Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter Favorites: Cream of Chicken Soup

Class, today we'll be learning about how awesome cream of chicken soup is.

This is a childhood favorite of ours that Dad used to make periodically. I remember it being quite an undertaking, but I think that's because it was always an event when it got made (because we wanted it much more often than it was made)- not because making it was in itself an event. A couple years back I finally convinced him to take a stab at putting it in recipe form, since thus far it had only been a mental exercise. He did, and I have now made it several times, each time getting very favorable reviews. It's definitely a keeper on my winter foods list.

There's two ways to do this soup: the long way and the short way. But don't get too excited-- the short way means you put in time at another point in the kitchen game.  Here's how they break down.

Long way: starting with a whole (probably frozen) chicken, cooking it a couple hours until it's falling apart, deboning the chicken, and then getting to the soup part.

Short way: starting with chicken broth and about six cups of chicken in whatever form you prefer (small chunks or shreds). Hopefully you'll use homemade bone broth for this so you can reap the benefits; otherwise this dish isn't near as good for you as it could be, and why waste the effort?!

By the way, this soup uses a butter/flour roux as a thickener. I've provided two options: white/wheat flour or brown rice flour. I haven't tried the rice flour, but Dad says it works fine. Alternately, if you don't care so much about the thickness but would still prefer cream over broth soup, then use cream. (Concept!) I plan to try that next time, and I would use about a quart for this size of a batch. I'll update how that goes after I try it.

1 chicken
3 carrots, chopped
3-4 ribs celery, chopped
2 onions, diced
1 T. salt
2 t. pepper
3 garlic cloves or 2 t. garlic powder
2 t. thyme
2 t. oregano
1 t. rosemary
2 bay leaves
extra chicken stock if needed, for flavor
1 qt. milk
6 oz. butter (1 1/2 sticks or 3/4 c.)
7 oz. all-purpose or whole wheat flour (about 1 1/2 c.; don't use sprouted wheat for this)
OR use brown rice flour

If you're taking the short route, please skip down four paragraphs to where I add the spices and milk to the broth.

First off, I'm lazy. For this particular batch I didn't bother chopping my veggies; I just cut them into chunks and tossed them in. It probably yielded less flavor, but it still turned out good. The veggies will be tossed with the bones, so they don't need to be bite-sized.

Toss the chicken (frozen is fine) and veggies into a large stockpot, and cover with water. Don't go overboard, since this will be your broth and you don't want the flavor diluted. Covering the chicken well is usually a decent barometer.

Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Allow about two hours for this to cook, especially if your chicken is frozen. Longer is totally fine, so don't stress about it.

When the chicken is done cooking, try to fish out the meat and leave the veggies behind. This is another reason big veggie chunks are not a bad idea. Put the chicken in a bowl and then strain the veggies from the broth-- but do NOT throw the broth away! I actually did this once, by pouring the whole mess through a colander...over a sink. It was a horrifying moment and it hasn't been repeated since.

I usually let the chicken cool a bit before de-boning, because it's morbidly hot. While you wait for it to cool, let's head back to the broth: add in the spices, milk, and more broth if you need it for flavor. (I've never needed it, but pastured chicken does tend to have more flavor in the meat. Plan ahead and have a little extra broth on hand so you don't get mad at yourself in the middle of a recipe.) Simmer this mix for about half an hour. Yes, the Italian spices seem kind of weird, but trust me, they do amazing things for this soup.

While the broth is simmering, pull all the chunks of meat off and snag the little pieces if so inclined. If you want to really make a bang for your buck, save all the bones and discarded veggies and make a batch of bone broth for a later date. You already spent the money on them, and you're already stuck in the kitchen for the next 15 minutes, so pull out the crockpot and get a batch going. know, or not. It makes good compost, too. :-D  Let your chickens pick through it first and then you can get eggs out of it first, though.

After you de-bone the chicken, decide if you want it shredded or diced. I usually choose shredded (easier; just dump in a boiling pot of soup and it falls apart as it simmers) but I'm debating switching to diced one of these times, since shredded always tangles around my spoon. I know, I know, first world problems. Then set the chicken aside; if you add it in now it's not a big deal, but it will make adding the thickener later a lot more difficult, and who needs that?

In a medium saucepan, melt your butter over medium heat. turn your soup up to medium-high so it's hot when you're ready to add the roux. When the butter is melted, whisk in the flour, whisking continuously for a minute or two, until the flour is browned. It won't look browned, necessarily, so just make sure to give it a couple minutes, otherwise the flavor will be paste-y. Yuck.

After the roux is browned, pour it into your broth, which needs to be on medium-high heat at this point.. And this is important: whisk hard and fast while you do this. It's a lot of liquid to distribute the thickener to, and you don't want it to go to the bottom and burn, so just take my experience for it and whisk hard.  :-) If you have a particularly large/long whisk on hand, I've found that they make this step much easier. If you don't have a long whisk, you'll be less frustrated in the final product if you take an extra step: tempering the thickener.  Scoop a cup or so of broth into the roux, whisking the whole time. It'll thicken immediately. Add several more cups, one at a time, until you have a good saucepan of this mix. Then whisk it into the rest of the broth. Diluting the roux this way will make your job of distributing it to two gallons of broth much easier and less lumpy.

Bring the soup back to a boil over medium high, and wait until it thickens. Gently stir in the chicken, and you're ready to serve!  By the way, this soup just screams for buttered sourdough toast or a sourdough bread bowl.  It's an obnoxiously good combination.  :-)


  1. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that doesn't look like how I remember Dad's soup. Maybe the whole wheat flour is the difference? Looks good, anyway. :-)

    1. Actually that would be photography talking. It looks quite a bit different in person, and I'll have to try for a better shot next time I make some. But yes, sprouted wheat is less than an ideal thickener, at least in something with this much liquid. :-)

  2. Looks yummy! I have a chicken in my freezer that I'm sure has just been waiting to be used in this recipe.