It is time to talk about chicken again.
Why? you may rightly ask.
Think of it this way: If I were a deejay on a radio station, I would be playing a request. This is the same thing. Several readers have approached me, mostly at farmers markets, to ask about chicken and chicken stock.
Is it possible to make chicken stock, they want to know, with a whole chicken without ruining the meat?
I am here to help, as I do it all the time. Indeed, it's become a weekly tradition, or nearly so.
On a typical Sunday, I buy a whole chicken or two. On Monday, I poach it, pull off the meat, return the carcass to the poaching liquid and then simmer it gently all night. The poached chicken provides dinner on Monday evening and by Tuesday, there is a delicious soup that lasts for several days. Unless the chicken is very small, there is enough meat for a second and sometimes even a third meal.
This is very easy to do at home and once you get the hang of it, you may want to do it weekly, too.
When you make something like chicken such a major part of your diet, you want it to be the best, the most healthful you can find. And we have great chicken in Sonoma County now, which is much of my motivation. I'm also inspired by Lucas's love of my soups.
He's my grandson and, at twelve-and-a-half, is well into the murky territory of adolescence, though the little boy still shows himself frequently. One of his favorite things to eat is what he calls my vegetable soup. It's not what most people think of when they think of vegetable soup, not at all. It begins with homemade chicken stock, shallots or onions, garlic and a few potatoes. When the potatoes are tender, I add whatever greens I happen to have gathered. There's often sorrel from the garden, arugula from the farmers market, radish greens, beet greens, kales or chards and always a big bunch of good Italian parsley, which prevents the soup from taking on an unpleasant gray color. Spinach, too, helps keep the soup a pleasant shade of green.
This soup is delicious hot and delicious cold and best when it has a big scoop of whole-milk yogurt added at the last minute. Lucas likes it for breakfast, for an after school-snack and for dinner. When I tell him it's gone, his look of disappointment all but breaks my heart.
How cool is it that an almost-teenage boy who loves pizza, cheeseburgers, candy, chips and soda also loves this healthy and slightly unusual soup? Whenever I eat with him, I feel so very lucky.
Once you have made chicken stock at home a time or two, you won't need to refer to a recipe. Vary this according to the season, to your preferences and to what you have on hand or in the garden. If I have leeks or spring garlic, I add some of the green stalks. Sometimes I include ginger, sometimes I don't. Now and then I'll put in a few curls of lemon zest and now and then I add hot chiles or spices, depending on the soup I'm planning to make. What I don't do is measure anything or think too much about it. To make the stock in a slow cooker, see the note that follows the main recipe.