Roast Chicken Day 2: Leftover Soup
Growing up, one of the meals we had periodically was something that my mom called “refrigerator soup”. As unappetizing as that sounds, it was usually quite delicious — and always a bit different, because as the name suggests, it was primarily designed as a meal that would use up the last bits of whatever was in the fridge. As an adult, I’ve gained a new appreciation for leftovers, and soup has become a regular comfort-food around my house.
In yesterday’s post I covered the makings of a roast chicken with bread stuffing. Since roast chicken leaves you with plenty of meat and a chicken carcass left over (excellent for making stock), today naturally became a soup day. You can make your own stock for soup, or just use store bought to speed things up. If you’re using store bought stock, you can skip down to the “making the soup” section of this post.
Making the Stock
I briefly outlined this process in yesterday’s post, but I’ll go into more detail here. Stock is essentially water that has been flavoured by boiling it with other things (usually meat, but you can do veggie stock as well). Making stock from leftover bones takes much longer than making stock from fresh cuts of meat, but is a great way of stretching the food budget by making use of things that would otherwise just be thrown away. I like to use the slow-cooker for this purpose, but it can also be done in a stock pot or dutch oven if you’re going to be home to supervise it (I don’t like leaving the stove on when I’m not home, although others will disagree with me on this point because the heat used is very low).
Preparing stock takes very little effort, but quite a bit of time. I’ve gotten in the habit of starting stock late in the evening, so that I can leave it simmering overnight and through most of the next morning. On the stove you’d only need about 4 hours to get a good stock (so it can be started at lunch time and you’ll have soup in time for dinner); in the slow cooker you’ll want to go for 12 or more, so starting the day before is preferable.
Once you’ve cleaned most of the meat from your chicken carcass, place the bones into the slow cooker along with several cloves of garlic or a small onion, herbs (bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, parsley, etc) and some other vegetables (celery and carrots are traditional, but use whatever you like). Don’t feel as though you have to use the “good” parts of the veggies; carrot skins or the tough ends of broccoli stems are just fine, since you won’t actually be eating these, they’re just there for flavour. I also like to throw in a dried chili pepper or two and a sprinkling of whole peppercorns, since I’m a fan of spicy.
Once your slow-cooker is about 2/3rds full with various flavours, fill it with water. I also like to add a little bit (about half a cup) of something acidic, to help in breaking down the connective tissue in the bones and getting all the flavour out. Wine, vinegar, lemon juice, or tomato sauce all work well. Cover everything up, set it on low, and go do something else for a while.
Once your stock is prepared, run it through a strainer or use a slotted spoon to remove all of the chunky bits, which can now be thrown away. If there’s a layer of fat on top of the stock, skim off as much as you can with a spoon or spatula — don’t worry about getting all of it, but you don’t want it to be TOO greasy.
You can use your stock for making soup right away, store it in the fridge for a couple of days, or freeze it — either all in one container to make soup later, or in ice cube trays so that you’ll be able to use a little bit at a time in making sauces, stir fries, etc. Treat frozen stock cubes the same way you’d treat a bouillon cube when adding them to recipes.
Making the Soup
If you’re doing your soup in a slow-cooker, you’ll want to start 6 to 8 hours before dinner time. If you’re making it on the stove, you can do it in two.
The most important thing in making soup from scratch is understanding how your ingredients will fall apart. Things that will retain their shape (veggies, chunks of meat, etc) go in first and spend some time simmering, to blend the flavours. Things that will fall apart and turn to mush (lentils, rice, potatoes, pasta, etc) don’t go in until the cooking time is nearly finished — during the last hour in the slow-cooker, or during the last half-hour on the stove.
You can use almost anything that’s in your fridge for making your soup: any veggies, any meat. I’ll go through a very basic chicken and veggie variety, here, but don’t feel at all bound by what I’ve used.
For the meat in my soup, I cut up the remainder of the dark meat from my roast chicken (the white meat I’m saving for sandwiches). Be careful to remove any bits of gristle and cartilage, since nobody likes getting a bite of that in their soup.
For the veggies, I cut up an onion, some button mushrooms, and some rapini. The leafy parts of the rapini I’ll throw in towards the end of the cooking time, but the harder stems can go in right away.
I never measure how much of anything I’m putting into a soup. I just add things until it starts to look good. What your soup looks like now is pretty similar to what it will look like when finished, so it’s easy to judge by eye how much to put in.
Throw everything in the pot, cover, and simmer on low heat.
When you get to the last little bit of cooking time (the last hour in the slow cooker, or the last half-hour on the stove), it’s time to add the softer ingredients. Be a little bit cautious with things like lentils and rice, which expand when cooking — it’s easy to add too much. I stick to adding just a handful or two — less than a cup. As you get more practiced at making soup, you might want to increase that amount, but it’s better to start with less and then move upwards. Leafy veggies like the rapini I’m using, or things like spinach, kale, or cilantro, can also get added now: saving them for the end means that they’ll get wilted down nicely, but won’t get overcooked and slimy.
Cover and let simmer for the remainder of the cooking time, and then serve! Soup is pretty much a whole meal in one pot, but I usually like to have a slice of bread or some biscuits on the side, just to break up the flavour a little bit.
***NOTE: I never add salt until the very end of the cooking time, just before the soup is going to be served. It’s hard to tell just how rich your flavours are going to be before the cooking time it finished, and adding salt too early can result in over-salting. Before you spoon your soup out into bowls, give it a taste and decide whether a dash of salt should be added.
Leftover soup can be stored in the fridge for a few days, or frozen in serving-sized amounts to be re-heated whenever you desire it. I usually have at least a few servings of soup hiding away in the back of my freezer for days when I just don’t feel like cooking.