Lauren Groveman a recipe for delicious living

Potato Leek Soup With Shredded Chicken and Vegetables

(January 17, 2008)
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Randy asked Lauren:

Dear Lauren,

I often freeze leftover soups and stews in rectangular plastic tubs. But, if I don't remember to take the container out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator a full day ahead, I have a hard time thawing the contents in time for dinner. I have a microwave oven but the rectangular shape of the container won't fit into the microwave in a way where it can rotate on the oven's turntable. My problem is that, since I rarely know if I'm going to want to reheat something that's frozen until mid-day of the day I'd use it, when I take it out so late, the block of frozen food takes just too long to thaw. I'm hoping you have a way that's safe to loosen frozen foods to the point where I can get it into a pot to reheat properly. An odd question, I know, but it's something that I'm really frustrated by (and my freezer is totally stuffed!).

Lauren says...

Depending on the size of a microwave, the shape of frozen tubs can pose a problem when wanting to reheat while still frozen. Even if your appliance is large enough, it's really not safe (health-wise) to reheat frozen food in a plastic tub. It's been documented that when food (that has fat) is stored in plastic and heated in the microwave, the combination can be a potential carcinogen. So, it's best to release the frozen contents of any plastic tub directly into a glass dish (like Pyrex) and then thaw or reheat the food in the microwave. If, however, the frozen food is not in a shape that's compatible with your microwave, do what I do… create a double boiler! This is the best way I've found to gently loosen frozen stews and soups, in order to protect the textural integrity of the ingredients.

To thaw a large frozen block of food in a "make-shift" double boiler:

Place the frozen block of food in a 9 x 13-inch Pyrex dish and place the dish into a large roasting pan (like one you'd use to roast a large turkey). Place the roasting pan on the stove (over two burners) and fill the roasting pan with enough very hot water to come half way up the sides of the Pyrex dish. Place a sheet of parchment paper over the top of the food being thawed and turn the heat on, under the roasting pan, and bring the water just to a simmer. Lower the heat to maintain this "below boiling point" temperature and allow the frozen food to soften. This could take two hours, occasionally turning the block of food over in the dish. Finally, you'll be able to break up the block into chunks. Continue to heat this way or transfer the food to a heavy-bottomed saucepan and reheat the food, over low heat, until piping hot, stirring occasionally to redistribute.

I hope this helps! Here's a recipe that I always seem to have tucked in my freezer for those Sundays when I, midday, will ask myself "what do I want for dinner?"

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Potato Leek Soup With Shredded Chicken and Vegetables

Yield: about 6 quarts, serves 10 to 12

potato and leeks

Since this soup is already so full of vegetables, you might think that the last-minute addition of shredded fresh spinach is gilding the lily. I originally added the spinach (years ago, when I first wrote this recipe) simply because this is how I got my three children to eat spinach! Now, if I leave the spinach out, they all say "where's the spinach?" This recipe not only produces a rich and nutritious soup, but gives you the perfect opportunity to replenish your stock supply. Serve this smooth-tasting soup as either a first course to an elegant dinner or with a basket of biscuits or fresh bread as a warm and wonderful light supper or hearty lunch.

    SpeciaL Equipment:

  • 5-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan
  • 8-quart heavy-bottomed stockpot
  • Sturdy colander, preferably stainless steel
  • Food processor or heavy-duty blender or a hand-held "stick" emersion blender
    Ingredients:

    For Poaching the Chicken
  • 2 large whole chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 yellow onion, unpeeled, scrubbed, root end removed, and quartered
  • 1 stalk celery, cleaned and sliced with leaves
  • 1 carrot, scrubbed and sliced
  • 1 parsnip, scrubbed and sliced
  • 2 sprigs parsley
  • Cold water to cover
    For the Soup
  • 1 1/2 sticks (1/4 pound plus 4 tablespoons) butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 5 large leeks, trimmed, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 stalk celery, cleaned, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 5 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 6 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 quarts defatted Chicken Stock, preferably homemade (or use low-sodium canned chicken broth)
  • Ground white pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (preferably not ultra-pasteurized) or half-and-half
  • 2 medium zucchini, scrubbed, trimmed and cut into small dice
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound fresh button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
  • Kosher or sea salt to taste
  • 2 bunches fresh spinach (optional), stems removed, leaves cleaned and shredded using a sharp knife

1) To poach the chicken: Place all of the poaching ingredients in a 4-quart heavy- bottomed saucepan. Cover the solids with cold water, cover pot and bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to very low and simmer chicken gently until tender but not dry, about 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken to a bowl and allow it to become cool enough to handle. Then separate the chicken meat from the skin and bones, shred chicken into irregular pieces and set aside. Return bones and skin to pot with poaching ingredients and use to replenish your supply of stock for use at a later date (see note following recipe).

2) To sweat the vegetables: Melt 1 stick of the butter in a 10- to 12-inch deep-sided skillet over medium heat. Brush some of the butter on 1 side of a piece of waxed paper cut large enough to cover the bottom interior of the skillet. Stir in onion, leeks, garlic, celery, carrots and potatoes and, when coated well with butter, place the greased side of the waxed paper directly on top of vegetables. Let vegetables sweat for 20 minutes over very low heat, occasionally lifting the paper to stir and redistribute.

3) To assemble the soup: In an 8-quart heavy-bottomed stockpot, bring stock to a boil. Boil 1 minute, if previously refrigerated, and reduce heat to simmer. Add sweated vegetables to stock and return to a full simmer. Cover and cook over low heat until vegetables are very tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

4) To strain and puree the soup: In 2 batches, ladle simmered stock into a sturdy colander over a large bowl. Place the solids along with a little of the stock into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or the container of a blender and puree them until smooth. (Never fill the container of a blender more than half full with a hot mixture. Puree in batches.) Transfer pureed solids to another large bowl as you continue to strain the soup and puree the remaining batch of vegetables. Then return vegetable puree to the original stockpot and stir in cream. Finally, add just enough stock to reach the desired consistency. This soup should have "body." (I usually have about 1 quart leftover stock to refreeze.) Alternatively, you can also puree the solids with some stock with a hand-held stick (emersion blender). When smooth, add enough stock to create the desired "soup-like" texture.

5) To complete the soup: Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in an 8-inch skillet and, when hot, add diced zucchini. Sauté until softened, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Grind in some fresh black pepper and add zucchini to soup. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the same skillet and, when hot, stir in mushrooms and cook over medium-high heat until golden and tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add mushrooms along with the reserved shredded chicken to the pot of soup. Add coarse salt and more black pepper to taste and set aside until ready to reheat and serve.

6) To serve: Reheat soup gently but thoroughly over low heat. When hot, add the shredded spinach, if using, and cook until the leaves are completely wilted and the soup is piping hot. Taste for seasoning and serve.

7) To replenish your stock supply: If you want to augment further the amount of new stock, add any browned fresh or unbrowned frozen chicken backs and necks (that you've been accumulating), along with additional vegetables and fresh water to the original poaching pot with the skin and bones from poached chicken. Place pot over high heat and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 1 to 3 hours, occasionally pressing hard on the solids to extract as much goodness as possible. Remove from heat and allow the solids to cool in the stock. Strain cooled stock into a bowl and discard solids. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours to allow the fat to congeal and rise to the top of the stock. Remove this fat with a spoon and freeze the stock in labeled heavy-duty freezer containers until needed.

Time Management Tips:

  • Lauren Logo All of the vegetables can be assembled and ready to cook 1 day ahead. Store them in the refrigerator in separate, well-covered bowls.
  • The chicken can be poached 1 day ahead and kept in the refrigerator well covered. Although you can separate the flesh from the skin and bones to complete your mini stock, wait until the day of assembling to shred the cooked flesh.
  • The chicken stock (for the soup base) can be made months in advance and stored in heavy-duty freezer containers.
  • The entire soup may be totally assembled 1 day ahead and kept in the refrigerator. However, don't add the spinach until you reheat to serve.
  • If planning to freeze some of the soup (before reheating), remove that portion after soup is pureed. Freeze in labeled, securely covered heavy-duty freezer containers.
Reduced-Fat Variation

Although a bit less "divine," you can lower the saturated-fat content of this recipe. To do this, replace the butter when sweating the vegetables with 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil. When doing this, add an additional potato to the soup mixture. You can also substitute milk for the cream and replace the butter with olive oil or canola oil, when sautéing the zucchini and mushrooms.

Tips from a Teacher: How to Clean and Chop Leeks

To clean a leek, cut off the roots and all but 1 to 2 inches of the tender pale green stalk (unless otherwise specified in your recipe). Cut the shaft of the leek in half lengthwise and run each half under cold water, using your fingers to separate the layers and remove all traces of sand and grit. Pat the leeks dry. To slice leeks, position them so they sit horizontally in front of you, and thinly slice. To chop or mince, slice the leeks into thin lengthwise strips, and then turn the strips so they sit horizontally in front of you and cut the strips into small pieces. To mince, run the blade of a sharp chef's knife over the pieces to reach desired size.

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Lauren Groveman recipes have been featured in many national magazines and local newspapers. Her books "The I love to Cook Book: Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking for Family and Friends" and "Lauren Groveman's Kitchen, Nurturing Food for Family and Friends" are available through Amazon.com.

For in depth information on Lauren Groveman as a writer, teacher, TV & radio host, as well as her recipes and cooking tips visit her website at www.laurengroveman.com

Lauren is a Larchmont resident. She is happily married and blessed with three wonderful children.