If you really need a reason to fall for chicken soup, here are a few.
It's the best food for colds and flu, and the season for those illnesses is upon us. Soup helps hydrate your sinuses even as our heaters kick out the warm air that dries them. And today - Wednesday - is Chicken Soup for the Soul Day. It's hard to say no to something good for the soul.
So here are some cooking tips, nutritional justifications for indulging and two favorite recipes to get a steaming bowl on the table.
Chicken soup, of course, starts with stewing chicken bones or parts for broth. It's best to make your own broth, which lets you control how much salt and fat goes in. The flavorful broth also encourages you to get plenty of liquids, which is especially important if you're experiencing cold or flu symptoms. These benefits alone should convince anyone to down some chicken soup whenever they get a scratchy throat or stuffy sinus.
There are three ways to coax chicken into broth: Boil the fowl in a large stockpot, let it cook overnight in a slow cooker or take the speedy route with a pressure cooker. I prefer the latter, but the broth recipe that follows is for stovetop stockpot cooking. If you want to use a pressure cooker or slow cooker, follow the manufacturer's directions to adapt the recipe.
Chicken soup gets even more healing properties from other ingredients:
- Skinless chicken, a low-fat protein source, contains cysteine, an amino acid thought to help thin mucus in the lungs, making it easier to expel.
- Carrots contain beta-carotene, and celery has vitamin C, both of which bolster the immune system and help fight infection.
- Onions provide antioxidants, which reduce inflammation and act as an antihistamine.
My secret weapon to fend off colds is adding diced green chiles to chicken soup. The chiles' alkaloid compound, capsaicin, not only provides the strong, spicy, pungent character, but also apparently has antibacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties, laboratory studies suggest. It also is found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese people.
Ready for that perfect bowl of chicken soup to cheer your soul and fight off dehydration and illness? Here's an easy recipe for broth and another for Green Chili Chicken Soup.
Best Chicken Broth
Yield: 4 quarts
1 whole chicken (3-4 pounds) 3 ribs of celery with leaves halved 2 large carrots, quartered 2 large onions, quartered 8 peppercorns, crushed 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme Kosher or coarse salt
Clean the chicken and discard giblets. Salt the entire chicken inside and out liberally. Let chicken stand for 35 minutes.
Wash salt from chicken and place in a medium to large stockpot. Cover chicken with celery, carrots, onions, peppercorns and thyme. Cover with 4 or 5 quarts of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer for 1½ to 2 hours, occasionally skimming the foam from the top.
Remove the chicken to a large platter when it is still firm and not falling apart. Remove the meat from the chicken and save for sandwiches, salads or green chili chicken soup (recipe follows). Then return the bones to the pot and simmer one more hour.
Strain the soup into a large bowl and discard everything in the strainer. Refrigerate long enough to allow hardened fat to form on the surface, then remove the fat. Bring back up to heat with salt and pepper to taste.