Warmup routine: Chicken soup to the rescue
The holidays are behind us and life is more or less back to normal, even if much colder than usual.
Eventually we will lose the extra pounds we gained and get back to an exercise routine, but wait — is that a cold you feel coming on? Have a funny feeling in the back of your throat? A runny nose? Coughing, sneezing?
Chicken soup to the rescue!
No kidding, this most comforting of comfort foods has been known for its healing properties since the 12th century. Even though researchers have studied it, no one is quite sure why or how it works its magic.
Maybe it's the steam, which helps increase the movement of nasal mucus. That steam also improves the function of the protective cilia — those tiny hairs in your nose that catch contagions before they enter your body.
Chicken soup also helps keep you hydrated, and it feels good in your stomach. Just what you need to fight off a simple cold, a touch of flu, holiday letdown, or if you're just feeling a little off.
Even when you're healthy, chicken soup is a welcome dish. And it crossed cultural boundaries. The Chinese consume more chicken soup than any other ethnic group. It is also firmly entrenched in Jewish culture, sometimes being referred to as Jewish penicillin.
Years ago it was a favorite peasant fare, since it can be an economical meal to make, using parts of the chicken not especially meaty but flavorful, such as the neck, back, wings, bones and even the feet. While most recipes call for fresh chicken a great soup can also be made with leftovers including the bones.
As is true with so many other soups, you can add anything to chicken soup that appeals to you. Chicken of course is the main ingredient. Use a whole chicken or just parts, particularly the legs and thighs since they have the best flavor.
From there, the choice is yours — onions, parsnips, leeks, garlic, carrots, celery, parsley, peas, or corn. You can also add a little starch like rice, extra thin noodles and my favorite, small soup dumplings.
To make it even more healthy, try using whole wheat noodles along with the vegetables, says Kaitlin Anderson, dietitian at Hy-Vee North in Rochester.
"It gets to be a powerhouse of nutrients where you have all of the food groups in one bowl," she said.
Anderson also suggests making your own stock by combining a whole chicken or chicken parts with water, a little onion and a bay leaf, and letting it simmer for an hour or more.
"By making your own you control the sodium as well as the rest of the ingredients," she said.
If making your own isn't possible, Anderson suggests using the unsalted chicken broth of Kitchen Basics.
"That is a good alternative and then just add the chicken and vegetables," she said.
Additional flavor can be had with a little rosemary, dill and thyme, as well as a bay leaf.
Post-Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what's cookin'. Send comments or story ideas to email@example.com.
In the pot
Here are easy directions for a basic cure-all chicken soup:
Using a whole chicken or parts, put in a big pot of water to cover the chicken.
Add celery, carrot, onion and bay leaf.
Bring to a boil, then drop to a simmer until the meat is ready to come off the bone — about 1 to 2 hours.
Take chicken out, cool, and take meat off bones. Refrigerate.
Put bones and skin back into the pot. At this point, the broth can continue to simmer as long as you want. The longer the simmer, the deeper the flavor.
Then strain the soup, getting rid of vegetables and bones. Put broth back into the pot and add rice, noodles, the vegetables and seasonings you want, like thyme and dill.
A few minutes before serving, add the chicken to let it heat up, Season with salt and pepper.
Adding rice and noodles can make this a hearty, even thicker soup.