When trying to stretch your food budget, it’s a good idea to look at cultures that have been doing so with excellence for thousands of years. The Chinese know the art of nose to tail eating, or using every part of an animal. While some of their recipes like chicken feet may be a bit too foreign for most, the technique of cooking a whole chicken to make a rich soup is one that translates to every culture. This soup recipe is my Chinese twist on classic chicken noodle soup, and makes enough chicken for several meals.
Today is day three of Hunger Action Week, and I’m on roll with the penny pinching (Check out my rice and beans and how to regrow cut green onions). Making your own chicken stock is cheaper and healthier than buying it. You can control the amount of sodium and know exactly what’s going into your pot. While I prefer to get my chicken from a local farm (until I get my own flock!), for the Hunger Challenge I got the $5 frozen chicken in my local grocery store.
The first step in this recipe is to put your defrosted chicken in a large pot and cover with water at least an inch above the chicken.
Next you’re going to add seasonings for the broth. This is where I really thought outside the box for my bulk bin shopping. If you have a China town anywhere near you, there’s a good chance that they have a medicinal shop that sells a variety of Chinese herbs and spices by the pound. I got all of the spices below for just sixty cents!
The spices give a nice flavor to your broth but don’t really affect the taste of the meat, so you can use the leftover chicken in any recipe. While you can drop the cinnamon stick and star anise in the pot as is, you need to prep the peppers and cardamom. It’s simple though! Just snip the end off of each pepper so that the seeds are exposed to the broth. Then you’ll need to crack open the cardmom pod to expose those seeds as well. I smash it once with my mortar and pestle but you can just give it a good whack with a rolling pin or hammer. You don’t want to pulverize the pod, just crack it open. Then it and the peppers can go into your pot as well.
How long to cook your chicken depends on how big it is. Small ones can take under an hour, bigger ones two hours or more. You can check if it’s done by using a meat thermometer inserted deep into the chicken breast. It should read 165 degrees or higher. While it’s cooking, you’ll need to scoop the scum off the surface every once in a while. It’s that gross grey foamy stuff that bubbles on top of your water.
Just use a slotted spoon and toss it down your sink drain.
Once the chicken is cooked, use one or two pairs of tongs to pull it out of the pot and onto a cutting board. After you shred the chicken, you only need 2-3 cups of it for the soup, the rest you can save for recipes later in the week. I used it to make chicken salad for sandwiches, in a rice casserole and in Caesar salad.
The rest of the ingredients are pretty standard for chicken soup, except the soy sauce and vinegar which pull together the Chinese theme.
You can use any kind of noodles in the soup. I used an Italian pasta I got in the bulk bins at a local grocery store. You can use Asian noodles, egg noodles, whatever you prefer. If you need gluten free I highly recommend wide rice noodles which are incredibly affordable at Asian grocery stores.
We love this soup whether healthy or sick, and even though it’s so affordable, you won’t feel like you’re eating a budget meal. More like a fancy Asian fusion bowl of steaming goodness!
Do you have your own twist on chicken noodle soup?
- 1 4lb chicken, thawed
- 2 dried Chinese chili peppers
- 1 cardamom pod
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 star anise
- 1 white onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1/2 cup dark soy sauce
- 3 TBS Chinese black vinegar (can sub balsamic vinegar)
- 10oz pasta
- 1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
- 1/2 tsp pepper (to taste)
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)
- Place chicken in a large pot and fill with water to cover an inch above the chicken.
- Slice the tip off of each chili pepper, then crack the cardamom pod open with a heavy blow. Put peppers, cardamom, cinnamon and star anise in the pot.
- Simmer on medium for 1 1/2-2 hours (depending on chicken size) until chicken’s internal temperature reads at least 165 degrees. During simmering time, periodically scoop the grey scum off the top of the water.
- When chicken is done, use a couple of pairs of tongs to remove it from the water to a cutting board. Make sure to tip it so that any liquid is drained from the cavity into the pot.
- Use a slotted spoon or frying skimmer to fish the spices out of the liquid, then add the onion, carrots and garlic. Simmer 5 minutes before adding bell pepper, celery, soy sauce, vinegar and pasta. Let simmer for the amount of time required to cook your noodles.
- While vegetables and pasta are cooking, shred your chicken with a couple of forks, discarding the bones. Add 2-3 cups of the shredded chicken to the pot, saving the rest for future uses.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish bowls with cilantro or parsley if desired.
Approximate cost/serving: The whole pot of soup cost around $6 to make. I count the chicken as 5 servings, one for the stock it makes and 4 for the meat. I use about 1/4 the meat in this, plus the stock so $2 of this recipe cost is the chicken. My husband and I can makes this stretch to 10 servings. For our teenage exchange students it’s more like 8 servings. Either way, it’s only 60-75 cents a serving. Crazy cheap for dinner!
Gluten Free: Use wide rice noodles, they’re really cheap in Asian grocery stores. Also make sure to use gluten free soy sauce.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 472Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 171mgSodium: 963mgCarbohydrates: 14gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 47g
Nutrition information is an estimate only.