Thursday, March 5, 2009

Chicken Soup for Healing

Littleman is feeling much better, thank you! Unfortunately, yesterday Billy was laid low with a flu- really wiped out- and this morning Mr. Sweetcheeks threw up as well. Sigh. I am in full battle regalia, fending the viruses off with everything in my arsenal. In honor of this, I decided to go ahead and offer this post I've been working on- I'd intended to include lots of lovely photos of the cooking process, but that will have to wait for another day. In the meantime, I hope this is helpful to anyone else trying to be healthy in clod/flu season!

Spring is on the way. Spring is on the way. Spring is on the way. Spring. . .

~ ~ ~

Since we're in the thick of cold/flu season around here, I thought it might be a good time to talk chicken soup. Now, most of us have heard of treating the common cold with a nice, steaming bowl of chicken soup. It's an abiding tradition that dates at least as far back as 12th-century physician Moses Maimonides (according to this Google Answers thread I found, anyway), and cultures all over the world each have their own version of the healing broth. Certainly it's important to ingest plenty of fluids when we're sick with a cold or flu, and chicken soup has the added benefit of nutrition. Warm, steamy fluids can comfort us, help clear our nasal passages, and soothe a sore throat. So from this perspective, obviously chicken soup is a terrific thing to reach for when you're feeling under the weather. However many doctors would insist that this is as much truth as you will find to chicken soup's legendary reputation as a healing food.

I beg to differ. My experience has been that a good, homemade chicken stock makes soups with noticeable healing properties. It really does seem to lessen the severity and duration of colds and flu as it comforts and relieves symptoms. And increasingly, there are scientists and physicians who are finding evidence to support this idea. One study suggests that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties, thus helping relieve stuffy heads and swollen throats. Another found that chicken soup limits the body's neutrophils, thus limiting production of mucus. There's more information in the above linked article, and also here in an Associated Content article. I won't go into a great deal of detail on that- suffice it to say that when my family's feeling a bit sniffly, it's time to pick up a whole organic chicken at the grocery store.

Now, I have a go-to recipe for medicinal chicken stock that I like to use. I modify it as needed, depending on what I have on hand (and on how much time I want to take). Done "right", my homemade chicken soup takes 2 - 3 days to prepare. Wait, wait! It's very easy- and most of that time the stock minds itself quite happily. I picked up the original stock recipe from Nourishing Traditions, a cookbook I inherited from my mom's kitchen. I've changed a couple things, and expect it will evolve further as I learn more about nutrition and my family's tastes.

Kit's Healing Chicken Stock

- one whole chicken, preferably including the gizzards
- about 4 quarts cold filtered water (plus more later)
- 1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
- 2-4 whole garlic cloves (or more, depending on your tolerance for garlic)
- (optional) 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- a couple carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
- 1 bunch fresh parsley

* Fill a large stock pot with the water, add the vinegar and vegetables (except the parsley).
* Pull the little package of giblets (the heart, liver and gizzard) from inside the carcass cavity. Go ahead and dump those in. I know, I know, eww. This is optional- toss them if you want, but they are high in vitamin A, iron, vitamin B12, and zinc, and they add flavor to your stock. You can fish them out and toss them later if you want.
* Trim the fat glands off the chicken carcass, and discard. I like to pull off most of the skin, too. Then drop that chicken into the stock pot, and bring it all to a boil.
* Skim off the scum that rises to the top, discard.
* Lower heat, and simmer for at least 5 hours. I Simmer mine over medium heat 4 to 6 hours, then reduce the heat to low and leave it overnight. I add more water as necessary.
OOOH, it smells good!

* Bring it back to a boil in the morning, and add the parsley before turning off the stove and letting it cool a bit.
* Using a slotted spoon, start fishing everything out, and separate it- keep the chicken meat and discard the bones and other stuff. This is the only part of this recipe that's a bit of a pain- I find it to be quite tedious sorting.
* Once everything is fished out, you may wish to strain the broth. You can use cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer. I don't usually bother.
* Place the broth in the fridge overnight. Save the chicken for making the soup later.

* Take the broth out and remove the chicken fat that's now congealed on top. Some people save it; I always toss mine.
* Voila! There's your healing chicken stock. Now, it's time to make some soup!

~ ~ ~

I don't use a recipe for the chicken soup- it's always a little of this and a little of that, tasting and adjusting as I go along. Start by heating some of the healing chicken broth mixed with water- I do roughly half of each. I usually chop up carrots, onions and potatoes (maybe a sweet potato) to throw in there, sometimes I do rice or noodles, always garlic, sometimes kernel corn or other vegetables, and some of the reserved chicken meat of course. Salt and pepper- preferably a shake of cayenne to help clear the sinuses. More fresh parsley. Almost anything can go in there- you get the idea. Simmer until the veggies and/or rice or noodles are cooked, and serve right away. Yummy, yummy and oh so soothing!

Hopefully you don't need to treat a cold or flu, but if you do then may this recipe be of healing service to you!


Kyddryn said...

Mmm...don't forget the cranberry cornbread with honey-butter - that has to be good for SOMEThING!

Shade and Sweetwater,

Kit said...

Don't have that. . . but I know it's GOOD! Considering the tummy issues around here lately, we're sticking with saltine crackers.