Chicken & Barley Soup

Quick Chicken & Barley Soup via Brittany's PantryIf you have been following along on Facebook (You can ‘like’ Brittany’s Pantry by clicking on the logo to the right!  Thanks!) you may have noticed that I mentioned making soup.  Several times actually.  But this weird fall weather-i.e. 80 degree days-has made the thought of a hot pot of soup a little ridiculous.  So instead, I have been making things like Ribs, Salmon, and Chicken Salad.  When I dropped my daughter off at school yesterday morning and it was in the low 50’s, I decided it was finally time to make that pot of soup.  Well, that and the fact that I am sick of the chicken I already roasted taking up space in my fridge.

If you have never eaten or cooked with barley, let me put your mind at ease.  Trust me.  It isn’t that big of a deal.  It is a grain that you cook and eat just like rice.  It is inexpensive and delightfully chewy which makes it a great addition to soup because it adds a bite to your bites.  When I was kid, my parents used to cook a whole mess of it in some chicken broth and serve it as a side dish.  At the time, I had no idea how good it was for me.  Barley is one of the oldest cultivated grains and they say it was served to gladiators in training.  Would you believe it is actually high in calcium as well as B vitamins?  The protein and fiber don’t hurt either.  Of course we are talking about the unrefined version here.  Pearl barley has had the outer bran removed so that it cooks faster and is a little less chewy.  Shorter cooking time is why I am using it in this soup.  Also, there is a good chance that it will be the only kind you can find in your supermarket because it is the most widely used.  If you so desire, use the unrefined.  Just know it may take awhile to cook the grain through.

So just a few quick tips on how to make the whole ‘homemade soup’ thing go a little faster.  If you have all day, you could make your own chicken stock with fresh herbs and vegetables.  I do this myself sometimes.  But this week, I was looking for something a little quicker.  So this recipe uses store bought chicken stock.  I do not feel the least bit guilty about this, as there are some really fantastic versions on your grocery shelves.

This is what I ended up doing.  I like to buy the big, bone in, skin on chicken breasts when they go on sale.  Our store packs them about six to a package and I store them in my freezer for just such time as this.  They are so huge that just one would feed a family of four if I was putting the chicken on a salad or in a wrap or something.  Two would almost make a full batch of chicken salad.  But they take so long to roast, they aren’t really convenient for quick weeknight cooking.  When I have some extra time, on a weekend or watching a movie or something, I rub them down with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper and then roast them at 350 until golden brown and juicy.  When they cool, you just discard the skin and take the meat off the bone (or just refrigerate them until later) and you have chicken in the fridge for whenever you need it.  Roasting them on the bone with the skin gives the meat fantastic flavor, making whatever you use it in that much better.  I like to go one step further and strain the juices and drippings in the bottom of the dish and chill it.  When it is cold, I  spoon the fat off the top and use that little bit of drippings to flavor my soup.  If you decide to do this, it will make your soup taste even more outrageous.  No big deal if you skip this step.  Either way, your finished dish will be warm and healthy.  Perfect on these fall days that are NOT in the 80’s. One Year AgoBaked Macaroni & Cheese

Quick Chicken & Barley Soup via Brittany's PantryChicken & Barley Soup
This makes a nice big batch so share with a friend or freeze some for later!

1 onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 1/2 c pearl barley
1 tsp dried thyme
1 dried bay leaf, optional
2-49 oz cans good quality chicken broth (I use Swansons, low fat, low sodium)
2 c cooked chicken, diced or shredded, or the meat from one rotisserie chicken from the deli

In a large soup pot saute the first four ingredients in a drizzle of olive oil.  Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until just starting to soften.  Add the barley and dried thyme and stir, letting the barley toast a bit for about a minute.  Add the chicken broth, bay leaf, and any leftover chicken drippings, if using.  Bring to a boil and then drop the heat to a simmer, cooking just until the barley is puffed and cooked, 35-45 minutes.  It should be a bit chewy, but not super firm.  Remove the bay leaf and add the cooked chicken.  Let simmer just until the meat is heated through, taste for seasoning and serve.

Note: A handful of fresh chopped parsley adds some freshness and an extra hit of Vitamin C, so toss some in if you have it.  Also, feel free to skip the barley and just make chicken noodle soup.  Toss in half a bag of egg noddles, cooking them in the soup, just until done.  Then add your chicken.  Yum!