There are endless variations on how to make soup, but the foundation of any good soup is always stock made from scratch.
I want to share directions here for how to make a basic turkey or chicken stock, and my favourite recipe for turkey stew. The old advice to eat chicken soup when you are sick may be an old wive’s tale, but it’s one with much evidence to back it up.
In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon says that “meat stocks are extremely nutritious, containing the minerals of bone, cartilage, marrow and vegetables as electrolytes, a form that is easy to assimilate. Acidic wine or vinegar added during cooking helps to draw minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium and potassium, into the broth.” There’s good reason for why it has been dubbed “Jewish Penicillin” – it’s incredibly nourishing, and especially so for those under the weather.
Besides its amazing health benefits, soup made with homemade broth just plain tastes better, and the crisp autumn air practically begs for a steaming bowl of stew after a walk amidst the crunchy golden leaves. So, shall we?
Step One: Save the bones/carcass!
Take the leftover carcass from a whole chicken or turkey that has been roasted, and place in a large stock pot (mine is 9 qts). Fill with water, leaving an inch or two of room at the top.
We often also buy chicken backs and necks packaged up from the ranch where we get our meat – it is extremely cheap, and perfect for making stock. They aren’t roasted, but we just boil them as they are, and it works just fine. You can also throw a whole raw chicken in a pot and boil it, and the resulting stock has incredible flavour.
The meat is fine to eat as well, especially in casseroles, etc. (on GAPS you start out with boiled meat as it is the most easily digestible).
Step Two: Optional add-ins.
Add some peppercorns if you have them (I use 4-5 or so), and a splash of apple cider vinegar to help draw out the calcium and other minerals from the bones. You can also add vegetable scraps – like broccoli stems, onion peels, celery tops, carrot tops, potato peelings etc. This is an excellent and cheap way to add vitamins and minerals to the stock.
Tip: throw the (washed) scraps into a freezable bag or container and stick them in the freezer whenever you’re chopping vegetables, and then use them when you make stock!
Step Three: Add heat.
Bring stock to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low and gently simmer for several hours. I find 6-8 hours to be best. Long enough to really draw all of the good stuff from the bones, but not too long (I find my broth gets a weird taste to it if I let it go too long, although some people prefer to leave it for as long as 24 hours.
Update Fall 2013: After a reader suggested it (see the comment section), I have even experimented with a “continuous broth pot” where I just kept taking broth out as needed, and replacing it with water. This was certainly the most frugal way of doing it, although the strength and benefits of the broth decline over time. I had mine for a week, max). However long you choose to simmer it – just be sure to keep adding water as the liquid level is reduced. You don’t want it to boil dry.
Step Four: Remove from heat and strain.
Place a strainer in a bowl, and pour stock into strainer. Set aside the strainer with the bones, etc. You can now use your stock, either in cooking, or for soup-making, or for straight drinking – especially for gastrointestinal upset like the flu.
If you drink it straight be sure to add salt. Add enough to make it taste good – there’s no reason at all not to salt your food to taste if you are using real sea salt and generally eat a whole foods diet.
Step Five: Store extra stock.
I use glass jars – some mason jars that I’ve picked up second-hand, and some repurposed spaghetti sauce jars that I wash and save. A wide-mouth funnel is handy for this. Pour stock into jars, leaving an inch or two of headroom if you plan to freeze them – it will expand quite a bit (don’t learn this the hard way, like I did!).
Let the jars cool on the counter for a while, so that they are less likely to crack in the freezer (again, I learned this the hard way). It should be good for about a week in the fridge, or 4-6 months in the freezer. I always freeze it if I’m not going to use it that same day to prevent myself forgetting about it and having to throw it out and waste all that hard work! Just make sure it’s completely cooled before going in to the freezer (a brief stay in the fridge may be necessary).
UPDATE Fall 2013: I now prefer to store my broth in ice cube form. I simmer and reduce it to around triple strength, and pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Then I pop them out and store them in a large ziploc bag in my freezer.
Whenever I need broth, I can easily grab one or two or more to dilute with water. I use one in a recipe like Shepherd’s Pie or something that needs a cup or less of broth. If I’m making something like my Southwest Taco Soup in my huge stock pot I’d throw in 8-10 cubes, probably (my stock pot is a 12-quart). It’s a fantastic system – no more glass jars, no more need to defrost broth for hours, and they take way less room in my freezer! Perfect!
Step Six: Save the last bits of meat.
I grew up watching my mom do this step every single time. Back then it wasn’t some heroically frugal act – it’s just what they did. So now, it’s just what I do, too. Take the boiled carcass and pick the remaining bits of meat off the bones. This is easiest when it is cooled slightly, but still warm. Collect the meat in a bowl to add to your soup.
This is a slightly tedious and messy job (it usually takes me about half an hour or so because I go slow and get every last little bit). The good news is the animal grease is a great moisturizer for your hands. When you’re done you can throw it in with your broth, some veggies and seasonings, and voila – turkey stew!