I learned to cook out of necessity. It was my first year living off campus. That winter in northern California was not what you’d expect in the land of the sun, beach, and golden brown tan lines. It was cold. See your breath cold. Scrape your windshield cold. Huddle underneath your two down comforters, wearing two pairs of sweats, two pairs of socks, refusing to move cold. My roommates and I couldn’t afford to pay an increased electric bill, so we didn’t.
I fell in love with the kitchen because of its warmth. I quickly discovered reading with the back of my legs pressed against the oven door was only safe for so long. Soon, I found myself cooking as an excuse to turn on the stove or oven. When they were on, the other two roommates emerged from their bedrooms. We huddled around the warmth and talked. We held our hands close to pots of simmering rice. I liked to grab bites of stir-fry directly from the pan, inevitably burning my mouth.
There’s a lot of talk about comfort food. It’s normally heavy, rich, and full of cheese. I like those foods. Probably more than I should, but we’ll keep that between us. For me, comfort food is what I made the first winter I cooked. It’s warm rice, chicken, and vegetables. It’s the kind of dish you make a lot of and eat for days. It warms you from the inside out. It sticks with you through the day.
I have tried a lot of versions of Chicken, Rice, and Vegetable Soup from homemade stock, but have finally found my favorite best recipe. (At least until I find the next favorite recipe.) I only simmered the meat for 1 hour and then added it back in at the end. It made for tender, juicy pieces. When the bones were free of meat, I returned them back to the stock to let them continue to add their flavor. Straining the stock, I added fresh vegetables and rice. So, each bite was a mouthful. There was none of this sip the broth business. It was warm and hearty from start to finish. Just the way chicken, rice, and vegetables should be on cold days like we’ve been having.
Chicken, Rice, and Vegetable Soup
1 whole chicken (3.5 – 4 lbs)
4 TBS olive oil
2 large onions, chopped (I used white, but yellow or red would work)
Salt and pepper
4 carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 lb)
4 celery sticks, chopped (about ½ lb)
3 scallions, chopped (or one leak chopped)
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay dried leaf
½ TBS dried rosemary
¼ TBS dried thyme
¼ TBS dried oregano
Enough water to over the chicken (about 6 cups)
2 cups Arborio rice (you could use any rice, just make sure to consider its cook time)
Skin the chicken and break it down.
Note: You could buy a chicken broken down, but this is considerably more expensive. I have a description in this recipe for braking down a chicken, but a picture is worth a million words. Here are a few links with fabulous step-by-images or video about breaking down a chicken:
Heat 2 TBS olive oil in a large stockpot. Add one onion, season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Allow to sauté 2 minutes. Add ½ the carrots, ½ the celery, and all the scallions. Continue to sauté another two minutes. Add 4 cloves garlic and all the dried spices. Sauté until fragrant.
Add 4 cups water. Add broken down chicken. Continue adding water until the chicken is fully submerged.
Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and allow to simmer 1 hour.
With kitchen tongs, remove chicken from broth. Allow chicken to cool enough to handle. Pull meat from bones, cover, and refrigerate until later.
Add bones back to the stock and continue to simmer another 1½ – 2 hours. Strain stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours.
Remove stock from refrigerator and skim off the fat.
Note: The stock’s fat separates from the stock, rising to the top and solidifying like a jelly. You won’t be able to get rid of all of it and frankly you don’t want to. The fat adds a lot of flavor.
Heat 2 TBS olive oil to a large stockpot. Add remaining onion, carrots, and celery. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté until tender. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant.
Add stock and bring to a simmer. Add rice and cook for 35 – 40 minutes. Continually check seasoning and adjust to taste.
Note: This is a really important part of the process. You want to taste the soup and add salt and pepper incrementally. Not enough seasonings and your soup will be bland. Take it slow though, if the soup is too salty you wont be comforted. You’ll be suffering through a salty meal, sucking down water.
Stir in chicken and serve.