I love soup! I could eat it every day. Even in the dog days of a Sarasota summer. I’m not talking about the canned Campbell’s variety. There is a place for that too, but it’s not here. I’m referring to the homemade, or at least restaurant-made, style.
Being originally from the Midwest, Chicago specifically, you develop that fondness for a warming bowl of whatever pretty early in life. Or at least I did. My mom, who really didn’t enjoy cooking all that much, made a delicious chicken soup. It wasn’t until years later, after trying and failing so many times to reproduce it, that I was let in on the secret.
Back in the 60s, we didn’t have Le Creuset in our kitchen. My mom used an old aluminum soup pot to make her soup. I know now that it was probably leeching chemicals of some kind (and other unknown and unhealthful things into) whatever was cooked in it. But back then, that wasn’t on people’s radar. I know it wasn’t on mine, and I’m just guessing it wasn’t on my mom's.
I was convinced that the secret to her chicken soup's clarity and full flavor was that pot. I had the recipe. And as an adult, I tried my hand four or five times every fall and winter to make that soup and to get that same final product. But failure after failure only convinced me more that it was the vessel and not the cook.
When my folks moved out of their northern digs, I was gifted the pot that made that delicious soup. Now we would find what the problem was; pot or chef. This was really a moment of truth…
After assembling all of the necessary ingredients, I loaded up the pot and put it on the stove. One thing that was an immediate issue, this pot had no lid! After rummaging through my kitchen cabinets, I found a lid that wasn’t exactly made to go with the pot being used (you know the kind I'm talking about). I used it anyway.
After the two hour cooking time was complete, I followed the post-cooking instructions and was ready for the verdict. After that first spoonful, I could tell what the outcome was. Poor. I was confused, sad, and perplexed all at the same moment. I had prepared myself for my moment of chicken soup glory, but it had eluded me once again. There was only one thing left to do. A call to Mom.
They were down in South Florida at the time. So I packed up the pot, a cooler full of ingredients, and headed down Alligator Alley. My mother was going to give me the soup cooking lesson that she probably should have given me 20 years prior.
With pot, chicken, and veggies in hand, we were ready to begin. I watched her load the pot. Same process as me. I watched her add the water. Again, no difference. Then she put it on the stove. Here’s where things begin to unravel in the cooking process I was using.
She turned on the heat to the barest minimum and NO LID! I stared without saying a word. Could it be, after all of this time, that the lid was the answer? Well, it turned out to be partly right. The secret was in the fact that she never really let her soup boil. It was a simmer with just a few bubbles breaking the surface of the stock. And NO LID. The soup “simmered” this way for about two hours. It’s basically like a crockpot at this point I guess. Then, the tasting. And just as my mother had done all of her adult life, perfect homemade chicken soup!
After that, when she made that soup, I was her prep chef. She didn’t care for all of the chopping and peeling. I don’t really blame her. I do miss cooking soup with her, but at least now I know how it’s done right. If you’d like to attempt my mom’s chicken soup, here's the recipe. It’ll warm you up this winter, no matter where you're living!
JUDY’S HOMEMADE CHICKEN SOUP
1 whole chicken, around three pounds
1 turnip, peeled and cut in half
1 parsnip, peeled and cut in half
2 medium onions, peeled and cut in half
4-5 carrots, peeled and cut into one inch chunks
1 bunch of parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Add the chicken to the bottom of a large soup pot. Add turnip, parsnip, onions, carrots, and parsley. Fill the pot with cold water until all of the ingredients are covered by about two inches of water. Add some salt and pepper. It’s a lot of water, so it’s pretty hard to overseason this.
Turn your burner on low. Heat water until it just barely simmers. Lower heat to the lowest setting available to keep a bare simmer. DO NOT COVER. Scoop off white scum as it rises to the surface. Simmer for two hours.
When the soup has finished cooking, remove all ingredients (I use a perforated ladle or slotted spoon). Reserve the chicken and the carrots. Strain the liquid in the pot with a mesh strainer or colander. When the chicken has cooled, remove meat from bones and add as much as you’d like back to the broth. You can use the rest for chicken salad! Also, return the carrots. Correct the seasonings as necessary and serve!
This freezes great to have all winter long. Enjoy!
OK, let’s say that you want to celebrate National Soup Day, but you don’t want to make my mom's (or your mom's) chicken soup. Of course, I have some local Sarasota ideas for you! You can thank me later.
Yoder’s Restaurant always has a delicious soup of the day. See if you can squeeze in a trip before the lines go around the restaurant during season.
Star Thai and Sushi (240 Avenida Madera, (941) 217-6758) has the most wonderful roasted duck noodle soup. It is guaranteed to warm you on any chilly Sarasota day.
Knick’s Tavern and Grill has two soups daily. And they are all really great. If they’ve got Italian wedding soup, that is a must order item. You should probably take some of that home too.
Morton’s Gourmet Market has 10 or 12 freshly prepared soups in their cold case ready for you to take home and reheat. The butternut squash soup is a standout.