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Back to Basics Four- Chicken Soup

There is nothing in the world quite as nice as a good soup, and this is a very simple, very nourishing and very delicious soup.

I cook a lot of soups and curries and hot pots in the winter, I put them in a big pot on top of my combustion stove and just keep the fire ticking over all day. If you don’t have a combustion stove, of course you can do this on your cooktop or even in a slow cooker (I don’t use one of those, my fire box is my slow cooker).

I am going to show you a couple of soups because they are so easy to do well and so, so very often done badly. I have worked with a few chefs who made appalling soups, including a couple who thought a butternut pumpkin cooked in water and puréed with chicken stock cubes made a good soup. It doesn’t.

Early on in my career I was lucky enough to work with a chef who specialised in soups, sauces and wet dishes and I have never forgotten what he taught me, he said, Michelle, if you want a soup to have a lot of flavour, you have to put a lot of flavour into it. This rang such a bell for me. Of course. To get a lot of different flavours, we must add a range of different flavours!

I am going to show you some quick and easy soups, some slow and sumptuous soups and some in the middle time wise, but not flavour wise soups. This one is bang in the slow and sumptuous range, and it has an added bonus, we are also going to make stock!


1 small chicken

1 onion, peeled and diced

2 sticks celery, sliced

1 carrot, quartered and sliced

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1/2 a leek, cut in half, washed and sliced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, I used rosemary and basil today

About one and a half litres of water

3/4 cup white wine

Place the olive oil into a four litre pot, heat, add the whole chicken, turning over until browned on all sides. Add the veg and the chopped herbs, cook until the veg starts to get a little colour and becomes very fragrant, add enough water to cover everything (you may need to top that up as you go along) and the wine.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least two hours, mine spent four on the combustion stove today because I was out in the paddock chopping wood with Mr T and that is how long it was before I got back to it. Anyway, you want it to simmer until the chicken is falling apart, not just the little tiddy wing bits, we want the whole chicken to be falling to pieces, it should look like this.

Put your chook aside to rest and cool down enough for you to handle it and return your pot of what will look like dishwater at this stage to the heat. Toss in about four cups of diced veg, this is where this soup can be customised to whatever you have, you could put in a tin of diced tomatoes, half a cup of olives, a couple of zucchini and eggplant, or mushrooms and sweet corn kernels, or even some pasta if you want to make chicken noodle soup. Today I have chosen to add some diced potato and pumpkin because I grew a lot of both this summer and that is what I have, homesteader mentality, remember?

Anyway, as soon as the chicken is cool enough for you to handle comfortably I want you to pull it apart with your hands, separate the bones and any joint tissue and skin into a medium sized pot, pull the chicken into bite sized bits and leave anything you don’t like the look of off to the side. As you can see, I have separated off the little veins, you can add them if you like, I bit into a ventricle once in a pie and I have never been quite the same since.

So now our chicken is ready to return to the pot, if our pot is boiling we need to turn it down, at this stage our chicken is tender and silky, if we plunge it into a boiling pot it is going to gasp in horror and toughen up and we will have wasted all that long, slow cooking. Simmer the lot until whatever you added at the dishwater stage is tender and it is all nice and hot and steamy - but not boiling ferociously!

At this point I shredded some baby spinach, some fresh basil and chives and put them in the bottom of my bowl, I always add the soup to the leafy greens, not the other way around because I am trying to preserve as much of the heat sensitive vitamins and minerals as I can. Ladle over a good cross section of your soup, making sure you get a bit of everything, give it a stir and season to taste. You will notice I have sprinkled nigella seeds on mine, because I have hypertension (chronic high blood pressure) I eat very little salt, but this soup really does need at least a little, I find that if I add another flavour, like chilli or nigella or flaked sesame, then I am happy with less salt, whatever works for you.

Nigella seeds are a funny thing, it seems that everyone who tastes them perceives them differently, some people say they taste like green onion, some say they taste like wood, or cumin, Mr T thinks they taste like celery, to me they taste like a young carrot, and they add to that idea we discussed early on, to get lots of flavour, we must add lots of flavour, remember? Thank you Rob, I never forgot.

Anyway, want to see what I did with the bones? Check out Back to Basics Five -Chicken Stock.


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