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Chef Tony Polito shares secrets of salt and delicious chicken soup

Posted by Megan McKee  February 10, 2011 09:00 AM

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Eat Well, Be Well – Winter Salt

Come on, it’s not that bad! A few 38-degree temperature days and this snow will be long gone--faster than the very best cup of hot chocolate. It always seems that it’s the way you look at things that makes a dramatic change in your day-to-day life.

Since you've surely been some little salt on your driveway and sidewalks, let’s take a look at how different types of salt can be used in the kitchen to enhance recipes. Many folks think, “salt is salt,” but that’s not the case.

In fact, there are many different variations of salt. Some salts dissolve faster than others, such as table salt. Some, like gourmet salts, are made for baking or as a last-minute garnish on that special romantic dish. Then there's Hawaiian salt from the erupting volcanoes, which comes from—you guessed it—Hawaii.

Salts with larger granules, such as kosher salt, are great and easy pinch. These larger salts have various coarse textures and add a crunchy, nice taste while making a good presentation.

A great site to shop for gourmet salts is the Artisan Salt Company. They're out of Woodinville, Wash. I love the Fumme’e de Sel, the Murray River, and, of course, Alaea (Hawaiian salt).

One classic use for salt is in soups. Since we’re in the middle of winter, there is no better time to create your own chicken soup.

Here are a few points to get you started.

First, get your hands on the freshest produce. It can make or break your masterpiece soup.

Second, always add you salt toward the end. As you may know, this is not the way restaurants use salt and the suggestion might rattle the cages of a few chefs at the Culinary Institute of America.

But the real flavor comes from good produce, not the salt. Salt has the unique ability to do crazy things to our bodies. Too much or too little can do us harm. So, flavor your soup after you cook and allow your guests to season based on their own needs.

The next step to great chicken soup is buying the chicken. I like to purchase the entire chicken. Buying chicken pieces tends to be more expensive, but the upside is that it’s easier to work with than the whole chicken. You’re going to gain most of your flavor from the wings, thighs and drums, which will release some of the fats that give natural flavor to the stock. Side note: Stock is simply made with bones of the chicken, and broth is made without the bones. So there is no such thing as vegetable stock.

You can also try butchering the bird yourself. Need help? View this clip for tips on butchering your own chicken. You’ll save a little money and you’ll learn something as well.

If you buy a whole chicken, remove the breasts. These parts tend to be dry and not as flavorful for soup as the other parts. You’ll be able to use the breasts for a chicken salad, chicken casserole or chicken sandwich. This is why you often find chicken breast as a grilled sandwich on the menu at many restaurants; it’s not packed with flavor.

Also, use every part of the chicken. This is what restaurants do.

Lastly, make it simple. As you can see in my recipe below, I’m only using quality ingredients. Carrots, onions and celery are called mirepoix—it’s just a fancy French term for carrots, onions and celery.

This time of the year, dry herbs like oregano, parsley, and thyme (my favorite) are great. When using thyme I tend to throw in the stems and not even bother with plucking off the tiny leaves.

The heat of the soup will allow the leaves to simply fall off in the soup. One last point: I always buy free-range chicken, which is a term used to describe birds that can eat, dance, sing, walk, run, fly and roam freely instead of being confined in tiny cages.
Try your best to purchase wholesome foods since its well worth the investment. Your one stock that will pay dividends throughout the winter. Enjoy!

Winter Chicken Soup

1) 1 Gallon of cold filtered water depending on the size of the pot and the size of the chicken
2) 2 lbs. Chicken Parts (wings, legs and thighs)
3) 1 Large Onion (chopped)
4) 3 C. Celery (chopped)
5) 2 C. Carrots (chopped)– Remember this is your mirepoux, keep them in proportion.
6)10 Cloves Garlic (mined)
7) 3 TBSP Thyme (with stems)
8) 1 tsp Salt
9) 1 tsp Pepper (optional)

On high heat, add 1 -2 in a pot and bring to a boil about 6 minutes. Combine ingredients 3-5 and reduce heat to medium low for an hour. Add ingredients 6-9 and cook for additional ½ hour.

To make it your own, you can always add your choice of starch, be it beans or grains such as, rice, lentils, pasta, and peas. Even quinoa works.

You can also toss in a few tomatoes or potatoes. If you're feeling crazy, toss in some shitake mushrooms. You can flavor this with almost anything you wish. Just be sure to add sufficient cooking time to accommodate whatever you add.

Finish with lemon juice and a few drops of CA Olive Ranch Olive Oil to garnish and make this the best winter soup.

Tony Polito is a chef and food consultant in Boston and New York. Tony's specialty is helping people get fit, starting in the kitchen. He not only teaches people what to eat, but also how to eat. His first cookbook, “Fresh,” includes over 75 recipes that can be made in 10 minutes or less. Visit his web site at www.cookingwithtony.com.

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