Once upon a time on our farm, it never occurred to me to do something with the tattered remains of the whole roast chickens we occasionally dined on–other than give them a hasty burial in the garbage bin. And then came the summer when we decided to raise our very own pasture-reared broiler chickens. After we finally roasted up that first flavorful, homegrown bird, I experienced a sudden epiphany as I looked at the meat-rich leftovers: how terrible would it be for us to waste so much of this once-living creature, one that we’d raised with such care? The next day I made my very first homemade chicken stock and chicken soup from scratch, and I haven’t let a leftover chicken (or turkey) go to waste since.
While it does take time to cook, making chicken stock/soup from scratch isn’t that hard. Ready to give it a try? Here’s how, with stock instructions based on those in How Cooking Works by Sylvia Rosenthal and Fran Shinagel (1981).
For the stock, you’ll need:
~leftover cooked whole chicken, bones and all
~large onion, peeled and halved
~2 garlic cloves, peeled
~2 carrots, cut in half
~other vegetables, trimmings, and herbs (i.e. zucchini ends, surplus kale, broccoli stems, rosemary, etc.)
~1 large bay leaf
For the soup, you’ll need:
~About 8 ounces dried pasta (your choice)
~1 cup each of sweet corn kernels, green peas, and sliced carrots
~1/2 cup sliced green onions
~About 1 teaspoon thyme
~1 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
~1/2 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
~2 to 3 cups chicken, shredded into small pieces
1. Start the stock by placing the leftover chicken carcass in a large stock pot and then fill the pot with enough cold water to cover the chicken by about one inch. Cover the pot and bring contents to boil over high heat, then temporarily remove it from the heat so you can skim away the surface foam if desired (this helps make the broth clearer). Add onion, garlic, carrots, bay leaf, and other veggie trimmings/herbs.
2. Return the contents to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat and replace lid, leaving it slightly ajar so steam can escape. Simmer for about 2 hours, giving the stock an occasional stir. If you’re short on time, you can cut the simmering down to an hour, but your stock won’t be quite so flavorful.
3. At the end of 2 hours, prop a large steel mesh strainer or colander on top of a large, heat-proof bowl or extra pot and carefully pour the contents of the stock pot into it to strain the broth. Once the liquid seeps out, set the strainer with the meat, bones, and mushy veggies aside on a plate to cool while you start the soup.
4. Measure out about 8 cups of stock into a large pot. Pour any leftover broth into clean containers to cool slightly before covering and dating them. You can store these in the fridge to use within three days, or freeze them. Now, bring the stock to a rapid boil to further reduce it while you prepare and measure the other ingredients. Add the pasta, corn, peas, carrots, onions, thyme, and seasonings to the boiling broth (don’t be afraid to experiment with different ingredients; I rarely make the same exact chicken soup recipe twice in a row).
5. By the time I finish the above, the chicken has usually cooled enough to handle without burning my fingers. This next part–separating the meat from the bones–does take some time and effort, but after simmering so long any meat remaining on the bones comes off easily. With well-washed hands, I methodically pick through the pile, discarding the veggies and bones (search carefully for small ones!) and depositing the nice soup meat in one bowl and any fatty (or unappetizing-looking) bits in another bowl for my lucky cats and dog. Shred the soup meat, along with any leftover meat from your roast chicken dinner (if needed), and toss 2 to 3 cups into the soup.
6. After adding the meat, lower heat to a simmer until the noodles are cooked and the carrots tender, then adjust seasonings to taste. Tip: if the noodles soak up too much liquid, just add a little more of the reserved broth. You should end up with about 7 one-cup steaming bowl-fuls to help stifle those sniffles.
Be well, and thanks for reading!
PS. One more confession: I did not make the delicious chicken soup in this photo–someone in Ireland did. I was sick when we made our last batch of chicken soup, remember? I totally neglected to snap a pic.