My kids ask for my homemade chicken soup for their birthdays. Yep.
The ingredients list is fairly standard: a chicken, water, onion, carrots, celery, peas, bay leaf, rice or noodles, salt and pepper. But not one bit of Broth-In-A-Box. The only tricky part is not cooking cluck-cluck too long. Here’s the deal about chicken: if you cook it a too long or too hot, the meat dries out to a gummy, rubbery texture, EVEN if it is in a big pot of water. Boiling a chicken is even worse.
The best way to cook a chicken in water is to use a heating method that ensures your chicken will never boil. And, you have to actually check on the chicken. This last time I did get sidetracked and it was a wee bit overdone. The kids didn’t notice, however, and kept telling me how great it tasted. I bet it will be the same for you.
You could choose to cook your chicken three ways: on the stove in a big pot, kept very carefully at a slow, slow, slow heat–not bubbling. You could use a very big crock pot on low for several hours (4 to 6) . FInally, you could get a big oven proof pot and slow cook it in the oven. I prefer using the stove top or crock pot–it’s just easier to check on it. For years, I’ve done a stove top method with my big 12 qt. stock pot. This time I decided to try out the crock pot since I had such good results with another recipe. I still end up getting out a bigger pot for the stove to mix everything up at the end, though.
I cook the chicken in water with a large amount of vegetables to add flavor. The celery, onion, and bay leaf will get tossed out when the chicken is done, but I save the carrots. I also leave the peel on my yellow onions when I add them to the pot. It gives the broth a gentle yellow color. One time I thought “More is Better!” so I added a bunch of peels and the water turned brown!! Just a little goes a long way.
1 whole chicken–about 4 lb.
as much celery as you can stuff into the chicken–several stalks, cut in half
1 or 2 onions, quartered, leave the skin on
at least 1 lb. of carrots, but 2 lb. is much better. Peel the carrots, cut off the tops, BUT LEAVE THEM WHOLE–it’s easier to get them out of the pot and then you can cut them with a butter knife before you mix the final pot
a few bay leaves
noodles or rice
frozen green peas
If you are using a crock pot, stuff your chicken with celery stalks and onions. Place it in the pot, tuck the whole carrots (or break them in half) all around, onions as well, toss in the bay leaf. Fill up with water. Set your crock pot on a low temperature and let it gently heat for several hours. Check on the chicken–you can use a meat thermometer to tell you when it is done. Obviously, the juices will run clear. If you try to lift it out and it falls apart, honey, it’s done. After you’ve cooked about 20 chickens, you will figure this out by looking at the bird. If you can find your instant read thermometer–it may have been borrowed for a science experiment–you can use this handy dandy chart from the USDA.
USDA Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures
- Steaks & Roasts – 145 °F
- Fish – 145 °F
- Pork – 160 °F
- Ground Beef – 160 °F
- Egg Dishes – 160 °F
- Chicken Breasts – 165 °F
- Whole Poultry – 165 °F
OK–so you have determined that your chicken is done. Remove it from the pot and let it rest on a plate until it is cool enough to debone. Meanwhile, strain out the celery, onion, bay, and carrots. Set the carrots aside. You can ask one of your kids to cut the carrots because they will be tender enough that a butter knife will do the trick. My kids love doing this part of the job. Deboning a chicken isn’t hard–just pull off the meat. Cut it into smaller pieces if you desire. Let it sit on the plate, though, and as it cools a bit, the gelatin and juices will congeal. All of that is GOOD STUFF. Don’t throw out the flavor!
Meanwhile, pour your beautiful broth into a big dutch oven or other very large pot. Sometimes I like to strain the broth by pouring it through a big colander lined with a thin cotten towel. This will remove the little brown sediments from the chicken bones–but honestly, they won’t hurt anything and it does make a mess to strain it. Don’t fret–just enjoy your broth. You can cook your noodles in this broth if you like. I think a 12 to 16 oz package would do the trick. I like to cook up 1 to 2 cups of brown rice for our soups. When the noodles (or rice) are close to done, add in a 12 oz. bag of frozen petite green peas and your carrots. When the peas and pasta or noodles are about done, stir in the chicken. You may need to add more water, of course. Finish heating your soup and generously flavor with salt and pepper.
This will make quite a bit of soup. Save one lovely jar and take it to a friend.