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Chicken Soup: Good for the Body and the Soul

Some foods are good for the body and the soul. Just thinking about homemade chicken soup conjures up all sorts of good memories.

Feeling a cold coming on? Make mine chicken soup, please, with some noodles. Feeling well? How about a robust soup, with lots of colorful vegetables, chunks of chicken, and big noodles?

Is this making you hungry? There's an easy remedy. Cook up a pot of chicken soup yourself. It's easy, inexpensive, and offers the added benefits of little fat and lots of nutrients.

Will it cure a cold? Probably not; at least its fabled curative powers have yet to be confirmed under controlled laboratory conditions. But while lacking hard evidence, there are still many believers in the power of chicken soup.

The use of chicken soup to fight colds has been traced to the 12th century, when Moses Maimonides, a rabbi and doctor in Egypt, prescribed soup made from a fat hen to relieve a cold.

Tips for making soup

Whether the bird (chicken or turkey) you start with is whole or in parts—or is what's left of dinner—you can make a soup that satisfies your body and your soul. The first step is to make the flavorful liquid base. In professional cooking circles, it's called a broth when it starts with fresh meat, and a stock when bones yield a more gelatinous texture.

  • Keep it simple or make it fancy. If you want to wrap herbs into a bouquet garni, feel free. But if you want a lot of flavor without a lot of fuss, garlic, carrot, celery, and onion do just fine. Add peppercorns if you like. Don't add salt at this point; serve it at the table. Some recipes suggest using the giblets. Many cooks skip that—but do drop in the neck for extra flavor.

  • Strain it when it contains bones. Better to toss the bits, clarify your broth, and cook new vegetables in it before you serve it.

  • Cool it. This is the best way to get the fat out of your soup. When you let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, all the fat rises to the top and congeals. When it's cold, you can just scrape off the yellow fat.

  • Use your noodles separately. If you like your soup with lots of broth, don't put your cooked noodles in until you're ready to serve. Noodles—and rice, too—will soak up the soup.

  • Suit yourself. When you're ready to serve your soup, think about what it looks like. Broth by itself is pale, almost colorless. Noodles and chicken pieces add texture but not brightness. That's OK if you're not feeling well, because a cold or flu just needs the warm comfort and simple nourishment. But when you're well, you'll want the whole, colorful palette of vegetables and all the vitamins and minerals they provide. Carrots have beta carotene, mushrooms add niacin (one of the basic B vitamins), tomatoes add vitamin C, onions and celery put fiber into the pot. Broccoli, spinach, string beans or peas have the vitamin virtuosity of greens. You get the idea.

  • Make it on your time. How long do you cook it? Until it looks like soup. If you're using a whole fresh chicken, after about two hours it will start to slide off the bone and there will be enough flavor in the pot. If it's carcass soup, you may want to let it simmer longer, till you have total meltdown.

  • Save it for when you need it. Freeze some soup in one-cup containers for recipes that call for soup as an ingredient. Some cooks make soup cubes in ice trays.

Carcass soup recipe

Why enjoy a bird only once if you can make broth out of what's left? If you've removed the meat from the bones before serving, you can make carcass soup.

1 carcass of an oven-roasted chicken or turkey (6 or more pounds before cooking)

4 quarts or more of water, at least enough to cover all the bones in your stockpot

2–3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 or 2 large carrots, chopped in big pieces

1 or 2 large stalks of celery, chopped in big pieces

1 large peeled onion

Put all ingredients into a big soup pot. Heat on high until it begins to boil. Skim foam and discard. Cover partway with a lid. Reduce heat and let simmer for about three hours.

Strain soup into large bowl, discarding everything but liquid. Depending on clarity, you may want to strain it twice. Refrigerate and skim fat.

Each 1 cup serving contains: 15 calories, 3 grams protein, 0 grams fat and 1 gram carbohydrates.

Blushing chicken noodle soup recipe

6 cups of homemade chicken broth

2 large carrots, scraped and sliced or diced

1 large stalk of celery, chopped or sliced

1 onion, chopped (approximately 1 cup)

1 cup of sliced fresh mushrooms

2 cups of cooked chicken, diced (approximately 12 ounces)

1 cup of canned plum tomatoes (about 4 whole tomatoes) coarsely chopped, with liquid

3 cups cooked egg noodles (approximately 2 cups of dry noodles)

Put all ingredients except noodles into soup pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until carrots are cooked. Put 1/2 cup of noodles into each bowl. Ladle soup over noodles.

Each serving contains: 246 calories, 21 grams protein, 3 grams fat and 29 grams carbohydrates.

Serves six.

Basic broth recipe

1 whole fresh chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, with neck

3 quarts of water (12 cups)

2–3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

2 large carrots, chopped in big pieces

1 large stalk of celery, chopped in big pieces

1 medium peeled onion

Put all ingredients into a big soup pot. Heat on high until it begins to boil. Skim foam and discard. Put a lid over about three-quarters of the pot. Reduce heat and let simmer for about two hours, stirring occasionally.

When chicken begins to loosen from bones, take it out of the pot and let it cool enough to handle. You can use the meat for chicken salad or whatever you like, but save some for the chicken noodle soup.

Strain the broth into a bowl, discarding vegetables and bones. Refrigerate and skim fat before using the broth for soup.

Makes approximately 2 1/2 quarts of soup. Each 1 cup serving contains: 15 calories, 3 grams protein, 0 grams fat and 1 gram carbohydrates.