Sam’s been feeling unwell the last few days, so I have my magic chicken soup simmering in the kitchen, where it’s been going for most of the day. I don’t know that it’s actual magic, but it falls under the canopy of what he calls my “weird hippie magic”, a collection of folk cures, broke cures, food cures, and general woo that make a body feel better for no solid reason.
I’ve spent a lot of time doing the things that make me feel okay lately: making art, cooking food, doing yoga, writing letters, meditating, spinning yarn, working with our dogs, making things, planning gifts, painting, working on the magazine. It’s becoming enough, although I’m leaning into it, too. I’ve learned that trick; it helps.
It seems like a lot of people in my general circle could use a little something that makes a body feel better: everywhere I look, I find someone who is hurting, and while I’m looking for something to do about that there’s no fix for this moment, no putting it all right in the right now. Here’s what I’ve got, everybody: I’ve got food. I’ve got weird, hippie magic, I’ve got hugs, I have way too many animals, I’ve got The Twilight Zone original series on DVD, and I’ve got good, stick- to- your- ribs comfort. Here, friends: have my magic chicken soup recipe. It looks like many homemade chicken soup recipes, except this one is mine. Let’s do this thing.
Roast a chicken, a middling- sized one. For me, that means the chicken should be between 4- 6 pounds. Aim for 6 pounds if you can- we aren’t screwing around here, are we? We are making magic, and magic is not for rookies or the weak of heart. I prefer to combine Julia Child’s prep (for tender, lightly lemon- scented white meat) and Mark Bittman’s cast iron cooking technique* (for speed & delicious skin- crisping). If you’re in a hurry, you can grab a rotisserie bird- I used to like this Baltimore place in Pigtown for rotisserie chicken that was cash- only and on the first floor of somebody’s house, but picking it up at the grocery store is fine in a pinch, too. (Nick’s, in case anybody local wants some of the best chicken in town.) Just don’t buy anything with a specific flavor like BBQ or honey garlic; that’ll make this go all cattywampus, okay?
While the chicken is cooling, chop up a nice big onion; peel and crush at least four cloves of garlic (six to eight is better, but you know your belly); chop or grate a large piece of ginger- to taste, but I like a piece that’s about 1- 2 inches; roughly chop up about 2- 3 cups of greens; and cut up 4- 5 potatoes into bite sized pieces- we use the red ones and leave the skins on, but you do you. Get out some unsalted butter, chicken stock, and herbs, too- I like fresh thyme and bay here, and I’m pretty generous with them.
Melt four tablespoons of butter in a large pot/ Dutch oven, then add the onion and let it cook on medium heat for three minutes- (wait for those onions to go translucent, which is more important than adhering to time). Chuck in the garlic, then the ginger, and let those saute another minute, until you really start to smell them, then add your herbs. As soon as those herbs are fragrant, add the chopped greens— make sure to really toss them into the existing mixture, and stir them well. Cook the greens down for a few minutes, then once they’ve softened, add at least 16 ounces of chicken stock and get that basic mess to a gentle simmer. (We’ll be making our own stock in a separate pot off to the side; if, for future versions of this recipe, you can save some of the stock we make today, it’s awesome to use that stock in future versions of this recipe right here.)
Off to the side, you’ll want a stock pot and a bowl in order to start taking apart that chicken. The carcass will go in the stock pot, and all the meat you remove will go into the bowl. Once you’ve removed the meat from the carcass, add any chicken skin left over from the process to the stock pot, as well as odd vegetable ends you might have in your kitchen (we keep a bag in our freezer for making stock), herbs (anything about to dry out as well as stem ends are great here), one chopped onion, and at least one clove of smashed garlic. Fill the pot at least 2/3 full with water (it needs to cover the skeleton completely) and bring to a simmer.
Break the chicken into bite- sized pieces with your fingers (or, if you’re more civilized than I am, take the time to use a knife), then add the meat to the first pot (with the onion/ garlic/ ginger/ greens mixture). Drop heat on first pot down to low, and check liquid level; add more stock if necessary. (Meat and greens should be covered.)
Maintain the stock pot at a simmer for 2-6 hours (longer is better), keeping the first pot on low heat. Keep checking on the stock pot every so often; there’s no bringing it back if it completely evaporates, but that does take a pretty long time.
When you’ve decided that the stock is ready— be it because six hours have passed, or maybe because only two have passed but you’re just so hungry already, damnit, or because you tasted it and the earth trembled just the smallest bit (a good stock can really be that nice, sometimes)— strain the stock that you’ve just made and now add it to the first pot, the one with the meat and greens and garlic and ginger onion and whatnot. Now, crank up the heat under that business— we need to get that to a boil.
Once that’s boiling, add the chopped potatoes. When the potatoes are soft, add egg noodles. I forgot to tell you about the egg noodles. I don’t write recipies for a living, friends. There are egg noodles in this, too! Add a couple handfuls of those to this mess, if you like that kind of thing. We do. If you don’t, though, totally skip it. (I’ll list out ingredients! I really wouldn’t want to tech edit a cookbook, though. The things you learn when you randomly decide to share stuff with people.) Once the egg noodles are cooked, zest the lemon and lightly sprinkle zest over soup while seving. (You can juice the lemon and add the juice, too, if you want.) Ta- da!
Double- check seasoning before serving; add salt & pepper if necessary. We serve this with a good crusty bread (actually, Bittman’s No- Knead bread is great here, too, if I’ve thought ahead) and a serious salad, assuming I can get it past a sickie. (If I can’t, more salad for me- win!)
That ingredients list, btw (I included ingredients for Ms. Child’s chicken prep; disregard the sage and olive oil, and drop it down to one lemon if you aren’t preparing a chicken her way):
- 1 chicken (4-6 lbs)
- 2 onions
- fresh ginger (1-2 inch piece)
- 1 head fresh garlic
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- greens (dealer’s choice: kale, mustard, chard)
- 4-5 red potatoes
- fresh herbs (I prefer thyme & bay)
- chicken stock (homemade or low sodium)
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- fresh black pepper
- two- three lemons
- fresh sage
It might look like a lot, but it really isn’t; I set this up early in the day and pretty much just let it run its course, making the house smell amazing and like I worked much harder on dinner than I actually did. (I have a lazy version of coq au vin that has this affect, too; low and slow cooking is the business when you want to make something delicious to feed a group but don’t feel like being locked in the kitchen.)
I probably should have shared Sam’s steak chili recipe with you, but we didn’t eat that this week (and it isn’t mine to share) so this is what you get, folks. It is super delicious and deeply comforting on chilly, sad, sick days, but make sure you have some leftovers; like most soups, this is even better on day two.
I hope that wherever you are, you and yours are safe, comfortable, and calm.
*– If you don’t have a cast iron pan big enough to roast a chicken, check out Home Goods or TJ Maxx, if you’re stateside. They always have Lodge pans for a song- as well as occasional Le Creuset seconds! There’s really nothing as reliable or as capable of making reliably delicious food as cast iron, and damn, they’re the easiest things in the world to care for.