How to Make Quick and Easy Chicken Soup from Scratch: Cheater's Version
Chicken soup is not only good for the soul, it is very easy on the pocketbook. With a little bit of practice you can feed even a large family for very little money. You may be surprised at how easy it is to prepare. This article explains how to make chicken soup from the leftovers in your refrigerator.
- A half-eaten rotisserie chicken (2 to 4 cups total)
- 1 whole onion, chopped
- 1 apple, cored and chopped into small pieces
- 2 celery ribs
- 1 bag of shredded carrots
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced fine
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- sea salt
- 2 cans chicken broth or vegetable broth, or dried bouillon
- leftover vegetables from your refrigerator
- 2 cups of either small uncooked pasta, rice, corn, or two medium potatoes
- spices for flavoring
Start with a Rotisserie Chicken
Making chicken soup from leftovers can be something of an art form. The goal, of course, is to take the offals from your refrigerator without making the result taste awful. Fortunately, chicken soup is quite easy to prepare from scratch, especially if you *happen* to have purchased and eaten half of a rotisserie chicken the night before.
Rotisserie chicken is the meal that keeps on giving. You can buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from many full-service grocers for about quarter of the cost of dinner at a fast food restaurant. Rotisserie chicken is our family's easy-prep meal since we have three children and the costs of eating out really start to add up if we do it too often.
If I buy a rotisserie chicken and get two meals out of it, I am reducing the cost of dinner to next to nothing, especially considering the fact that my family will eat a small amount of soup the first night and my husband will end up taking the rest of the chicken soup in his lunch for the next several days. And then there's the "she's so fabulous" factor, too. People who perpetually eat TV dinners are usually very impressed by my soups and this makes my husband the object of much envy and admiration at work.
Taking Stock of Your Situation
The absolute key to making a mouth-wateringly tasty chicken soup is to make your own stock. But let's be honest, would you be reading an article called "a cheater's guide" if you really want to do that? I'm guessing you don't. I recommend you invest in two cans of good-quality chicken or vegetable stock. You can even use a good quality dried bouillion. I try to buy the salt-free varieties of stock then add in my own salt to taste.
Chop up the Chicken
So here's what you need to do instead. Start with that rotisserie chicken and (be prepared to get your fingernails a bit dirty), you need to pull all of the meat off of the bone. You will probably be shocked how much meat you can glean from a "half-eaten" chicken. My family usually eats the drumsticks and about half to two-thirds of the breast, leaving meat from several areas of the chicken uneaten. Make sure you turn over your chicken and get the meat from the underside, and don't forget the thighs. If you are thorough, depending on the size of your chicken, you may be able to get 2-4 cups of meat. You will also get some skin.
Next take an onion and two ribs of celery, and if you like garlic, then two to three cloves of garlic, and an apple, just for fun.
Use a generous 2 tablespoons of olive oil, or if you must, vegetable oil, and heat it to a simmer BELOW the medium setting on your stove. Put in these veggies, and simmer softly until the onions start to look golden brown. Now your kitchen will begin to smell like home cookin'!
Once the onions are browned you are ready to add your vegetables and canned broth. I usually use two cans of broth and then add equal amounts of water. If that doesn't seem like enough I sometimes add more water, then use a small dash of Worcestershire sauce or even soy sauce.
Vary the Veggies
While you are rummaging through your cupboards trying to find the stock you've been saving from last Thanksgiving, take a look at the vegetables in your refrigerator. If you have some left overs from the night before, now is your chance to use them up.
Personally I've read several experts on frugality who suggest that you save your veggies in the freezer in a special soup container just for the occasion, but that really does sound awful to me. If like my family, you have a tendancy to let your fresh veggies go to waste, do try to use them here. You can also use frozen mixed vegetables from the freezer aisle of your grocery store for uber-convenience. Frozen veggies are well-known for being more nutritious than canned.
Here in Arizona, red, yellow, and green sweet peppers are in season, and I love using these in my soup. I'm also a lazy cook, so when I get a chance, I pick up the shredded carrots at the dollar store intended for slaws. They are cheap and don't require any preparation that way. If some well-intending soul donates squash from their garden to your cause, now is the chance to use it.
Do avoid using cabbage, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower in your soup. I find these veggies are tasty on their own but in chicken soup? Use these in very limited quantities because their flavoring can be quite overpowering!
Select Some Starch
Your chicken soup will need some kind of starch to round out the flavor and to make your soup a filling family-style meal. Soup is so flexible you can use just about anything. I like to use potatoes, rice, or small rotini pasta, but even macaroni or hominy will do. Choose one of these options because all of them at once is total overkill. I personally love corn, because my grandpa was an old German farmer from Indiana and he grew the sweetest yellow corn around. I sneak it in whenever I can. If you want to be a little exotic and healthy, you can also plan to add some grains such as cracked wheat or rye. Note that some whole grains take a long time to prepare. If you have never cooked with them, make sure to do a little research to determine the cooking time.
Most starchy items need to be cooked last, but if you are cooking raw potatoes, make sure to give them enough time to cook through.
Savor with Seasonings
Your favorite seasonings will round out the flavor of your soup. You can be bold and creative or quite reserved here. The key to seasoning just about any soup though is to add the spices last. This is because spices don't retain their flavor if added too soon during your soup cooking.
If you are feeding a family with young children, don't spice too heavily, because children's taste buds are more sensitive than adults'. If you are cooking for adults go ahead and use your spices generously. I love to add freshly cracked pepper using a pepper mill, and usually add a generous pinch of oregano and basil. Sometimes I add a pinch of turmeric, paprika, or even chili powder if I'm in the mood.
Simmer then Serve it Up
Once you've mixed up all your ingredients, turn the heat down to low and simmer your soup for a while. The starchy items in your soup will add flavor and sometimes even thicken your broth a bit. If you are cooking with whole-grain add-ins, simmering can soften and cook the grains for tastier eating.
Soups are great served with fresh homemade bread, corn bread, or rolls from the bakery.
© 2009 Carolyn Augustine