The Terrifying, Death-Defying Feat of Making Chicken Soup

On a date in January I will not name, I roasted a chicken for dinner. No big whoop. Came out fine. We consumed roughly half of the chicken that night, and put the rest of it, still on the bone, in a Ziploc bag, and put that in the fridge. I had this idea we’d make chicken sandwiches for lunch the next day, and then I’d use the carcass to make stock.

Not sure what happened the next day, but we didn’t make the sandwiches, and the chicken stayed in that Ziploc bag for a bit longer than I intended. Partly out of my own apathy, and partly because we got sidetracked by a vast quantity of beef shanks that overtook the fridge for a few days. It’s my fault. But after ten days, I noticed the bag of chicken and I thought, “Ok, I’ve really got to do something with that. On the other hand, it’s been ten days. Is this bird viable?”

So I opened the bag and gave it a good sniff. Everything smelled fine. I took a piece of white meat off the bird and tasted it. Tasted fine. I took the bird from the bag and began to separate off the nice meat that would look pretty in a soup. It didn’t have that slimy feel that bad meat has; everything seemed dandy. But I was worried. Was I about to unwittingly create a nice, big pot of hot poison, which I would then serve to my family as chicken soup?

To assuage my fears, I sent a message to a friend of mine who’s a former professional cook-turned-nurse. “Hey,” I said. “If, like, three days go by, and you don’t see any posts from me on Facebook, it’s cause I’m dead ’cause I made chicken soup out of a chicken that was too old.” She wrote back, “What’s going on?” I explained the situation — ten day old roasted chicken, plans to make stock — and asked, “is this just,  categorically, a bad idea?” She wrote, “it’s probably going to be fine, I’d do it myself, but probably you shouldn’t do it. But go ahead.”

Maybe my mother should stop reading here. Or just skip to the last paragraph.

So I made stock. I boiled the carcass, hard, for just over ten minutes. It was in the pot with two heads of celery (see previous entry on Celery Problems, which were solved in part by putting a whole lot of celery into the freezer) and some onion and peppercorns and a lot of parsley stems and some mushroom stems…. the vegetable parings and old bits that I always bag up and throw in the freezer to use when I’m making stock. The leftover half baked potato in the fridge, that went into the pot too. I brought all of this to a vicious boil and then simmered it for a couple of hours and when it was cool enough to me to get near the pot, I dealt with it. The pile of dead veggies and bones went into the trash, and the remaining liquid was decanted into bowls and jars to cool in the fridge. I tasted it, before I put everything away, and it was fine. “All right!” I thought.

But come five o’clock last night, when it was time for me to really start making the soup, I worried. Was I really about to give everyone food poisoning? I tasted the white meat I had reserved from the morning. No, it was fine. So I filled a pot with the chicken broth, and began to slice and dice fresh things to add to the pot. One huge carrot, peeled and chopped finely; one half a red onion, peeled and chopped finely; half a bunch of parsley, well-rinsed and minced; and one leftover roast chicken breast, chopped. To be on the safe side, I brought the pot to a hard boil again, and cooked the hell out of the meat, but then I just let it simmer gently until my husband came home from work. Then I added some leftover rice (from the night before; don’t worry, it wasn’t ancient rice). Our daughter, sitting on the couch, crooned to herself “soup smells goooooooooood” while she read her Calvin & Hobbes book, and my husband said grimly, “Soup for dinner?” “And bread, too,” I said. “I bought some nice bread.”

I took a block of cream cheese out of the fridge to let it come to room temperature before dinnertime. At seven o’clock we all sat down to eat, and we consumed that entire pot of soup. There was nothing leftover. The entire loaf of bread was gone, too. I seldom don’t make enough food for dinner, but last night was one of those rare occasions; having finished everything on the table, my husband was reduced to digging around in the cabinet for something else to eat. He eventually found a bag of potato chips and polished those off.

I then spent the rest of the evening wondering, “So, is anyone going to throw up?” But no one did. And we all woke up this morning feeling fine. No one got food poisoning. But at the same time: I think I’m going to not let myself play so fast and loose with the chicken carcasses from now on. There’s a difference between being thrifty and being dangerously stupid. I walked that fine line this week, and I’m not proud of it, but I learned my lesson. From now on, my motto will be: get the meat off the bone and freeze the bones. Or else.


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  1. I have this exact struggle nearly twice a month. I mean, I stand there, poking at the carcass, sniffing it, thinking “I don’t know about this…….” Then I make stock. And freeze it. And forget about for a while. Then, I pull it out of the freeer and make soup,. Maybe a week later. Usually Tortellini, or cicken chili. But the agonizing. It has to stop. I like to think I instinctively know when to toss the bird, but there is a grey area.


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