Winter Chicken and Bean Soup (with bacon, squash, and other good stuff)
soup for solace from all the rest of everything and who enjoys holidays anyway?
things you’ll need: beans (Rancho Gordo’s yellow-eyed beans were a great choice, navy or northern bean would be good too), chicken, bacon, winter squash, potato, carrots, onion, celery, kale, lemons, bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, sage, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper but it is soup so you can really do whatever you want.
entirely freestyled, but I did use this guide for chicken poaching, even though I was using frozen, bone-in, chicken thighs and my original plan was actually to make Pureed White Bean and Winter Squash Soup, but then I pivoted and thought I was going to make Rustic Rancho Gordo ‘Yellow Eye’ Bean Soup, but then did this instead because I just did. Soup is like that sometimes.
incidentally gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan if you leave out the bacon and chicken parts, subbing veggie stock along with a little smoked paprika for the suggestion of bacon.
You aren’t very pleased with the world, which is an understatement. You are tired of the country being a constant disappointment, of expecting this disappointment all the time. At this point, actual justice is hard to celebrate because it’s just the right thing. The only reason we feel like celebrating a “Just” verdict is, perhaps, the novelty of it.
With Thanksgiving descending, you are only further reminded of the founding atrocities of this nation and, once again, resent the very notion of the holiday. Not to mention the fact that every time someone says, “Enjoy your holiday!” you think to yourself, “Who actually enjoys the holidays??”
Sure, it can be really nice to gather the family together and see each other a few obligatory times per year, but maybe there are several of those family members that you intentionally only see those few times a year because they occupy several branches of the Problematic Spectrum. Alternately, you may not have much family or the pandemic has taken family from you and every wish to enjoy the holiday is a reminder of who will no longer be there.
Despite this layer of malaise that you carry with you, there are good things too, things that make you smile so hard that your cheeks hurt. Choose to be thankful for these things, to embrace the easy joy of them, because otherwise things would be intolerable. Whether that’s a person, your people, the potential for something amazing, a great album, the perfect socks, the way the fleeting light hits your window every evening, or your pantry full of beans.
You think about soup a lot because it is one of those joys that keeps you from despair or reaching your final form as an avenging rage monster come to destroy the systems that refuse compassion and change. You have been thinking of all the soups that you want to make, but when you set out to make the intended soup, you turn to your pantry and find a jar of beans winking at you in that “you know you want me” way that food sometimes flirts with you. Pivot your plan because sometimes joy will ask you to change paths.
Start a pot of beans: Add a pound of beans to a pot, covered by three inches of water, along with bay leaves, onion, garlic, and anything else you typically add to beans (like olive oil or salt). Bring to a boil and let it roll for 10 minutes (this is referred to as a quick soak) and then cover and simmer until the beans are tender. It takes as long as it takes, much like any lasting change. Once they are done, set them aside until you are ready to get into the soup.
Decide you want chicken in your soup. Or, more accurately, realize that you have fully depleted your chicken stock stores and do not want to use boxed stock or bouillon because you just don’t, ok? Decide to make broth. Look up the difference between Broth and Stock to confirm that you are making Broth because you are going to be using the whole frozen chicken thighs in the freezer rather than the paltry collection of bones you have stashed at the moment.
It’s ok to throw frozen chicken thighs in a pot of well-salted water with a few tablespoons of whole peppercorn, bay leaves, garlic, shallot, and a few slices of lemon. Want to get fancy? Make a bouquet garni with various fresh herbs like thyme, sage, and parsley (Bouquet Garni, for you, means a bunch of herbs in big tea ball or a couple of loose tea bags). Bring that frozen chicken to a boil, pop a lid on it, and simmer until the internal temp of the chicken is 165 degrees. Set the chicken aside to cool, skim any foaminess off the top of the broth, strain, and set aside.
While you were in the freezer, you noticed that you had squirreled away half a pound of bacon and you are super glad that you are the kind of person who squirrels away bacon. Decide that this soup should start with bacon because bacon often goes well with beans (and everything else).
Frozen bacon is really easy to chop up into thin bits and really hard to peel off in strips and you are tired of waiting for things anyway. So chop up the frozen bacon and toss it into your pot (which happens to be the same pot you used for beans and broth). Cook your bacon on medium-ish to slowly crisp and fully render its good fat. Remove the bacon bits with a slotted spoon and set them aside on paper towels to drain.
Because it is winter, decide to add squash and potatoes because those are hearty winter things and you were going to use the squash for the first soup that you thought you were going to make. Now you are kind of obligated to the squash. Chop the squash and set aside. Chop a potato into bites and put the bits in a bowl of cold water. Might as well wash, strip, and slice some kale while you are at it.
If you are a vegetarian, you have just saved yourself like an hour by skipping all that bacon and chicken broth nonsense and just starting with your mirepoix of onions, carrots, and celery. Whether using all that rendered fat, or a good oil, heat up your pot (yes, the same pot) and toss in the mirepoix. Add herbs or garlic or whatever you want, along with a pinch of salt, and cook until the onions are translucent.
Add squash. Drain and rinse potatoes and add those too. Shred or cut the chicken into soup-sized bites and add the bones to the freezer hoard for future stock. Add the chicken broth and the drained beans, along with a little bean broth, to taste. Might as well add a parmesan rind, because why not?
Let it all simmer until the potatoes are tender. Toss in the kale and cover to cook until wilted. Serve topped with bacon and parsley.
Breathe into the warm bowl. Remind yourself that there are many good things in the world, despite the current state of it all. You can be disheartened and in love at the same time. You can feel completely enervated in one direction and invigorated in another. We are super complicated, not unlike this soup. Be grateful for the soup, your ability to adjust, and trust in yourself (and also beans), if not the world.
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