If I wanted to make the best chicken soup ever...
January 19, 2019 11:56 AM   Subscribe

dutch oven? stock pot? or pressure cooker?

I'm starting to learn to cook and though I despise the learning curve, once I get a recipe going it's starts getting easy. (general rule of thumb for me is that it comes out completely inedible the first time I make something, edible but not that great the second time, and starts to be good enough to eat without forcing myself to by the third attempt.)

I finally got my matzo balls to not be disgusting and float. Currently I stick them in premade canned soups. Now it's time for me to make my own chicken soup, but I don't have a big pot.. yet.

Youtube has many videos on how to make chicken soup in a regular stock pot. Cooking time is apparently around 60-90 min. Apparently you're supposed to cook the chicken first and then put in the veggies so they don't get too mushy or something.

Dutch ovens supposedly are great because you can brown the chicken in it first and then start making the soup in there, which supposedly adds more flavor. But I don't like how heavy these things are. I'd only want this if it really is the best way.

Instant pots seem like they're really versatile as they can be used as a slowcooker and a pressure cooker. I'm not clear on how to make chicken soup with this. Some videos show people just dumping all the ingredients in at once, but not sure what happens to the chicken fat (does it float to the top like in a regular pot?) or if the veggies get soggy. Supposedly it cuts the cooking time by half which is a huge plus.This device probably has a huge learning curve because apparently you have to use less water in a pressure cooker than you would in a regular pot if you don't want watery stews, but I have no idea. Wondering if the results taste good.

Obviously, whatever I get should be versatile enough that I can do more than chicken soup in it since all these items take up space, but I don't eat rice and virtually never cook pasta.... chicken soup is something I would make frequently.
posted by fantasticness to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Go with a stock pot. Use chicken backs or legs. At least 10. Add to pot with water, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, peppercorn, salt. Bring to a boil, cover. Simmer. For 3-4 hours. Strain, cool stock for an hour or two then into fridge overnight Pick chicken, reserve meat . Throw out bones, skin, cartilage, and veggies. Next day skim off the fat, heat stick with fresh carrots, onion, celery. When nice and hot and veg done, add back chicken. Serve.

Given that you are a new cook, I'd stick to he most basic equipment to start. A stock pot is inexpensive.

I don't trust any recipe that says 60-90 minutes for stock.
posted by Ftsqg at 12:07 PM on January 19 [9 favorites]

^ This is pretty much exactly what I do, except I start it in the morning and just simmer all morning, take everything out noonish-twoish, replace with new veggies, shred up the chicken and return it to the pot. Everyone raves about it, and asks for the recipe. It's very old-country; I make it exactly how my great-grandmother made it. I usually put half of the done soup into another pot and add noodles to it, and maybe egg drop. If you add noodles to the giant pot of stock they usually go mushy before you can eat all of the soup. Like my grandmother, I shave fresh pecorino romano cheese over the soup when plating it.

I usually use a whole chicken, which I cut up. I do not cook it first. I use a Le Creuset stock pot. It's pretty heavy but before I got it I used an aluminum stock pot and it was just as good.
posted by the webmistress at 12:23 PM on January 19 [8 favorites]

Basically thirding. I put an entire chicken in the pot, bring it to a boil and let it simmer for hours, sometimes overnight. Pull the chicken out and remove the bones and gunky stuff, and put it back in and add vegetables. Also, to me it doesn’t taste right unless there’s parsley added at the end.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:39 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

If it’s going with matzo balls, it’s jewish chicken soup. So raw chicken no browning of anything! My family adds extra wings.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 12:41 PM on January 19

I'm addicted to my instantpot & even I think in your case you can't go wrong with a stockpot for what you want to do. Have fun experimenting & figuring out your recipe.
posted by wwax at 12:42 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Instantpot does cut down on cooking time - I run it for 90mins (add time it takes to heat up and depressurize, approx 2 hours). Flavor-wise, IMO, it’s a little bit better than stockpot -less dull- and gets more gelatin out of the carcasses (that’s what makes the soup have a smooth mouthfeel).
Otherwise, nthing the recipe given above.

Honestly, I wouldn’t get an instantpot just for slightly improved stock, you should be fine with just a regular ole pot and many hours of simmering.
posted by The Toad at 12:52 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]

My mothers (regular, grand, and great-grand) would use a pressure cooker if the chicken was the objective, but a stock pot if stock/soup was desired.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:04 PM on January 19

Whether you use whole chicken, parts, or leftover carcasses from roast chickens, skim off the frothy bits after it comes to a boil. I don't usually cover it, but you do you. Either way, enjoy your wonderful homemade broth. There's nothing like it!
posted by kate4914 at 1:20 PM on January 19

All the methods work equally well, but the Instant Pot is definitely the fastest. It's also quite simple: just put in a chicken carcass, half an onion, a bit of celery, fill it with water up to "full" line, and hit "soup." When it's done, strain it through a colander and into a stock pot. Voila, stock.

If you don't already have an Instant Pot though, I don't think it's worth buying one just for this. A stock pot is just as easy. The only difference is that instead of hitting "soup" and letting it run for 45 minutes or so, you simmer it for two or three hours. Just as simple, it just takes longer.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:33 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah and to turn your stock into soup you just add cooked chicken meat that you picked off the carcass before you threw it in for the stocj, the other half of the onion, some more celery, some carrots, and some chunks of potato, all chopped into bite-sized chunks. Add anything else that you think would be good; root vegetables in general work well, so like sweet potatoes and parsnips and such. Some salt and pepper. Then simmer all that for another half hour or so, until the root vegetables are soft.

It'll be good right away and even better the next day after mellowing in the fridge overnight.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:37 PM on January 19

We make chicken soup a lot, always in a stockpot and done pretty much like people above. It can be very variable, using lemon or lemongrass for a vaguely Asian-ish style, or thyme and leeks for a Scottish 'cock-a-leekie'. I rarely simmer it for more than 90 mins and like to avoid too much water, and I make sure to use chicken with skin and bones without which the soup ends up much less tasty.
posted by anadem at 2:06 PM on January 19

it doesn't matter. What does matter is that if you do stovetop, simmer it GENTLY and skim. You do not want a rolling boil, which will emulsify the crud into your broth and make it grey and gross. If you do IP just hit "soup".

I use the IP as make chicken soup a lot, and the ability to hit "soup" and then leave it until I feel like dealing with it is important to my workflow.

For all methods, chill to get the fat off afterwards. If you made it correctly it will be there on top waiting for you. Also for all methods don't be stingy: it takes quite a lot of meat and bones to make a good broth.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:10 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]

Personally I just leave the fat, nothing wrong with a few oil droplets floating on the soup. That's flavor.

I don't get a big ol' layer of it or anything though, just a smattering. I do put skin in my stock.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:14 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

I make a lot of chicken stock using my stove top pressure cooker. Mostly it's when we've had a roast chicken, something we all love, and I put the leftovers + onion, carrot and celeriac in the pot and cover with water. Cook for 30--45 mins and you have a great stock for all purposes.
Also sometimes I can buy "soup hens", with are not really useful for anything else than cooking stock. Straight to the pressure cooker.
If I'm starting with a whole chicken because I want to use the meat from the chicken for something, I prefer poaching it gently in a regular pot. I know that some pressure cooking aces can do the job in an IP, but I can't. When I've done poaching the chicken and doing whatever I need to do, I'll take the carcass and pressure cook it to make a second stock.
posted by mumimor at 2:59 PM on January 19

Also, check Serious Eats for advice, this is where they shine.
posted by mumimor at 3:00 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

I love this chicken stock from Smitten Kitchen. It freezes well in quart bags and can be the base of many recipes. I make it in the slow cooker overnight. Once you have the stock, add noodles or chicken pieces or whatever you like. I use one of those disposable slow cooker liners and when it's done, I cut a small hole in the bottom, drain out all the chicken-y goodness and toss the bones. There is basically no prep and no hands-on time involved. It's even good on its own as a nice thing to sip on instead of tea on a cold day.
posted by Kangaroo at 3:53 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

I made chicken soup yesterday. I baked a chicken in an open deep casserole at 325 degrees. I started with the chicken on its breast and rubbed the back with chopped garlic in olive oil. I poured a cup of red wine in the bottom, and a cup of organic marinara, finishing the bottle of marinara, with an onion half, sliced, basil and dill on top of the bird. Then I did some errands for about 40 minutes. Then I turned the bird over put on some more garlic and went away again for about an hour. At that low temperature it is forgiving. So, I took the chicken and ate a leg and thigh, put the other in the freezer, along with two more portions of meat. I opened up my dutch oven which is always on the stove, and poured in the pan juices, chopped up some potatoes, celery, more onion, and about a pound of the 3.5 pound chicken. I added lemon juice, some seasoning salt, enough water to make it soup. Then I simmered it for a while and adjusted the seasoning. I had a bowl of soup, one for the fridge , and two servings for the freezer. Since there is just me, I want things to serve a few purposes and raise a half dozen meals that become whatever.
posted by Oyéah at 4:19 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

I (maybe or maybe not obviously) was also referring to a stovetop pressure cooker. I didn't know what an Instant Pot was until just now, and my great-grandma definitely did not have one in her cabin.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:40 PM on January 19

Here's what I do, I take the bird and remove the junk and rinse it. Then I put it into a big pot with carrot, onion, celery, maybe some garlic, and some bay leaves, sometimes thyme.

I simmer the bird for a while. Until it's done.

Then I take the bird out and put it onto a sheet pan. Let it cool a little while and take all the meat off. I throw all the bones into a pile.

All the bones go back into the pot. Then I let that simmer overnight on low and make a chicken stock.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:59 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]

I sometimes do basically what the webmistress does; and sometimes I roast a chicken for dinner one night; set aside the breast meat and serve the rest; and then make a chicken stock with the carcass and celery, onions, garlic, carrots, & herbs (you can save the skins of onions and tops of carrots and so on for your stock -- throw 'em all in a freezer bag in the freezer until you want them), simmering from like 10 a.m. until maybe 3 or 4 p.m. on a weekend. And then I strain the stock and make the actual soup with the ingredients I want, and the diced-up breast meat.

PS, use herbes de provence herb mixture for making the stock, and make sure it has lavender in it. You wouldn't think, but the lavender adds an awesome touch of flavor and the blend smells better than anything else. I do a bunch of herbes de provence and then a bunch of extra rosemary b/c there's nothing better with chicken than rosemary!

I have a Dutch oven (and it's a great kitchen tool when you're ready for it), but I always use my stock pot for chicken soup.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:34 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]

Perhaps this is obvious, but do make sure you season the stock properly when you’ve finished making it. Otherwise you spend hours making something and at the end it can be a bit underwhelming.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:30 AM on January 20

Doing this is two separate processes. 1) making a stock and 2) making the soup. Stock a many, many uses in a kitchen. Make stock in quantity, do not season as you don't know exactly how you'll use it. Then freeze in a convenient quantity for yourself.

For the soup. If you don't want to get into the whole stock making process just yet, there are serviceable stocks you can buy and doll up while you're poaching your chicken. When I cheat with the stock I always buy low sodium versions so I have better control of seasoning. Cut all the veg to a consistent size for an even cook. I like carrots, corn kernels, green peas and celery. If you like potatoes, get waxy's as they will keep their shape. I also personally like thyme and sage and black peppercorns. If you want something other than a matzo ball, I really like using risoni, a rice-shaped pasta that adds a great mouth feel especially in the leftovers.

If you want to get into making stocks, it is time consuming but very rewarding. If you have a local butcher, ask them for carcasses. My butcher will happily give me a bag of 4-5 for free. I also ask them to break the bones open to get at the marrow. Use them from there into your water for a lighter stock or roast them deep brown for a darker and richer flavour. I make mine in a 20lt stock pot and usually end up with ~8-10 litres of finished product.

One last hint on the stock. Start from cold water.

Good luck with your soup!
posted by michswiss at 2:08 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]

So, there are a few things to unpack here. The first one has to do with the difference between a broth and a stock. I'll copy in a portion of this comment I made back in June, and there is more detailed information in the original comment.
A stock's primary characteristic is that it contains plentiful gelatin. It is an ingredient rather than a finished product. It may or may not be particularly flavorful. It is unlikely to have any notable flavorings beyond the type of animal used to make it (and in some cases such as veal stock, barely any of that).

A broth's primary characteristic is that it is flavorful. It may or may not contain plentiful gelatin. It is a finished product, and as such is likely to contain other flavorings such as herbs, spices, etc.

Whereas most of the flavor extracted from animal parts into liquid come from the meat, it is possible to get plenty of gelatin from relatively unflavorful parts of the animal. This may be the origin of the idea that "stock comes from the bones and broth comes from the meat." Strictly-speaking, that's not true. You can definitely get a stock from collagen-rich meat without using bones at all. In fact, the bones themselves don't contribute much. The reason to use bones when making a stock is due to the stuff stuck to them, which is usually nice gristly bits of connective tissue. And if you want to get a flavorful stock, you want to make sure you use bones and other scraps that have plenty of meat stuck to them. It's also possible to get a broth using bones and other collagen-rich ingredients if you flavor it into a finished product. Indeed, one of the most common ways to get a broth is to start with a stock which is then flavored with additional ingredients such as meat, vegetables, herbs, spices, etc.
An important thing to understand about making stock is that it is an extractive process. Any recipe that encourages you to reuse the leftover meat from stockmaking is either incompletely extracting flavor and body from the meat, or is saddling your soup with bits of mushy, dry, sad flavorless meat. It is possible to make a decent enough broth and re-use the broth if you monitor the doneness of the meat and remove it as soon as it is cooked to an appropriate degree. That will depend on the kind of meat. Needless to say, chicken breast would be appropriately cooked at a much lower temperature and length of time compared to beef short rib. For chicken, you would cook the leg meat longer and to a higher temperature than the breast meat. If you want a longer cooking time and more flavor, seek out an egg-laying ("stewing") chicken. Because the flavorful meat of these chickens is quite tough it takes more time and temperature to make it tender, which extracts more flavor into the liquid. Notwithstanding all the foregoing, however, a soup made this way will never have the depth of flavor or lip-smacking quality of one made with real stock. The best broth soups, in my opinion, start with a stock that is then converted into a broth.

Starting with the stock, you want cheap ingredients that contain plenty of collagen. Get a few family packs of chicken wings and, if you can, get a bunch of chicken feet. Chicken feet are full of collagen that the stockmaking process will convert to delicious, delicious gelatin. Bung the wings and feet together with some onion, carrot and celery into a pressure cooker, fill with water, pressure cook on high for 60 minutes and do natural release. Why natural release? Because the pressure cooker is sealed and the liquid inside doesn't really boil, per se, there is very little agitation of the liquid resulting in a nice clear broth. If you do quick release, the rapidly boiling liquid will cloud the broth somewhat. Anyway, strain the liquid off and get rid of the dregs. Some people think they're going to feed the meat scraps to their dog or cat, but I've never been able to get Beatrix the Feline Vacuum to take any interest. Again, if you're doing it right all the flavor will be in the liquid and none in the leftover meat.

Now that you have a great stock full of gelatin and chicken flavor, you can decide how you would like to flavor it into a broth. This is typically done by adding meat, vegetables and herbs. You could, for example, poach chicken breast in the stock until just done through, both cooking the meat and adding some fresh chicken flavor, then pull it out and cut it down to pieces to be added back in. You could do the same thing with vegetables, herbs, spices, etc. Whether those additions remain in the soup or end up getting strained out depends on how clear and uncluttered you want the broth to be. One really nice way to get a flavorful clear broth is to do an infusion. Take your aromatics (e.g., thin-sliced garlic, star anise, black peppercorn, chervil, thyme, tarragon, bay leaf and parsley) and put them in a vessel, pour boiling hot stock over them, infuse for 2-3 minutes, then strain and serve immediately. The fresh, bright flavors from the recently-infused aromatics is outstanding. However you decide to do it, starting with a real stock and viewing the other components as "flavoring agents" (that you will infuse and then take out) and "extra ingredients" (that you will leave in after cooking in the stock or externally) will ramp up your soup quality by quite a bit. As others have suggested, you can make stock in bulk and freeze or home-can it for later use.
posted by slkinsey at 9:19 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]

I was pretty much coming in here to say what slkinsey had to say.

All the recipes you've been seeing are smooshing the two steps of chicken-soup-making into one recipe - they're having you make the soup broth (or "stock"), and then go straight into making the soup. Whether you do that in a stock pot, a Dutch oven, or an instant pot doesn't really matter.

What CAN help you, though, is if you break the soup-stock making part out and do that separately. The stock is usually the part that takes the most time, so it can be a good idea to do that on a lazy weekend day when you're going to be just sort of hanging around the house anyway. Also, you can use soup stock for other things (replace part of the water with stock when you're making rice, use a spoonful in sauces, stuff like that).

This also explains this bit: Apparently you're supposed to cook the chicken first and then put in the veggies so they don't get too mushy or something. Whatever you use to make your stock is going to be pretty much tasteless mush by the time you're done. But that's fine because all the flavor's in the stock anyway. Meat from chicken parts will hold up a little better, but will still only be kind of so-so.

So instead, try to make just the soup stock first, and then save it for making soup later. Then it's just a matter of heating up the stock, cooking the veggies in it until they're just cooked, throwing in some cooked chicken and letting that heat up, and you're done. This takes only about 20 minutes.

Making the stock can also be economical. You can make it out of the bones from a rotisserie chicken - if you bring a rotisserie chicken home, instead of eating the part you want and then wrapping the leftovers up for later, take a few minutes to pick all the meat off all the bones. Then throw the bones into a pot with maybe half an onion, a carrot chopped into a couple pieces, a clove of garlic or two, and just enough water to cover it all over. Then simmer that really long and slow for a couple hours, strain out the bones and stuff and save that stock. Then you can use the leftover meat from the rotisserie chicken in the soup the next day (or whenever you make soup).

Or if you really wanna go economical, see if your supermarket has packages of chicken feet for sale. They'll probably be cheap (because everyone is going to be all "who wants FEET"), but feet are PERFECT for stock. The last soup stock I made was nothing but a package of chicken feet and a couple cloves of garlic and that's it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:31 PM on January 20

I 100% disagree with the notion that you need to cook stock for hours upon hours. Serious Eats recommends 90 minutes. If you want to use a pressure cooker, here's that recipe.

If you are asking for equipment recommendations that's hard to answer for you. I would personally choose a pressure cooker/instant pot over a dutch oven but it depends on what else you want to cook or use them for. Dutch ovens are somewhat heavy but far more versatile than a stock pot. While you can brown the skin, I don't think that is typical for a basic stock. The recipes I linked to will produce soggy veggies, but they are only there to provide flavor, not be eaten.

I don't think there's a huge learning curve for a pressure cooker but maybe I'm just used to mine? It is tricky to adapt a normal recipe to a pressure cooker but if someone's already done the work for you then you're all set.

I agree with others saying that you should treat making stock as one step and making the actual soup as a separate process.
posted by O9scar at 12:53 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]

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