I actually call this soup Everything But the Kitchen Sink Chicken Soup, or sometimes, it’s known in our house as Clean Out the Fridge Chicken Soup. But that’s a pretty long title for a blog post. So, to shorten it up, and to give credit to the technique that produces the delicious flavor of this soup, I went with Sublime Roasted Chicken Soup. I had to throw in “sublime” because there are just way too many “the best chicken soup” posts out there in online foodie land. I’m not saying I make the best chicken soup in the world. I don’t have to. My family says it for me!
My chicken soups are always made with the carcass from a roasted chicken, so let’s start there. Roast chicken was one of the first things I taught my daughter-in-law to cook when she and my son were married, and it’s just about the easiest thing to put on a dinner table to feed a family. What follows is more of a technique than a recipe, which allows you to use your own creativity (and eventually, your leftovers).
Season a fresh or thawed chicken, inside and out, with any of the following seasonings or get creative and make up your own:
1 tablespoon of Cajun seasoning mix (this is a blend of peppers, salt, and spices you can buy in the grocery store, and I like it a lot for chicken) OR
1 tablespoon Montreal chicken seasoning mix OR
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt mixed with 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 1 teaspoon dried crumbled sage and 1 teaspoon dried crumbled thyme (or a teaspoon of ground poultry seasoning)
Whatever kind of seasoning you choose, sprinkle it inside the body cavity and rub it outside on the skin, then place the chicken into a roasting pan or Dutch oven with a lid. I always cook my chicken in a roasting pan with a lid (so technically, it’s baked or braised, I suppose, not roasted) because the meat is always moist and juicy, and I don’t have to worry about basting. This is easy-peasy chicken dinner!
If you want to fancy it up, you can stuff the body cavity with any sort of stuffing you like (I have a recipe for cornbread stuffing in another post) or with sliced lemons, onions, garlic, and a sprig or two of rosemary, and you can also place root vegetables like carrots and parsnips and potatoes around the chicken, if there’s room in the pan, when you’ve got about an hour of cooking time left.
Cook the chicken at 325-350 degrees for 2-2 ½ hours (depending on the size of the chicken) or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees in the thickest part of the leg. You can also tell the chicken is done when the meat on the drumstick starts to pull away from the bone and the thigh joint jiggles easily when you move the leg.
Remove the chicken from the roasting pan to a carving board or platter and cover it loosely with foil. Let it rest until it stops steaming, about 20 minutes. Don’t carve your breast meat while there is still steam escaping from the bird. It will dry out. If you stuffed the bird, remove all the stuffing as soon as you remove the bird from the oven. Don’t let stuffing cool inside the bird.
Pour off the cooled pan drippings and refrigerate. You can make gravy with the drippings, but there tends to be a lot of fat in it, so if you have one of those fat separators, it’s helpful for making gravy. Cooling the drippings allows the fat to be scraped off the top, so you can use just the flavorful and nutritious drippings in your soup and discard the fat. If you do make gravy, save any leftovers for adding to your soup, just like you would the drippings. Enjoy your roast chicken dinner!
Dennis and I get at least 4 or 5 meals from one chicken. We eat several meals from the roasted meat itself, and then, I make soup from the carcass. Here’s how to get all the goodness from that chicken carcass.
Sublime Roasted Chicken Soup
First, place the carcass on a cookie sheet. Rub a little olive oil on the exposed shreds of white meat that are left on the carcass and sprinkle it lightly with salt and pepper or the same seasoning mix you used before roasting the chicken. Turn the chicken carcass upside down! Place in 400-425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the carcass is a golden, toasty brown color.
The reason for roasting the carcass again is two-fold. First, roasting creates flavor and color in your broth. (If you want clear, pale chicken broth like the stuff that comes out of a can, don’t roast. But you won’t have nearly as much flavor.) The second reason to roast is that the high heat on the bones helps them release minerals and nutrients into the broth or stock.
While the carcass is roasting, peel and cut four large carrots into bite-sized chunks or cubes. Chop or slice four ribs of celery. Chop one onion. (You can add more of any vegetable if you like. I often add more carrots because I love carrots in soups and stews.) When the carcass is golden brown, remove it from the oven and place it in a large soup pot. Add just enough water to cover the carcass and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. You will immediately notice how rich the broth looks, much darker than broth from an unroasted carcass. Color equals flavor!
The carcass will need to cook about an hour to loosen all the meat from the bones and to release the flavor. Drain the fat from the cookie sheet, and place carrots, celery, and onions on it, stirring to coat them in the leftover chicken fat. Spread the vegetables out on the cookie sheet, sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper or the seasoning mix you used on the chicken/carcass, and return to the oven, roasting the vegetables until they also begin to take on some color. You’ll be amazed at how much more flavor you get out of your vegetables by roasting them. (You can also sauté them in a little olive oil or butter on the stovetop, but why dirty up another pan, and the oven is already hot!)
When the vegetables are a little browned, remove them from the oven and scrape the cookie sheet to loosen any that have stuck to the pan. Set them aside. Do not add them to the soup pot until after you have removed the chicken carcass and bones from the pot.
When the carcass is falling apart in the broth, it’s time to remove it. Use a spider or slotted spoons to remove the carcass from the broth, and set it aside to cool. While the carcass is cooling, you can add your roasted vegetables to the broth. (I also rinse the cookie sheet with the broth, holding it over the soup pot and ladling the broth over it, to get off any little stuck bits of brown goodness, which adds flavor.) This is the time to add the pan drippings you saved when you roasted your chicken, or any leftover gravy. If you saved pan drippings, before you add them, be sure to remove the fat that rose to the top of the drippings as they cooled. Your drippings should be mostly gelatinized. That means flavor! Taste the broth and adjust for seasoning. Remember to use the same seasoning mix you used when you roasted the chicken as you season your broth. This keeps competing flavors at a minimum. When the carcass is cooled enough to handle, pick the remaining meat from the bones and add it back into the broth.
At this point, your soup is essentially done, and you can serve it as is. But there is much more you can do with it. You can turn it into Everything But the Kitchen Sink or Clean Out the Fridge Roasted Chicken Soup. Just start prospecting in your fridge and pantry. To my last batch of soup, I added a couple of cubed potatoes, a cup or so of leftover green beans, about a cup and a half of leftover Seven Bean and Ham Soup (made with the leftover Christmas ham), and some Swiss chard I put in the freezer last year and rediscovered recently. This produced a rich, hearty, soup-that-eats-like-a-meal. One bowl of this contains all the meat and veggies you need for a complete meal, and if you are watching your weight, this soup is very figure-friendly.
Of course, you can add noodles or rice, if you wish, but since I have been trying to eliminate grains from my diet, I usually add a can of rinsed, dark red kidney beans, or a can of black beans to my chicken soups in lieu of pasta. This keeps the soup low-carb but hearty and full of protein. I sometimes cook noodles or rice separately so that Dennis can put some in the bottom of his bowl and pour the soup over it. That way, we both have what we want. We will have several meals from a big pot of soup, and I’ve been known to freeze a quart for a snowy day. I’ve found that soup is one of the best ways to stretch my food dollars and use leftovers that would otherwise be wasted.
Is soup-making work? Yes. Is it time-consuming? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes, yes, yes. Flavorful and nourishing: it’s no wonder chicken soup has been known for years not just as comfort food, but as food for the soul.