Publish in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 23 March 2009
The only thing worse than a frigid March is a frigid March with a chest cold. And when I have a chest cold, there’s nothing I want more than homemade chicken soup. Which brings me to the subject of cooking a chicken.
Coincidentally, I have just joined the Facebook group “Support Backyard Chicken Coops in Saskatoon” which calls on city hall to permit the raising of a few hens in a cage in the backyard. I have heard rumours that some agrarian souls are already raising chickens on the sly, so perhaps this is a good time for a general discussion on the merits and demerits of the concept.
The idea is not far-fetched: Two weeks ago, the city of Vancouver asked its staff to draft a bylaw amendment that would permit urban chicken coops. Apparently, it’s been standard practice in Portland, Oregon, for so long they offer workshops and tours of their backyard henhouses. But at this very moment I am most interested in the chicken in my pot.
Day One: Roast Chicken.
It is best to begin with a big meaty chicken, not a dainty fryer, and preferably a bird that got some fresh air and sunshine during its time on this earth. Place the bird breast-side down in a roasting pan. Put a few cloves of garlic in the cavity. Surround it with potatoes, carrots and onions cut into quarters.
Drizzle everything with olive oil, sprinkle on salt, pepper and herbs such as rosemary and thyme (fresh or dried) and pour in one-half cup of water. Place in a 400F oven. Baking time will depend on the size of the chicken. A free-range four-pound bird will take about an hour, bigger birds will be longer. To test for doneness, insert a knife into the thick part of the thigh joint. The juice should run clear, not pink.
Remove from the oven and carefully lift the chicken onto a cutting board, tipping it so all the juices flow into the pan. Carve the chicken and eat with the roast vegetables.
After dinner, place the roasting pan on low heat. Add a half-cup of water and simmer, scraping up the brown bits. Pour the juices through a strainer into a large glass measuring cup or bowl. Refrigerate.
Day Two: Chicken Stock
Remove the meat from the chicken. Put the carcass in a large soup pot. Add onion, carrots and celery roughly chopped, a handful of parsley stems and all, peppercorns, coriander seeds and a bay leaf. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer two hours.
Pour the stock through a sieve to remove the bones and vegetables. Cool and place the stock in the refrigerator (or outside when it’s cold). Skim off the fat that rises to the top. Discard the vegetables (preferably to the compost). Remove any remaining meat and discard the bones.
Day Three: Chicken Soup
Take the pan juices from the fridge. They will have separated into layers. Remove and discard the top whitish layer. The bottom layer is now a flavourful jelly. Melt the jelly on low heat in a soup pot and proceed with the recipe below.
Chicken Noodle Soup
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp dried herbs (thyme, oregano, coriander, basil)
1 bay leaf
1-2 cups leftover chicken, chopped
1 tsp salt and ample ground pepper
Small soup noodles
Melt the chicken jelly in a stock pot. Sauté onion and garlic until brown. Add carrots, celery, chicken stock, water, parsley, herbs and bay leaf. Boil until carrot is cooked. Remove bay leaf. Add chicken, salt and pepper, keeping at a simmer.
Meanwhile, boil the pasta noodles according to the package directions. Taste the soup, adding salt and pepper if needed. To serve, place noodles in a bowl and ladle on the soup.
Day 4: Chicken Pie
When I roast a big chicken for John and I, we usually have enough meat left over to make my grandma’s chicken pie.