It was just a little over a month ago that I posted about making chicken soup from scratch for the first time. I went with a very basic and simple method for my initial attempt and the result was pretty good. But I wanted it to be better and received a few tips from experienced chicken soup makers on how to take it up to another level.
One suggestion from both my wife and friend, Nancy, was to double-cook the soup. By that, I mean making it in the traditional manner, then straining the broth and letting it sit overnight before adding more chicken and fresh vegetables to it for another go on the stove.
I settled on giving this method a shot and was inspired to do so as soon as possible when my wife came home from the supermarket one night last week with a package of chicken backs. I had mentioned in that earlier post that I wanted to use backs to make the soup last time but settled for a whole chicken when I couldn’t find them at any of the supermarkets near me.
To supplement the backs, I picked up a pack of drumsticks that I would use for the soup’s second go-around on the stove, as well as aromatic vegetables and herbs.
I began the two-day process of making my second batch of chicken soup by placing four chicken backs on the bottom of a Dutch oven, covering them with cold water, and placing the pot on the stove over medium heat.
While the water with the chicken in it was heating up, I stuffed some fresh Italian parsley, dill and a couple bay leaves into an herb pouch and peeled the carrots, onions and parsnip. I placed all of that, along with the celery, salt, pepper and a healthy pinch of sugar* into the pot. Once the water had reached a low boil, I turned down the heat and let the soup simmer – stirring occasionally – for a little over two hours. Various recipes I read indicated that it’s important for the cooking process that the soup not be allowed to boil too vigorously at any point.
At the end of the simmering period, I picked out the backs with kitchen tongs – my thought being that I’d get some meat from them to place back into the soup when it was ready to be eaten – and ran everything else through a strainer. After the broth had cooled sufficiently, I placed it in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, after scraping off a relatively small amount of fat from the top, I placed the broth back onto the stove over medium heat and added six chicken drumsticks to the pot. When it was close to hot, I threw in another batch of fresh carrots and celery along with an onion. I skipped the herbs this time and didn’t add any additional seasoning.
I let it go on the stove for a little over 90 minutes, then I picked out the drumsticks and carrots and put them aside for later. The celery and onion would not be included in the final product.
The color of the broth after I had removed all of the solids was extremely intense – not quite like any other chicken soup I’ve ever seen.
After the broth had cooled, I poured it into a pair of one-quart plastic containers. I also picked all the meat off the drumsticks and broke it down into small pieces that would go into the soup before serving.
Rather than eating the soup immediately, I decided to give it another night in the refrigerator so I could skim off any additional fat. To my surprise, the layer of fat that I found the next day was so thin that I didn’t even bother removing it. A little fat is a good thing for chicken soup.
Even more surprising was the consistency of the broth after being double-cooked and spending a night in the refrigerator. It was gelatinous rather than liquid. My wife explained that this was from the collagen that is broken down when boiling bones – and I boiled a lot of bones for a long time.
It only took a couple minutes on the stove for the gelatinous soup to return to liquid. Once it did, I added a few carrots and some shredded chicken. When the soup was close to a boil, I threw in egg noodles and let it go about another five minutes minutes – or until the noodles were sufficiently soft.
After two days of preparation, it was finally time to eat my twice-cooked chicken soup. I knew the broth would be strong, but I didn’t know if strong would equate with good.
It did. This was unquestionably some of the best chicken soup I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. It was bursting with wonderful flavor.
My one regret is that my late great-grandmothers, grandmothers and aunts who used to make chicken soup for me in my younger years aren’t around to taste it. I know they’d be proud.
Now that I’ve made chicken soup with both a whole chicken and backs, I would highly recommend the latter. I know a lot of purists will continue using a whole bird, but I found that the backs work just as well flavor-wise and lead to a lot less skimming of fat and the other unpleasant stuff that rises to the top when using a whole chicken. It’s also easier to strain the broth at the end when using backs.
Another good thing about using backs – at least in my case – is that I was able to make the soup in the pot of my choice. You may recall that when I used a whole chicken last time, I had no choice but to make the soup in a bigger pot and wound up with a lot more than I really wanted.
The downside of using backs is that you get very little meat from them. In fact, it was a waste of time to pick them out of the soup. I should have just let them go into the strainer with the vegetables after the first cook. But if – like me – you want a lot of chicken pieces in your soup, you can still get that when double cooking it by using a meaty cut – like drumsticks – for the second session on the stove.
*Two of my late great-aunts, who used to make much of the chicken soup I ate during my formative years, would always put a little sugar in it.
Twice-Cooked Chicken Soup
(Makes about two quarts of soup)
For the first cooking session:
4 chicken backs
Enough cold water to fully cover the backs by at least a couple inches in your pot
A handful each of fresh Italian parsley and dill
Two bay leaves
4 large carrots, peeled and cut in half
4 celery stalks, cut in half
1 or 2 parsnips, peeled
2 onions, peeled and cut in half
Salt and pepper to taste
A healthy pinch of sugar
For the second cooking session:
The broth from the first cooking session
6 chicken drumsticks or thighs – or three whole legs
6 carrots, peeled and cut in half
4 celery stalks, cut in half
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
The finished broth
The shredded chicken meat
The carrots from the second cooking session
1. Place the chicken backs in a soup pot and fully cover them with cold water by at least a couple inches. Move to the stove over medium heat.
2. While the water and chicken backs are heating, place your herbs into an herb pouch** and peel and cut the vegetables. When the soup water is hot, but not yet boiling, add the herbs and vegetables to the pot, along with the salt, pepper and sugar. Lower the heat before the water boils too vigorously and allow it to simmer – stirring occasionally – for two hours while mostly covered.
3. After two hours, remove the soup pot from the heat and allow it to cool off. Place a strainer into another pot that is sufficiently large to hold your broth and pour the soup through the strainer. All of the solids – bones, vegetables and herb pouch – should go into the strainer with just the broth in the new pot. When the broth is cool enough, place it in the refrigerator overnight.
4. The next day remove the broth from the refrigerator and skim off any fat that has accumulated on top before placing it back on the stove over medium heat.
5. While the broth reheats, peel and cut your carrots, onions and celery and place them into the pot along with the drumsticks. Allow the soup to simmer for 90 minutes to two hours.
6. After the soup has finished simmering, pick out the carrots and drumsticks and set aside for later. Run the soup through a strainer and discard the celery and onion.
7. When the drumsticks are no longer too hot to handle, remove and shred the meat from them.
8. At this point, you can either prepare the soup for service immediately or place the broth, shredded chicken and carrots in separate containers and refrigerate for later use. Whenever you decide to eat it, place your desired amount of broth in a small pot with as much shredded chicken and chopped carrots as you’d like and heat over low heat. Add egg noodles when the soup is hot but not yet boiling. When the noodles are sufficiently soft, pour the soup into a bowl and enjoy.
** If not using an herb pouch, feel free to place the un-chopped herbs right into the water, as they will be strained out at the end of the first cook.
3 thoughts on “Souped-Up Chicken Soup”
There isn’t much meat on the back, but it’s the best meat on the chicken, and well worth the work.
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Looks great, and leaving the carrots in big pieces makes it easy for me to avoid them! ;^)
I didn’t see you mention it, but I take it the vegetables from the first cook were simply discarded at the end of the process? That seems like the logical thing to do.
Thanks. You’re right about the vegetables from the first cook.