Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
This is my chicken soup recipe where I apply a simple technique that makes all the difference.
Honestly, in my restaurant, I have the luxury of a professional dishwasher and a high-powered dishwashing machine. At home, I am well aware that doing my own dishes means I try not to dirty every dish. I have a secret talent for hard boiling an egg and making one slice of toast only to discover that I have somehow managed to dirty every pot, pan and dish I own.
Though I love a one-pot soup, this extra step, resulting in one extra dirty pan, makes the vegetables taste even more delicious. It’s worth it to me.
I know that a lot of chicken soups have endearingly overcooked chicken that hearkens back to childhood. But I’m going to ask you to take a leap of faith and remove that chicken when it is fully cooked but still tender. We will allow it to cool and then pick off the meat and drop it into the soup just before serving. It will make a big difference.
Chicken can have an almost silky texture if cooked right and this soup will show a side of chicken you otherwise miss when roasting or grilling. This is great as is and gets even better after it sits in the fridge for a day or so.
Warm Me Up Chicken Soup
1 3-3 ½ lb. whole chicken, innards removed
4 cups chicken stock
Freshly ground white pepper
2 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1-in. rounds
4 medium stalks celery, trimmed, cut into 1-in. rounds
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. sugar
½ cup chopped curly parsley
Freshly grated nutmeg
6 tbsp. finely grated parmesan cheese
1. Start cooking the soup: In a large pot, place the chicken in the bottom and cover with the chicken stock and 4 cups of water. Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Simmer and skim any foam that rises to the top. Lower the heat.
2. Cook the vegetables: In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the carrots, celery and garlic. Season with salt and sprinkle with the sugar. Cook until the vegetables are only slightly tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside.
3. Finish the soup: After about 55 minutes on a gentle simmer, check the thigh meat for doneness. Once the meat is cooked through, use a large slotted spoon to drain and remove the chicken to a flat surface. Add salt if needed and stir in the vegetables. Remove the skin from the bird and pull the meat off in large pieces. Simmering the meat in the soup will break the meat apart more. I like a more rustic piece of chicken and not a lot of tiny little flakes. If you don’t mind the texture of the skin in the soup and want the flavor, cut it into small pieces and add it in with the meat.
4. Serve: When the vegetables are tender, stir the chicken pieces back into the soup and add parsley and nutmeg to taste. Bring the soup back up to a hearty simmer over medium heat. Put some grated parmesan in the bottom of the bowls and ladle in the vegetables, chicken and broth. Devour.
A few notes about this recipe:
1. Why curly parsley? I think it has a grassier, stronger flavor that works here with the heft of the chicken and the parmesan. The parsley fights and wins a slot of freshness here. I think I learned this from enjoying the taste in homemade meatballs as a kid.
2. If I am serving only a couple of bowls of this soup and reserving the rest, I add only some of the chicken and bring it back to a simmer. When I serve the rest, I add the chicken. That way it’s perfectly cooked chicken every time!
3. Last minute moment of truth: I wrote an amount for the parmesan cheese here but if I were truthful with you, I probably add 4 tbsp. of the cheese to my bowl alone. It gives the broth body and a great salty taste. But hey, maybe that’s just me.