Recipe: Day After Chicken Soup

I spent a lot of my teen and adult years being the household cook and, after decades of it, I really tired of it. I didn’t want to cook any more than I had to. I’ve honestly been quite uninspired for years and would happy live on takeout (and usually fast food) to avoid having to come home from work and then spend and hour or more in the kitchen. So I got out of the habit. About 18 months ago I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and most fast food became off limits. So I simply exchanged my fast food for (better) restaurant fare. But I still didn’t want to cook.

Then I took Penny de los Santos’ class on Food Photography at Creative Live and something inside of me changed.

Instead of thinking so much about what a chore it was and how I wanted the task of cooking over as quickly as possible so I could go on to something else, I found myself remembering. I remember learning to cook – mostly from my grandmother and some from my mother. Even some from a neighbor lady down the street who taught me to cook authentic Mexican food (though I still can’t seem to cook any of it for fewer than twenty – I almost have to stop cars on the street and throw enchiladas in the backseat before they can run away). I remember the thrill of the first time my grandmother let me cut up vegetables with the sharp knife and I remember getting better and better at it until she no longer felt she had to watch me do it but could move on to another task of her own. I remember the pride I felt when my pieces were all a consistent and correct size.

When had it become a slapdash chore?

Yesterday I realized I actually wanted to cook. I wanted to make one of my grandmother’s staples – her “Day After” Chicken soup. As I bought the few vegetables I’d need to go along with the two roast chicken carcasses in the fridge, I remembered the myriad of ways I’d both prepared and eaten this soup throughout my childhood and how my grandmother’s “waste not” approach had been both a bit of an embarrassment and a comfort to me as a child.

You see, my grandmother was a child of the Depression and she could pinch a penny until it screamed, especially when it came to food. I remember rolling my eyes at the number of similar-yet-different dinner reruns we would have when something was on sale. There were many times we’d have a roast chicken one night, then chicken soup the next one or two nights. You just didn’t waste food. My grandmother was also a self-taught cook and she didn’t measure much of anything. She even taught me to bake bread without actually measuring much besides the yeast. It’s all look, feel, texture and experience. This does mean, however, her recipes are more like “guidelines” than true recipes and not easy to put into written form, so pardon my attempts.

This “Day After” chicken soup was always full of whatever vegetables were on hand and often a handful or two of rice or chopped potatoes. I’ve omitted both of those because my husband is on a low carb diet and this way the soup will suit his needs as well as mine.

I got up early today and put the chickens into the stockpot to simmer and felt…eager. I waited a while before I chopped the vegetables and the more the scent of the chicken stock filled the house, the more eager I became. The more I remembered that same scent in my grandmother’s kitchen. I found myself clambering up on a barstool in my kitchen to take an overhead shot of the stockpot full of chicken parts simmering in herbs and water. (Note: barstools are not a recommended choice for this task – I almost fell into the pot. I have a new ladder/footstool on my Costco list now.). It’s not the best picture because of the lighting but I’ll do better next time.

Instead of chopping the vegetables as quickly as I could to just get the job done, I carefully cut them so they would be even and pretty and arranged them on a tray so I could take a picture of them before they went into the pot. I’ve never taken an ingredient shot before.

When I’d sorted through the chicken and put the meat back into the pot with the vegetables and stock and it was ready, I felt a pride in serving it to my family. A pride of craftsmanship and a pride of passing on a legacy of good, simple, healthy and frugal food to nourish the bodies of my loved ones. It’s downright delicious and everyone liked it. I even got a picture of my serving before I ate.

I’m going to keep practicing so my food photography improves but I feel like my desire to cook and to pass on the lessons I learned has come back. It’s no longer a chore to nourish my family — instead it nourishes something within me I thought had shriveled up and disappeared.

Day After Chicken Soup

2 chicken carcasses
3 Tbsp marjoram
3 Tbsp thyme
3 Tbsp basil
2-3 Tbsp minced garlic
5-6 carrots, coarsely chopped
5-6 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2 large sweet onions, chopped
3 Tbsp butter
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Place the chicken carcasses in a large stockpot and cover with fresh water. Add marjoram, thyme, basil and several tablespoons of salt and bring pot to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for several hours or until the chicken carcasses separate and the meat falls off the bones. Strain the pot contents through a mesh strainer, reserving the stock.

While chicken is simmering, prep the carrots, celery and onions.

Separate usable meat from the chicken bones, fat, gristle, etc. and tear meat into bite size chunks and you separate it. I do this by hand so I can feel the bones – don’t be like me in one way, though, and remember to take any rings off first. (Oops.)

In stockpot, saute onion and garlic in the butter until softened a bit. Add in the carrots, celery, strained stock and chicken meat and bring back to a simmer. Simmer gently until carrots and celery are tender and taste, adjusting seasoning as desired.

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