The flu caught up with me before I was able to get a flu shot, and I am feeling sick. The classic meal for this situation is chicken soup.
If there was a jar of homemade chicken stock or a carcass from a roast chicken in the freezer —which there isn’t — and if I were feeling just a tiny bit better than I am, I would make chicken soup. Here is how I’d make the stock.
Place the chicken carcass in a stock pot, and cover it with cold water. Add a few quartered onions or sliced leeks, 3 or 4 large carrots cut roughly into large chunks, a clove or two of garlic, whole, 3 or 4 whole cloves and a small handful of black peppercorns. Cover the pot, but stay nearby while bringing it to a boil over high heat. Once it has boiled, reduce the heat so that the stock maintains a simmer. From time to time, spoon off the foamy scum that accumulates on top of the liquid and discard.
Let it simmer for several hours, extracting the flavours from the chicken bones and allowing the tastes of the other components to blend.
When the carcass is falling apart and the aroma of the soup fills the kitchen, remove the stock pot from the heat and strain the solids from the stock by pouring through a metal colander.
Pick through the bones in the colander, removing pieces of meat and saving them for the soup. Discard the bones, vegetables and spices.
At this point, I like to simmer the strained stock for another hour or so, evaporating some of the liquid and concentrating the flavours, and then it is time to move on to making soup from it.
For chicken noodle soup, it is a simple matter of stirring in a few stalks of celery, cleaned, halved lengthwise, and sliced thinly, and some sliced green onions. Then add uncooked egg noodles when the stock has returned to a boil, and the pieces of chicken that were retrieved from the stock pot. Now, taste for seasoning.
Chances are it needs some salt — though not as much as there would be in a commercial chicken soup — pepper and maybe some herbs.
When tasting the soup for seasonings, be sure to avoid dipping a spoon that you have placed in your mouth into the soup pot for another taste. Instead, use a clean spoon to dip soup from the pot, and drizzle the contents into your personal tasting spoon.
Serve the chicken noodle soup, and garnish with minced fresh parsley. It goes well with buttered toast or warm tea biscuits.
For a heartier soup, I’d use barley for the starch instead of noodles. About an hour before serving, I’d add a few handfuls of barley to a big pot of soup, and let it simmer until tender.
Pearl barley and pot barley are the commonest forms of barley that are found in the grocery store.
Pearl barley is the more refined of the two, as kernels are polished to remove the double outer hull and bran. The polished grains cook faster (in about 45 minutes) than those of pot barley, but they lose nutrients during the pearling process.
Pot barley takes somewhat longer to cook (about 1 hour) than pearl barley, because the kernels are larger.
In processing, the husks are removed and the kernels are ground coarsely. It is polished, but less than pearl barley is, and therefore some of the bran layer remains.
Barley provides soluble fibre, which helps to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, and which may help to control blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 Diabetes.
Along with the barley, I would add carrot and turnip cut in 2.5 cm (1 inch) dice, as well as some chopped onion, and the pieces of chicken from the bones.
Finally, I would adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper, maybe some parsley or summer savoury, near the end of the cooking time.
But alas, I will not be making either of these homemade soups today.
It would be lovely to find some homemade chicken stock in the freezer — and I sometimes keep a bottle or two there to make soup or gravy — but there is none there now.
The best I can do today is to add some minced garlic, chopped onions, carrots, and herbs, and a chicken breast or two into a pot of commercial chicken broth and hope for the best.
That’s OK, because I don’t have much of an appetite today anyway.
I have learned a lesson though. Keep a bottle of chicken stock in the freezer, to pull out when someone is not feeling up to scratch. It’s homemade convenience food at its best.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.