Chicken Soup for the Existentialist

2 Chicken Breasts
2 Carrots
1/2 Onion
3 Celery Sticks
2 Potatoes
All purpose flour
Olive Oil
5 cups of stock (any kind)

Now there's nothing quite like a bowl of soup.


Especially on a rainy day.

Of which we've had two.

And I missed the first one.

Anyway, as soon as the rain started coming down I gave my wife several soupy/stewy/chowdery options for dinner. Chili, beef stew, chicken soup. She proceeded to give me several reasons why it should be my choice, and then gave me several reasons why my choice should be chicken soup. I don't know how she does it . . . but she was right both times.

So chicken soup it is.

Or was.

Now growing up as a kid (as if there is any other way) my impression of chicken soup was a salty frothy noodley thing that gets poured out of a can or shaken from a flavor pouch, a little water, a little heat, and you're good to go.

I continue to feel that way. At 38 years old I could still live off of Top Ramen and cold pizza if pressed, which means two things; One, I'm good at being poor, and two, I've never quite grown up. Both of which I'm okay with.

Anyway, there was point in time in which I wanted to learn how to cook things from scratch, both as an intellectual exercise, and to validate all the kitchen training I'd received at my mother-in-law's knee. Chicken soup was high on that list.

The kitchen smell alone is worth every minute, but unfortunately, chicken soup from scratch takes all day, is very messy, and it's one redeeming quality is that you get to say you'd made it from scratch.

There has to be a way to get all the goody goodness of flavor and kitchen smell without so much fuss. And . . . of course there is . . . or I'd be doing something else this morning.

First step is to cut everything up into bits.

Because chicken is so dangerous, I prefer to cut up everything else first and set aside. The onions should be diced thin, as should the carrots and celery. I don't know how you feel about the size of your potatoes, but I like them to be at least spoon sized. I don't want them to break apart and dissolve into the brine too easily. If you don't like potato skin, gold potatoes are best. If you do, red potatoes are even better. Russets are fine I guess whatever.

Once everything is chopped and as far away from the chicken breasts as possible, go ahead and start cutting the meat. For best results, chop the chicken up into little finger tip sized squares. Careful not to cut your own finger tip. If you like big meaty chunks, go ahead, who am I to judge?

If you do not have a garlic press . . . go out and get yourself one. If you're too lazy to do that (and I totally understand) make sure you crush the garlic with the flat side of your knife before chopping up. The reason for this is that the cellular insides of the garlic need to be released and can only do that by being crushed. If you just slice the cloves, you're never breaking the cells and you won't get the full load of taste and aroma.

Okay, heat up your soup pot, add a little olive oil, drop in your crushed bits of garlic, wait for it to smell good. Once it smells good, sprinkle just a bit of flour on to your chicken bits, not enough to coat the pieces, just enough to create a roux that will thicken the texture of the soup come feeding time. Put the chicken in the pot and brown.

Now, in a frying pan, saute the onions until they get translucent then add the carrots and celery until they start to sweat. It's important to cook all this separate from the chicken cause it releases all kinds of aromatic flavortastic goodness. One the veggies are sweating balls, sprinkle a few bits of ginger root (if you got it, powder if you don't) add them to the chicken and stir it all around.

You might say "Why ginger?"

And the answer might be "Cause it's awesome."

You'll probably notice that the flour has made little crusty bits on the bottom of your pot and you're a little worried that it will be a bitch to clean later. Don't worry . . . it'll all work out in the end.

Taking Stock: As I said in the ingredients list, you can use any kind of stock you want. Beef might taste a little weird (good weird not bad weird), and vegetable might be a little bland, so the preference is for chicken stock.

You've got lots of options when it comes to chicken stock. First you can make the true stuff. Boiling shit for hours. Try it once and you'll never have to do it again . . . I promise. You can get the high end stock from Whole Foods or your local equivalent, but it'll cost you and, in my humble opinion, it is the least tasty of all the options. You can get the mid-grade stuff at any supermarket (Trader Joes has the best) or . . . you can do what I do, and dissolved two bouillon cubes in some hot water.

It's cheating . . . I know . . . but you're already locked into the fresh ingredients and the cubes have the perfect amount of salty "flavor pouch" flavor. No one will ever know the difference and if for some reason they do, you have my permission to unfriend them forever. You don't need those kinds of people in your life.

Add the stock. Bring to a boil. Lower the temperature and simmer for an hour.

Every few minutes or so, walk out of the house and then walk back in again.

When the whole house smells like heaven, including the garage and the boys' bathroom, it's time to add the potatoes.

Shouldn't take much more than 20 minutes for the potatoes to get soft and you're good to go.

Taste the brine. You want it to be just a hint on the not too salty side. Salt is the kinda thing that people can add themselves. If it's too salty add a half a cup of water and bring back up to a boil.

Set your table.

The table should include salt, pepper, a little bit of fresh parsley, red pepper flakes, and bread. You worked hard on this dish and it's gonna taste like you worked all day, don't leave a drop on your bowl that can't be soaked up with a chewy slice of sourdough.

Ladle into bowls. Serve.

Okay, I know y'all are crazy for low fat, zero carb versions of everything, and boy have I got a treat for you.

First, you don't have to add the flour to the chicken. I like it because it gives a thicker texture to the liquid, but the original recipe doesn't have it, so it's just as good without.

Second, you can (and should) replace the potatoes with chopped cauliflower. I think it's so damn good this way, I'm reluctant each time to even bother with the potatoes, but it will tweak the flavor a bit, and sometimes my wife is just not in the mood.

Go figure.

You can also just add water instead of stock if you're watching your salt intake. All the fresh ingredients are there and you can zest it up with just a dab of whatever fresh himalayan pink crystals you got hiding in your cabinet.

Breaks my heart to say it, but you can also skip the bread.

Sad emoticon. : (

Now, since I can't leave well enough alone, I might also suggest adding a few slices of fresh jalapeƱos that have been soaking in balsamic vinegar while you were cooking the other stuff. Not saying you gotta. And if you don't like spicy then it's not for you . . . but if you want a little heat . . . it's damn delicious.

Damn delicious.

Total time: 2 hours (most of which is sitting on the couch catching up on Justified Episodes)
Servings: Three dinner bowls and two lunch bowls.
Wine Pairing: Buttery white, or soft red.
Number of times your SO will roll their eyes into the back of their head and make soft cooing sounds: At least four.

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