Vivian Howard’s Collard Green Chicken Soup

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The idea of this started with the cabbage soup diet fad from the 1990s. I actually made that sad soup, and even back then, before I was a chef, I couldn’t understand why it had to taste so bland. The approach for making this Collard Green Chicken Soup is a little unorthodox. It builds on my mom’s technique for chicken and rice and produces a much more flavorful broth than adding pieces of chicken to chicken stock. I save my Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds in the freezer for moments like this. You should do the same, whether or not you make this soup; they add a lot of background flavor to broths. The idea is to use whatever you have, but collards are my favorite green for this because they retain more texture than anything else. Sub in any greens or herbs you like.

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken (2 1⁄2-3 1⁄2 pounds)
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and split 10 garlic cloves
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  • 2  teaspoons dried oregano
  • 3  bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes 3 quarts water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups diced yellow onion, about 2 small onions
  • 1 cup diced celery or 2 large stalks 1 cup diced carrots or 2 medium
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 5 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds or about 3 square inches
  • 1 pound collards, large stems removed, leaves cut into 1-inch squares
  • 2 cups canned tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper (or about 10 turns of the pepper mill)
  • Pesto for garnish, optional

Instructions

  1. Rinse the chicken and place it breast side up in a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic, herbs, chili flakes, bay leaves and water. Cover and bring it up to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 hour or until the chicken is, as my mother would say, “falling to pieces.” Let the chicken cool in the broth for 30 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a rimmed plate. Pluck out the herbs, bay leaves and onion, but feel free to leave the garlic, and pour the broth into a bowl.
  2. Wipe the same Dutch oven dry and add the olive oil. Over medium heat, sweat the onion, celery and carrot with 1 teaspoon salt for 5 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes and Parm rinds to the pot. Cover and bring it up to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, pick the meat off the chicken and get the collards ready. You want these collards spoon-friendly, so make sure you cut them into squares, not ribbons.
  3. After 20 minutes, add the chicken, collards, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons sugar and the black pepper. Cook for 20 minutes more.
  4. Serve warm as is or with a dollop of pesto.

– Vivian Howard

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