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Heavenly Chicken Soup

Until a couple weeks ago, I was not aware that chicken soup could be sublime. I’d had plenty of chicken soup in my life of course, including everything from Campbell’s (When I smell the instant kind, it brings back childhood memories of sore throats and long afternoons watching Gilligan’s Island) to countless versions of homemade. Many were pretty mundane, some downright icky. Many were delicious (the Creamy Smoked Chicken & Wild Rice soup at Vail’s Wildwood Shelter comes to mind). But this poached chicken soup, which I learned to make at Cook Street in Denver, is sublime. Really.

This soup isn’t hard to make, but it takes some planning. I promise it’s worth it. My five-year-old daughter proclaimed it was the best thing she’d ever eaten, “including chocolate cupcakes!” How’s that for an endorsement? Since it’s finally starting to feel like soup season — and since making chicken stock just seems like a wonderfully fall-ish thing to do — I thought this would be a good time to share the recipe.

Poached Chicken and Vegetable Soup

The first thing you need to do is get yourself a whole chicken (3 1/2-4 lbs.). If you want it to actually taste like chicken, it needs to be farm fresh, organic, and preferably pastured. If you only eat conventional chicken parts, you may have forgotten what chicken tastes like. You’ll be blown away when you get a good one. I can’t say this enough: The difference between natural (and I mean really natural) chicken and the pumped-up, beak-less birds raised in industrial chicken plants is dramatic. Here is a list of farmers that can get you chicken(s), or you can get one from a good natural market. While many say their chickens are “free range,” that term doesn’t actually mean much, so ask the butcher about how the chickens were raised.

While this is cooking, it fills your house with a warm and delicious smell.

Here’s the rest of the shopping list.

For stock:

2 onions, peeled and cut into large pieces
1-2 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
1-2 celery stalks, washed and cut into large pieces
Some herbs (fresh thyme, a bay leaf, and about 10 parsley stems; if you want to get fancy, tie them all together, using one of the stems, into a bouquet garni)

For the soup:

2 onions, peeled and diced (about 1/2″)
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, washed and diced
4-6 tbs. unsalted (organic) butter
1/2 cup dry white wine or Madeira (or tawny port)
Persillade (crucial to the soup and simple to make; just combine 1 part mashed garlic to 4 parts finely chopped parsley with a pinch of kosher salt)
1 package fresh whole wheat linguine
Salt & pepper to taste

To make stock:

In the morning, rinse the chicken under cold running water and discard innards. Place chicken in a large stockpot or Dutch oven and cover with cold water and a few pinches of kosher salt. Bring to a simmer, but don’t let the chicken boil. Add the vegetables and herbs. Simmer 1 1/2 hours, occasionally skimming the the layer of fat that forms on the surface of the stock with a wooden spoon or ladle. Remove chicken from the pot and place on a rack (over a sheet pan) to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, remove the poached meat from the chicken, and put it in the refrigerator. Place the picked-over carcass and bones back into the stockpot and continue cooking for 2 hours. Put a large colander over another stockpot or large bowl and strain the bones, vegetables, and herbs from the stock. Discard the bones, etc. and keep the stock warm in a pot.

Sometime while you’re waiting for the stock to cook, make the persillade: Use a sharp knife to mash the garlic and create a paste with the chopped parsley and salt. Set aside.

"Sweat" the veggies under a cover instead of sautéeing them.

To make the soup:

Cook the diced veggies (all should be diced about the same size) in 2-4 tbs. of butter and a pinch of salt over low heat, covered (parchment paper cut or folded into a large circle works best for this, although a few layers of paper towels would work, too), stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer. In a separate pot of boiling water, cook pasta until just tender, about 5 minutes. Remove soup from heat and finish with salt, pepper, remaining butter, and wine to taste.

To serve: Cut chicken meat into bite-size pieces and place in individual bowls. Drain pasta and divide into the bowls. Top with hot soup, garnish with persillade.

I know it looks pretty basic, but it's really dreamy.

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