Editor’s note: Cook Like a Chef is a feature designed to help you master cooking techniques that will give your homemade meals professional style and carefully crafted flavor. Each month, a chef instructor from Cascade Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College will walk us through a skill or recipe. See more Cook Like a Chef videos at bendbulletin.com/chef.

It’s comfort food season, so nurture family and friends with a pot of delicious homemade soup.

Cascade Culinary Institute Chef Instructor Thor Erickson said that one of the barometers of a good restaurant is the soup.

“If there’s a new restaurant, I’ll order the soup to check it out,” he said.

If it’s good, he knows they know what they’re doing.

We wanted to find out why restaurant soup often tastes so delicious, and get tips from Erickson about how to make tastier soup at home. He is sharing his favorite recipe for chicken soup with us, and you can watch him making it online at www.bendbulletin.com/chef.

“Restaurant soup is so good because chefs create their flavor in layers. They’re making good stock or broth to begin with, and they’re taking the care in cutting their vegetables uniformly, and taking the time to make it. We live in an era where everyone talks about how you can make dinner in half an hour. That’s not necessarily the best way to go if you want really good flavor,” he said.

Cook Like a Chef covered how to make soup stock (vegetable or chicken) last January, which can be found on The Bulletin’s website.

The beauty of today’s chicken soup recipe is that it creates its own broth.

There’s a difference between stock and broth. Broth is made with both meat and bones, while stock is made only with bones. Broth will be cloudy, while stock is clear.

Erickson told us he not only loves to eat soup; he loves to make it.

“To me, soup and chicken soup in particular is the ultimate comfort food. There’s nothing more comforting than Jewish — or in my case, Norwegian — penicillin. It’s a light meal. It takes the chill off. It’s just a very warming and nurturing food,” he said.

Soup is a great food to make if you’re trying to improve your cooking techniques at home.

“We’ve all heard the term, ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth.’ Well, soup is a one-person job. The more you work on it, the better it gets. One of the rules I go by is, soup should always be made with intention. It should not be a ‘garbage pot.’ Soup should be planned. I’m going to make a chicken soup. I’m not going to throw a bunch of leftover chicken and vegetables in a pot and see what happens. All good food is made with intention, “ Erickson said.

For this recipe (see below), you’ll put a whole chicken (don’t forget to remove the bag of innards!) into a 12-quart pot, and cover it with 2 quarts of cold water and add uniformly cut up vegetables and a sachet of herbs.

Bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. You may want to skim off some of the scum and fat from the top, but it’s not necessary.

“If you want to be finicky, skim it,” said Erickson, who doesn’t bother.

After about two hours, when the chicken is cooked, you’ll remove the chicken and herbs, shred the chicken meat, discard skin and bones, and return the meat to the pot of broth and vegetables, and adjust the seasoning by adding more salt and pepper, if needed.

Lemon juice enhances flavor

“One nice little trick is to squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the soup right before serving. It adds a great dimension to the flavor. It doesn’t make the soup lemony; it rounds out the flavor. It ‘completes the circuit,’ as I like to say.” The lemon juice is a flavor enhancer. You know how properly salted food doesn’t taste salty? You just taste the food. It’s the same with the acid of the lemon juice. By adding it, you’ll taste the carrot more, and the parsnip more. It’s just a little bit of chemistry and magic,” Erickson said.

Make mine noodle soup

If you want to add noodles to your chicken soup (and who doesn’t?), put them in at the end of the simmering — not at a rolling boil — and about 10 minutes later you will have chicken noodle soup.

“Remember that any pasta or noodle you put in there will double in size, so you don’t want it to be the pasta that ate all of your chicken soup. There’s got to be a good ratio of broth to noodles and vegetables. It all has to play together. Soup is an ensemble cast,” Erickson said.

Be sure to taste the soup after the noodles or pasta has cooked. Erickson reminded us that pasta, like any starch, absorbs salt, and you may need to adjust your salt and pepper at the end.

Soup storage

One tricky aspect of soup making is cooling it down quickly and storing it safely. You don’t want soup to cool down on the stove over several hours after you’ve made it. It shouldn’t sit around at room temperature on your stovetop. Your soup can easily spoil that way.

“The bottom line is, you never want food to sit in the ‘danger zone,’ which is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. That’s where bacteria can develop quickly and cause food poisoning.

So if you make soup on a weekend afternoon, and intend to eat it that evening, keep it on low heat, put a lid on it so it doesn’t evaporate away, and if it does, add a little more water. That won’t hurt it at all,” Erickson said.

Quick chilling

To chill soup quickly and safely, Erickson puts freshly made hot soup from a 12-quart pot into the same roasting pan he uses for his family’s Thanksgiving turkey.

“That roasting pan gives me about 2 inches of room at the top, so I can take a clean zipper-top bag full of ice cubes and set it in there with the soup to cool it from the inside out. Do it on your countertop to cool it off quickly, and then refrigerate it.

And then I like to take quart-size zipper-top plastic bags and portion the soup out and label it with the date, and then put it in the freezer. Then you have something you can easily take out, put in a pot, and heat up for a quick dinner,” he said.

Expand your soup repertoire

After you make chicken soup, we hope you’re hooked on soup making, like Chef Erickson. He suggests you try a split pea soup next. Look at some recipes with the understanding that the technique is the same.

“Do the exact same thing as the chicken soup, but instead of a chicken, use three smoked ham hocks, and add a bag of split peas along with the vegetables. The recipes are practically interchangeable, “ he said.

Talking about soup got Chef Erickson thinking about doing a Cook Like a Chef article and video about cream soups.

“How about a potato leek soup? Maybe in the spring, we’ll do a vichyssoise — serve it hot or cold. You can’t go wrong with a bowl of soup. Everybody likes soup,” he said.

Especially when you cook it like a chef. Bon appétit!

— Reporter: ahighberger@mac.com

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