Today was the first cold day of the year. Not just crisp, with little red and golden leaves tripping to the ground on a light breeze – no, that was last month. Today was a bone-numbing 39 degrees with a wind chill of what-the-hell-am-I-doing-outside-anyway?
I would be fibbing if I said “It is on a day like this every year that my thoughts turn to soup again” or something like that. Truth is, I’m a soup girl all year round. On a wintry day, however, it’s a special kind of soup I want to snuggle with on my sofa. I want hot, hearty, comforting chicken noodle soup. Soup that tastes like home.
I don’t mind the stuff from a can. I even have a favorite brand that I keep in the pantry all the time. But soup for this sort of day is special, and there are certain characteristics it must possess: The broth must have a deep, well-rounded flavor and it should be slightly thickened, not by flour or cornstarch, but by cooking the noodles in the soup itself. The chicken must be shredded, not diced into uniform cubes, and finally, there should be a hint of freshness at the end, as if to promise that the warm sun will be back soon.
Tall order, huh? I’ll say. And most of the time, when I realize that I have to have this soup, the day is almost gone and I just can’t face plopping a whole chicken in a pot of water to start a soup from scratch. So, over the years I’ve experimented with ways of creating a homemade taste in far less time. Different stocks, noodles, chicken preparations – I’ve tried it all. The following recipe is the result of this quest. The key is the combination of stocks (Imagine brand is available at Whole Foods and it’s worth an extra trip if necessary), and the addition of herbs after it simmers. Tarragon and chicken are culinary soulmates and it’s this herbal embrace that elevates the soup from a meal to a memory.
Chicken Noodle Soup
3 medium-to-large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper
2 32 oz. boxes Imagine Chicken Cooking Stock
1 32 oz. box Imagine Creamy Chicken Soup
¾ cup carrots, ½” dice
¾ cup celery, ½” dice
2 bay leaves
5 dashes Tabasco, or to taste
Salt and pepper
6 oz. wide egg noodles
¼ cup chopped tarragon leaves
¼ cup chopped parsley
1. Season chicken breasts lightly with salt and pepper and roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool and shred with fingers (much better than dicing with a knife – trust me).
2. Combine all stock and soup in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add carrots, celery, bay leaves and shredded chicken and reduce heat. Maintain a bare simmer for 30 minutes to one hour.
3. Remove bay leaves and season the soup to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Add noodles and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
4. Just before serving, stir in tarragon and parsley.
NOTE: If making soup the day before, take it to the point of removing the bay leaves and then cool down and refrigerate. On the second day, return the soup to a simmer and continue with remaining steps.