How can I be sure my chicken will be tender and my stock will have lots of flavor you can smell down the street?!

Since the weather is turning cooler, that means that the cold and flu season isn’t far away. Of all the recipes that I consider “important,” especially at this time of the year, the two I would like to help you to become proficient at are chicken stock and chicken soup. There are some common issues that home cooks experience when wanting to create a soothing pot of chicken soup, illustrated by the question that I recently received from a visitor to my website. I wanted to share it with you…

Hi Lauren:

I am making a big pot of chicken soup to help my walking pneumonia. Anyway, I thought once I take the chicken out I would put the bones back in and make a stock. My problem is sometimes my chicken gets tough when I am making soup. I don’t let it boil even at the beginning. I keep it just under a boil and then turn it down to a simmer and cook about 30-40 minutes. How can I be sure my chicken will be tender and my stock will have lots of flavor you can smell down the street!

Thanks for your help!


Dear Arlene,

I’m so sorry that you’ve been dealing with walking pneumonia. How awful! You should have someone bring you chicken soup!! (I would if I lived close…).

Re: chicken tenderness.

This is a very common issue since many will either cook the heck out of their chickens, wanting a flavorful chicken soup, which only leaves the meat terribly dry or they don’t cook the chicken enough because they’re afraid of dryness, which leaves chicken tough. Both scenarios are disappointing, especially when someone in the house is in need of nurturing in a hurry. If you check out my Chicken Stock video and Chicken Soup video, you’ll learn why (and see how) to make a few different types of stock in advance so it’s always available in the freezer. This is really the only way to, at whim, get a great bowl of chicken soup on the table–and in a hurry!

In order to accurately tell you how long to cook a bird, I need to know its size. If it’s a large hen, then 30 to 40 minutes isn’t enough (the older birds have more flavor but also need more simmering to render them tender and succulent). You are right, though, to never boil the chicken which only serves to dry and aggravate the flesh.

To perfectly poach chickens (or larger hens) Add your bird(s) to barely simmering water (with lots of aromatic vegetables like yellow onions, cut up carrots, sliced leeks and celery, some whole black peppercorns and a handful of parsley). Cover the pot (at this point it’s over high heat to encourage the water to come up to a bubble after being introduced to the cooler temperature of the bird(s)). Occasionally, lift the lid to check the movement of the water and, once the liquid starts to move (slow bubbles will just surface at the center of the pot) turn the heat to low and continue to cook very gently (covered securely) for 30 minutes (for a 3 ½ pound chicken) and up to 1 hour and 15 minutes (for a 7 pound hen). Then, remove the pot from the stove and allow the bird to cool until just warm in the broth, uncovered. This will allow the chicken flesh to settle down and reabsorb some of the flavor in the broth. At this point you’ll remove the bird from the tepid liquid and separate the meat from the bones and skin but don’t throw anything away. You can either eat the chicken separately, as you wish, or save it to use later, in your assembled soup.

To deepen the flavor in the broth, put the reserved bones and skin back into the poaching pot (adding any stray backs or necks from the freezer or a reserved carcass from last nights roast chicken…) and bring the liquid back up to a slow boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for another hour or two (now is when you want coax every last drop of flavor out of the solid ingredients and into the liquid. Remove the pot from the stove and, once again, allow the solids and liquid to cool together, uncovered, until just warm. Strain out the solids, pressing on them to get out their flavor and then cover the bowl of stock and chill it for 24 to 48 hours, so that the fat can rise to the top. Spoon off and discard the fat and use the stock now or freeze it, as you wish.

Again, to watch me make a few different types of Stock and also a very nurturing pot of Chicken & Vegetable soup, click here.

I hope you’ll try these recipes and let me know how you do!

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