorry, but this is indeed messy and requires another big container, plus a mesh or sieve strainer.

14) Add broth to the veggie pot.  How much?  Well, add what you have conservatively and add more as needed.

15) Stir in the cooked rice, chopped chicken meat, and salt and generous pepper to taste.  I must use at least a teaspoon or two of pepper.  Check your broth level.  Do you need more broth?  Add more.  Have you run out?  THEN ADD WATER.  The broth you buy from the store is just super thin chicken broth with lots of salt.

16)  Bring to a simmer.  Add the thawed green peas towards the end just before serving so you can keep them in their state of brilliant bright green.  Adjust taste by adding more salt, pepper and sage as desired.

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