a vintage recipe: cream of chicken soup

Cream of chicken soupreal cream of chicken soup, doesn’t come from a red and white can, folks. Real cream of chicken soup is homemade, from scratch and lovingly tended as it simmers.  Buttery, rich with the flavor of chicken, and irrepressibly smooth, it’s a nourishing dish with an old-fashioned, and almost timeless charm (skip straight to the recipe).

the fireside cook book

Growing up, the only creamed soups served up in our middle-income household came straight from Campbell’s and usually ended up in casseroles, mixed with polished rice, pasta or corn chips and a bag of frozen vegetables.  They were gelatinous, semi-solid masses that retained the shape of the can as they plopped out into the saucepan.   Those cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups drew what meager flavor they could offer from refined salt, monosodium glutamate and yeast extracts.  And to achieve their peculiar semi-solid state, the manufacturer included even more industrial additions: modified wheat starch, vegetable oil and partially-hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils – a fearful slurry courtesy of modernized food processing.  So, for years beyond my food transformation, I cringed at the thought of those cream-of-watchamacallit soups, and just couldn’t bring myself to develop a homemade version of cream of chicken or any other soup.

This past Saturday, the Paragon People’s Fair – an annual community flea market, of sorts – took place.  Always a sucker for yard sales and thrift shops, I count the days leading up to the fair with breathy anticipation.  There’s the Army / Navy surplus booth which also stocks used guitars and weather-worn toy trucks for little boys.  There’s the KBUT CD swap, and theHCCA bake sale.  There’s the raw honey booth and the soap makers.  There’s homespun and hand-dyed yarns.  I visit the booth with the vintage (and ridiculously overpriced) kitchen gadgets, whose proprietor nearly bares her teeth in a sneer every time you so much as glanceat at an old silver spoon or embroidered napkin.  I have a sneaking suspicion that she doesn’t really want to part with any of it and that her husband has put her up to it all in effort to clear their basement for a foosball table. But my very favorite booth is the used book sale hosted by the Friends of the Library.  I always find something good there, usually lurking in a musty old box beneath the table.

As my real food lovers on facebook already know, at this year’s book sale I was able to land a first edition copy of James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book, first published in 1949.  So in some anachronistic turn of grace, it sits next to my iMac along with my other treasured vintage cookbooks like Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking and a 1960 copy of the Ladies’ Home Journal Cook Book.   Unlike the others, the Fireside Cook Book is still in print.  Sure, my copy is a little worse for the wear: its pages are stained with the successes and failures of cooks before me and its binding is nearly falling off, but I’d expect the same from any well-loved cookbook.  I wouldn’t trust a clean cookbook, free from sticky pages and water stains; after all, it must not have got much use.

So as I was gingerly thumbing through the pages so as not to damage them further, I happened across Beard’s recipe for cream of chicken soup.   It looked beautiful: full of butter, cream, fresh chicken and leeks.  It wasn’t thickened with flour or starch, but egg yolks.  All the recipes in the book are lovely and speak to a time when the American food system was changing – when mothers still insisted upon cod liver oil daily, liver once a week and fresh eggs for breakfast, and just about the time vegetable shortening, marshmallow fluff and parboiled rice would become the rage (though Beard doesn’t call for these ingredients in his book).  In an instance, I decided I’d conquer my fear of the gelatinous, lumpy condensed cream soups of my childhood and try a real, honest-to-goodness homemade cream of chicken soup.

cream of chicken soup

By support Published: September 7, 2010

  • Yield: one gallon soup to feed about eight people.
  • Prep: about two and a half hours min

Adapted from James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book, this homemade cream of chicken soup is gentle and soothing in its flavor, deeply comforting and satisfying. While my adaptation includes more vegetables and more egg yolks than the original, you’ll find that either version provides that beautiful, filling nourishment that can even satisfy the soul on a chilly, rainy autumn afternoon.

Ingredients

  • 1 whole pasture-raised stewing chicken (about 3 to 4 pounds)
  • 1 leek
  • 2 to 3 whole cloves
  • 5 to 6 stalks of celery (including leaves)
  • 3 to 4 large carrots (including tops)
  • 1 medium yellow onion (including top)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 6 egg pastured yolks (beaten)
  • 2 cups heavy cream (preferably raw, not ultra-pasteurized)
  • unrefined sea salt (to taste)
  • minced fresh chives or parsley (to serve)

Instructions

  1. Rinse the chicken thoroughly and pat it dry before placing it in your stock pot, covering it completely with fresh, clean and very cold water (about one and one-half gallons).
  2. Stud the leek with whole cloves, and place it in the stock pot along side the stewing chicken. Add the celery leaves, onion top and carrot tops to the water.
  3. Slowly simmer the clove-studded leek, celery leaves, onion top and carrot tops in the water, uncovered, until the chicken is completely cooked and tender to the bone, about two hours.
  4. Once the chicken is tender, remove it from the the stockpot and allow it to cool. Remove the bay leaves, celery leaves, onion top and carrot tops from the broth, straining it if necessary. Discard the vegetable matter, but continue simmering the broth, uncovered, while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
  5. As the chicken cools, prepare the vegetables by peeling and mincing the carrots and mincing the onion and celery stalks as well.
  6. Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet until it foams, and toss the minced vegetables into the pan. Fry the vegetables in butter until they become fragrant and tender, about five minutes. Remove them from the heat and allow them to cool.
  7. Once the chicken has cooled, remove its meat, saving the bones to roast for another round of stock.
  8. Place the chicken meat and cooled vegetables into a food processor and pulse until they’re finely ground. If you have no food processor, you can mince the chicken and vegetables finely.
  9. Stir the vegetables and chicken meat back into the simmering broth and turn off the stove.
  10. Temper the beaten eggs by stirring a spoonful of broth into the eggs, then pouring the mixture of eggs and broth into the simmering soup.
  11. Gently stir two cups of heavy cream into the broth and serve, dressed with minced fresh herbs and seasoned with unrefined sea salt.

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What people are saying

  1. Allison says

    Just made up this soup to freeze in portions for recipes. Excited to bring back some favorite easy meals that have been long forgotten since we’ve been eating with nourishment over convenience foods in mind! Being that this isn’t condensed…any idea what size portions I should consider dividing it into, to use in place of the icky cans? BTW this also thrills me as a way to put some scrawny stewing hens to good use. Win all the way around! Thank you!

  2. Christie says

    Thanks so much for this recipe! It definitely gets the thumbs up from my family! Hubby and 2-year-old both love it (as do I). However, just wondering if it would be even better to use pre-made, long-simmered chicken stock, in order to benefit from the minerals etc extracted from the bones. Any tips on doing this? How many chicken fillets and how much stock might I need? Any ideas on how to incorporate the leek and clove tastes if the bone broth was not made with these ingredients?

  3. Mandi says

    This soup is awesome! We all loved it at our house. One question, though – mine didn’t thicken at all and your pic looks like it might have some thickness? Is that just an illusion, or did I mess something up? :) Thanks for this recipe!

  4. Brooke Bode says

    My farmer offers a ‘soup chicken’ which I guess is older and less tender then the roasting chicken. Do you think I could substitute that or should I stay with the regular chicken?

  5. carrie says

    I just made this today because I was searching for a way to use some extra egg yokes and I jus so happened to have a chicken in the fridge that I planned on roasting. I follow a paleo way of eating so I subbed the heavy cream for coconut milk and it was fantastic. I had some for dinner and froze the rest in half cup sizes. I am definitely making this again and again. I’m also going to try the basic format and do a cream of mushroom. love it thanks!

    • Lacy Cooper says

      I was wondernig if coconut milk would work and/or alter the taste…awesome! I was also thinking of using some cashew milk and cheese to thicken potentially…

  6. Davida says

    Thanks! This is the first one I’ve seen that doesn’t require flour, which I avoid. Anyone know how to make a cream of mushroom or celery like this?

  7. Julie says

    I made this for my sick little 1 year old as an alternative to chicken soup. It was a hit with the whole family – delicious! You have ruined canned soup for me. Thanks so much for such a fantastic recipe xxx

  8. says

    Instead of pureeing veggies and chicken, I decided to do a more traditional chicken noodle soup. I sauteed the veggies as directed, then just added them directly to the broth. I also added sliced mushroom, peas, and wavy noodles. Serving a party of 12 tomorrow – so we’ll see if it’s a hit! :-)

  9. Jem says

    This is the best chicken soup that I have ever tasted! I was searching for a soup recipe that would allow me to make use of a small cheap roast chicken carcass that only had half of the breast meat left on and couldn’t find anything that didn’t need more chicken than that. I really liked the sound of this one so I came back to it and thought I’d take a chance on it. So glad I did! Even with a minimal amount of chicken it was absolutely gorgeous. I decided to blend in the leek with the chicken and other veg; minus the cloves of course. I also garnished with coriander leaves (cilantro), because I’m not a huge fan of parsley. I will be making this a lot. Just beautiful!

  10. Steele says

    My mother learned to cook with Meta Givens! She passed the book on to me and I used it until it broke! Fortunately, I found a two-volume version in a used book store and still refer to it for good basic recipes.

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