Chicken and Stars
There has been some sort of mild plague going around our town for the last few weeks and Betsy’s office has been hit pretty hard with it. It was only a matter of time before one of us woke up sniffling and aching.
I was lucky enough to avoid the sickness this time around but it sure did smack Bets right upside the head.
So I did what I do best when dealing with a sickness: Make soup.
This time around I happened to find these tiny little star-shaped pastas in the grocery store that sent me flying back to my childhood when my mom would always make me chicken and stars soup when I was sick.
So this is my homemade take on chicken and stars soup. It’s soothing and healing and will get you back on your feet again for sure.
Chicken and Stars Soup
Yield: Serves 8-10.
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
1 large onion, quartered
2 carrots, quartered
2 celery ribs, quartered
1 head garlic, halved
2 Tablespoons olive oil
6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Handful of fresh parsley
20ish black peppercorns
10-12 cups water
Stock from above, strained
Shredded chicken from above, remove fat
1/2 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 glove garlic, diced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Teaspoon fresh thyme
6-8 ounces star pasta
Salt and pepper
Crackers and/or crusty bread
1) Chop chicken into pieces and add the carcass pieces and wings to a large sturdy pot over high heat with a drizzle of oil. Let the chicken pieces brown well over high heat for about 8 minutes. Turn the chicken every few minutes to make it browns evenly.
2) Add your other stock ingredients (including other chicken parts) except the water to the heavy pot and let them all sautee for a few minutes. Try to scrape up any stuck-on bits.
3) Add the water to your pot and make sure you have enough water to barely cover the ingredients. Bring to a simmer and turn the heat down to medium. Simmer the stock on medium, partially covered, for about 60-75 minutes.
4) Remove all the chicken pieces from the stock and let them cool briefly.
5) Strain the warm stock into a large bowl. If there's a lot of fat on the surface of the stock, try to spoon off some of it. It's okay though to have a small layer of fat on the stock for this recipe.
6) Once chicken is cool enough to handle, remove skin from chicken and shred it into bite-sized pieces.
7) In your same large pot, add a new drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat. Then add all your diced veggies. Sautee for a few minutes until they start to soften. Add fresh thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper.
8) Add stock back to pot and bring to a simmer.
9) Once soup is simmering, stir in stars pasta and cook until al dente, about 9-10 minutes.
10) Finally stir in shredded chicken and season with salt and pepper.
11) Serve soup with crackers or crusty bread.
Making The Stock
I do occasionally take shortcuts and use store-bought stock for some dishes, but there’s absolutely no question that the best way to make a good soup is to make a good stock. It does add at least 90 minutes onto your preparation time (unless you have some frozen), but there’s just no debating that it takes homemade soup to another level.
I like to use a whole chicken when I make chicken soup so there’s a mix of white and dark meat. I like to chop up the chicken before cooking the stock which just makes it a bit easier to work with and gives you an opportunity to brown some of the meat.
If you’re intimidated by cutting up your own chicken, this video is one of the best I’ve seen at showing the process. It’s really not that hard and after you do two or three, you’ll get really fast at it.
Besides chicken and water, there’s a pretty standard list of vegetables that you’ll need to make a good stock. I wrote down a recipe, but it should be a guide. The good news about making stock is it’s a pretty flexible thing. Feel free to use more or less of the veggies depending on what you have and also don’t worry about chopping them up.
I just kind of quarter all of my vegetables.
To make the stock (and soup), I like to use a big heavy dutch oven. Add a drizzle of oil to the pan over high heat and then add just your chicken carcass and wings to the pot. That’s probably all that will be able to fit in a nice layer in the pan. If you can fit more chicken pieces, feel free to add them.
Let those chicken pieces cook for about 4-5 minutes per side until they are nice and browned. Some bits might get stuck to the pan and that’s just fine. The browned bits will give the stock a really deep flavor.
After your chicken has browned for a few minutes, you can add all your other veggies, herbs, and seasonings.
Let these guys cook for a few minutes and try to scrape up any bits stuck to the pan.
Then add any other chicken pieces to the pot and cover the whole thing with water. You want to cover everything by about an inch or so. This will probably work out to 10-12 cups of water.
Bring this all to a simmer and let it simmer and turn your heat down to medium. Let the stock simmer, partially covered, for about 75 minutes. Check on it every 20-30 minutes and if there’s a lot of foam on the surface, just scoop it off with a spoon.
The Soup Pieces
One reason why it really makes sense to make your own stock if you’re making homemade chicken soup is because you have to cook the chicken anyway. Making the stock accomplishes that for you!
Once your stock is cooked, just pull out your chicken pieces, let them cool for 5-10 minutes, and then shred them up. Try to remove as much fat and stuff as possible and just shred the chicken into bite-sized bits.
For that delicious stock that’s been simmering, I recommend straining it with a strainer to remove any tiny bits of vegetable or whatever.
If there’s a lot of oil on your stock, try to spoon off some of it. A little bit definitely won’t hurt the soup at all.
This was my strained and finished stock that I used for my soup.
For the actual soup, take your time dicing up some veggies so they are roughly the same size. You don’t need a ton of vegetables to make a good soup at this point.
Half an onion, a few ribs of celery, a carrot or two, and a clove of garlic should do the trick.
And, of course, you’ll need some stars. You could obviously use noodles or whatever, but I just think these are fun.
Making the Soup
I didn’t even bother washing out my pot from making the stock. I just added a new drizzle of olive oil, set the pot over medium-high heat, and added all my veggies to it.
Cook the veggies for a few minutes until they start to soften and then add the thyme and all the stock. Bring that all to a simmer and then add your stars.
A Note on Over-starring. I actually added the full 16 ounces of stars to my soup because they looked so tiny! Like any pasta though, they swell! I think my version ended up a bit star-heavy! Six to eight ounces of the star pasta should be enough.
The stars will need to cook for about 9-10 minutes and then you can stir in your shredded chicken and season the soup with salt and pepper.
Serving the soup
I really like soup like this with crackers, but I know that super-crusty bread is also a hit. Any way you scoop it, this is just a good bowl of soup.
Betsy ate this for a few meals (I did too just to ward off the germs) and she was feeling much better after about 24 hours!
I take full credit for her recovery.