The Comfort of Chicken Soup

Comfort: Your favorite pair of jeans, your favorite chair, that pair of slippers that make you feel so warm and safe--so, well, just right. That same warming comfort also comes in a big cup or bowl of soup. For me, it's a kale and white bean soup. For some it's a creamy bowl of tomato soup that takes them back to mother tending to you when you were too sick to go to school, and for many others it's chicken soup. Ah, the healing power of chicken soup! But which chicken soup, for there are so many recipes.

Thomas and Emme (two of my stepchildren) have grown up eating everything besides eggs and bacon for breakfast. Especially comforting for them is to wake up late on a Saturday, come to the kitchen and grab a bowl of this chicken and rice soup.

Thomas e-mailed today to ask for the recipe. It's just getting cold here in South Carolina, he's away at school and it's beginning to look a lot like soup weather, so no mystery that he's looking for a little comfort in a bowl.

Back when Thomas and Emme (now in their 20s) were little, I developed this recipe as a way to feed the family on cold winter nights. I made it easy and purposefully left out any of the
ingredients that younger children tend not to appreciate, such as beans and okra, and I made sure that I could prepare it inexpensively and quickly.

Everything about this soup is easy, even the name, but the flavor is intensely chickeny and intensely comforting in the mouth. I hope you'll try it soon. Put on your favorite slippers, grab a bowl and a spoon and enjoy the comfort of eating it sitting in your favorite chair, covored by an old quilt. Careful now, don't fall asleep.

5 chicken breasts & two leg quarters (w/ bones)*
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped
2 large carrots, washed & cut in half
1 rib celery, washed & cut in half
salt and pepper
3 quarts water
1 small can whole tomatoes w/ juice
1 c. Uncle Ben’s rice
¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro

Fill a large pot with water. Add all ingredients except tomato, rice and cilantro. Bring to a boil, remove scum, and reduce to a simmer. When chicken is almost done, remove. When cooled enough to handle, remove meat from bones and set aside. Place bones back in pot and continue to simmer for about 1 hour. This will extract more flavor from the bones and reduce the broth.

Drain the broth, remove the bones and pour back into pot. Chop tomatoes and add, along with juice. Bring to a boil, adjust salt and pepper to suit and simmer for 10 minutes. Add rice and continue to simmer, covered, until rice is done (15-20 minutes).

While rice is cooking cut chicken meat into large chunks and, once rice is ready, add chicken meat and cilantro. Simmer for 3-5 minutes further and serve.

*Can use all white or all dark meat, depending on your preference. The reason that chicken is cooked for a little and de-boned is to make sure meat is cooked through, but not dry.
When we cook a turkey, we save the leftovers to make this recipe. Pull off all turkey meat that is juicy and tender and set aside. Put everything else in a pot full of water, along with the garlic, onion, carrots and celery and simmer for several hours to get the broth/stock. Freeze stock and meat separately. Thaw, follow steps for adding tomatoes and rice, then finish with the rest of the directions.
© 2010 Despina Panagakos Yeargin