Dear Heidi,

I think this is pretty close to how everyone makes their chicken soup - roasting the bones to make a cup or two of brown stock to add to the prepared broth just makes it taste better. It's totally scientific! Roasting the bones causes the Maillard reaction. That makes them more savory, and leads to the development of fond (the caramelized bits of intensely flavored bits on the bottom of the pan, usually used in the making of sauces and gravies) which you can melt back into your stock.

So the same thing goes for beef broth - if you're making a beef-based soup (my favorite is a beef soup with barley, ginger, root vegetables, a few grates of orange zest - and a splash of fresh orange juice to be stirred in at the last minute) and you can get your butcher to give you a soup bone or two (even in shiny grocery stores this is usually possible), roast the bones until they're brown and the meat that still sticks to it is brown and crispy before sticking it in your pot and covering it with liquid (water if you're making stock, prepared broth if you're shortcutting). The delish!

My mom also usually roasts the hell out of a couple of turkey legs the day before Thanksgiving just to make extra fond for the gravy. And it's pretty much the best gravy ever - very flavorful. I share our kitchen sekrits!


Housecall Chicken Soup.

Makes about 8 servings. Keeps well in the fridge for up to 3 days. 

Four whole chicken breasts (bone and skin)
Carrots, celery, and onion (equal parts onion and celery diced, about 1 c. - carrots peeled and sliced, and I do the whole bag because I think the ratio of chicken to carrot should be about equal, personally - ymmv)
Small knob of ginger
2 cloves garlic
2 boxes of broth - fat-free, sodium-free and organic will taste best.
Bag of egg noodles
Herbs and spices (suggestions follow)
A couple of fresh limes.

Short version: (details follow after)
1. Debone chicken; roast the remainder while chopping the vegetables and breast meat).
2. Simmer the roasted bones (and don't forget to deglaze the pan to get the fond and add that to the pot too) with herbs and spices, then strain and skim broth. It will be darker and richer than the usual light yellow broth (you're making a "brown stock" not a "white stock").
3. Lightly brown the onions, celery, and chicken in a little butter in the bottom of the stock pot
4. Pour fresh broth back in the pot, add prepared broth for volume
5. Add carrots, garlic, and and chicken
6. Bring to boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until carrots are tender but not mushy.
7. Ladle soup over a bowl of cooked wide egg noodles, squeeze a wedge of lime over the bowl, and serve.**

(I make the noodles separately and pour the soup over them when serving. They get too mushy otherwise, especially if you're going to have leftovers. Fresh lime juice on chicken soup is something you find in traditional Thai and Mexican recipes, but I think it gives a nice tang of freshness even on good plain Midwestern chicken noodle, and it doesn't taste out of place or as strange as it might sound - try it!) 

On roasting bones:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel back the skin (leaving it attached to the bone though) and debone the chicken (this happens in a flash, no knives necessary - chicken practically jumps off the bone if you just slip your finger between the flesh and the bone and slide it like you're opening an envelope, and give it a little yank if it gets stuck along the way or at either end). I just take the breast and the tender - the rest will hopefully fall off and turn to fond.

Put the bones in a roasting pan, ribside down (skin and flesh side up) and pop it in the oven. It will take about 45 minutes for the skin and bones to get really nice and brown and crunchy looking. There will also be a lot of fat on the bottom of the pan when they're done roasting - pour all that off and hopefully you'll have a nice tablespoon or so of fond (the sticky brown caramelized and crunchy bits that stick to pans) on the bottom. If you can get it up with a spatula, brill. You might have to deglaze the pan with some boiling water though. But you wanted a cup of tea anyway, right? Deglazing is when you add a little hot liquid to the pan and then gently scrape up and melt the fond into the liquid.

During those 30-45 minutes of roasting you'll chop up the chicken breast, the onions and celery, the carrots, and mince garlic and the little knob of ginger. That accounts for 10-15 minutes, anyway.  You're near done with all the prep you'll have to do at this point.

Making the broth:
Once the bones are done roasting, put them in the bottom of a stockpot, cover them with water, and season liberally with herbs and spices and a healthy dose of salt. I throw in around three bay leaves, a little handful of peppercorns, a stick or three of thyme, the ginger, and a real big pinch of lemongrass. I don't tie off or bag the herbs because it's going to get strained anyway. All you really need is the salt, pepper, and thyme - I wouldn't leave out the thyme - but everything else can just be to your taste or based on what you have in the kitch.

Then I leave it to simmer and go do something else. After about 45 min-an hour it's done - you can tell because it will smell really good and when you can lift a chicken breast out of the pot and there's nothing left of the caramel brown color, the flavor is all pretty much in the broth and not on the bone. I usually take the large pieces out of the pot at that point and leave it to simmer awhile longer to reduce it (the less water, the stronger the flavor, and this stuff is basically an intesifier and seasoning for the prepared broth to follow), but you can skip that if you want to reduce cooking time. Strain it through a sieve. There probably isn't that much fat in it because you roasted the bones long enough and poured the fat off earlier, so I wouldn't worry about having to clarify it. If you have a fat separator for making gravy, awesome. If not, it's OK.

Assembling the soup:
Add a little unsalted butter to the bottom of the pan and quickly saute the onion, celery, and chicken in it til it just starts to brown- this will help the chicken from drying out in the soup and give it more flavor.

Add the stock, broth, chicken, carrots, and the garlic, and let it simmer gently until the carrots are tender but not mushy - about 20 minutes.

Ladle soup over a bowl of cooked wide egg noodles, squeeze a wedge of lime over the bowl, and serve.




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