Quarantine Soup

  • Crushing rosemary for chicken soup. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

  • Homemade veggie stock. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

  • Chicken soup made by writer Andy Castillo. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

  • Chicken soup made by writer Andy Castillo. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

  • Garlic and lemon chicken, the bones of which are slow-cooked to make stock, which is necessary to make homemade chicken soup from scratch. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

  • A whole chicken roast.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2020 10:51:21 AM

While the national toilet paper shortage has received a lot of attention in recent days (and rightly so), has anyone else noticed that chicken and turkey are increasingly difficult to come by? Red meat is easily found, but shelves once over-stocked with bird are now completely bare. As a staple of my diet, it’s quickly become a precious commodity that must be savored.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of my life, among them my culinary habits. For example, because I’m working from home now, I find myself more often tackling time-consuming recipes. And, with a limited supply of groceries, I’ve been coming up with creative ways to re-use scraps, re-purpose leftovers and utilize processed foods in homemade recipes.

Only three weeks ago, I treated chicken like the easily added protein it was (notably, I often incorporate vegetarian and seafood options into my cooking, but variety is the spice of life). My wife, Brianna, is an overnight nurse at a local hospital and, even before our apartment became my office, I would typically rush home after work around 4:30 p.m. to prepare dinner (for me) and breakfast (for her) before she left at 6. In quarantine, while my desk has moved, cooking on nights when she is working is still an important duty I take very seriously. 

We, like everyone else, are learning to adapt to the many challenges brought about by this ever-evolving health crisis. Among those, the absence of chicken has left a noticeable void in our kitchen of late.

That’s why, during our most recent bi-monthly shopping trip — while the store was predictably out of most poultry products — I considered myself lucky to score a whole chicken. Very loosely following a recipe, I stuffed it with lemon, carrots, a little bit of thyme and way more garlic than the instructions called for and baked it at around 425 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour and 20 minutes (about a half-hour covered with foil, the rest uncovered). The chicken roast was fall-off-the-bone delicious — savory and crispy, decadent and satisfying.

That was just the beginning.

Leftovers went in the refrigerator and the carcass went into a Crock-Pot overnight, along with a half-dozen bay leaves, salt, a bag of veggie scraps from the freezer, assorted herbs, half an onion and a few handfuls of carrots for added sweetness. Lately, producing vegetable stock from frozen carrot ends and onion skins has become a weekly occurrence. The chicken added a robust element.

For those who’ve never tried it, making Crock-Pot stock is an easy endeavor that has loose rules: Sweeter veggies like carrots provide an up-front flavor that comprises the broth’s body; onions and garlic add texture and color; more acidic scraps like broccoli stalks can be used for a back-end kick; peppers and the like should be used sparingly; herbs can mold the palate; salt should be added to taste before, during and after cooking; everything is covered by 8 to 12 cups of water.

Six hours later, the freezer scraps turn into a delicious stock that’s way better than anything store-bought and can greatly enhance everything from quinoa to shrimp scampi.

In recent weeks, making stock has become a personal practice that transcends the kitchen. There’s something wonderfully spiritual about making slow food: I find myself thinking about the mysteries of the universe as I chop up scraps, add salt, strain the stock into containers and allow its savory aroma to transport me to a different time and space (away from the pandemic-induced anxiety and stress). Even the clean-up is enjoyable, as I find it forces me to slow down for a few minutes.

Additionally, the repetitive motion of doing the dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher) encourages contemplation.

When my homemade chicken stock was cool, I made soup out of whatever I found in the pantry — half a package of frozen peas; baby carrots; the leftover chicken; a package of edamame spaghetti I found in the back of a cabinet; ground thyme and crushed rosemary; a small red pepper, finely diced; dashes of salt and pepper; the last half-onion remaining in the fridge; and only the noodles from a to-go container of Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods Vegan Pad Thai Noodle Soup.

The result was a perfect accent to the rather dreary weather we’ve been experiencing lately, warming the soul and nourishing the body. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have thought to use edamame spaghetti in such a capacity — I’m glad I did. Its earthy flavor complemented the more mellow and savory flavors of the saturated veggies and slow-cooked chicken.

It’s a dish I’ll certainly make again.

Already, quarantining has reiterated to me the importance of a few principles such as the necessity of resource conservation, the usefulness of slowing down and the value of appreciating life’s small joys — like finding a whole chicken in the supermarket and savoring the aroma of delicious flavors mingling in a slow cooker.

In this challenging season, I’m also learning to use whatever ingredients I have on hand to create nourishment for the body and soul.

Andy Castillo is the features editor at the Greenfield Recorder. He can be reached at acastillo@recorder.com.

Quarantine Soup

Firstly, it’s important to note that there are no required ingredients for this recipe. Whatever is available in your own cupboard is perfectly acceptable. Also, note the following ingredients are loosely documented. Don’t stress the details and prioritize your mental health. The important thing is to make soup.

9 ounces chicken/vegetable stock

1 pound chicken

1 small pepper

Carrots to taste

Frozen peas to taste

1 tsp. ground thyme

1½ tsp. crushed rosemary

7 oz. edamame spaghetti

Only the noodles from 2-ounce cup Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods Vegan Pad Thai Noodle Soup

½ medium onion

Finely dice the onion and pepper, shred the chicken and crush the rosemary. Measure as many carrots and peas as you’d like (I prefer quite a lot). Chop the carrots and add everything except for the edamame spaghetti and the Thai noodles to the bottom of a Crock-Pot. Pour in the stock. Stir the mixture and let it cook for four hours on high. When there’s about 15 minutes left on the timer, boil a pot of water and cook the noodles and edamame separately for around a minute or two. Strain the noodles and add them to the Crock-Pot. Stir well and let the soup cook for another 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Then, ladle yourself a bowl of steaming-hot soup, curl up in a well-lit nook with a good book and look on the bright side of life.


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