Chinese Chicken Soup

This is a delicious, healing, soul-satisfying recipe that is originally my mother's recipe. Many times, I have recreated it from memory with some of my own touches. It's a wonderful soup that I crave when I need comfort food or am under the weather. Since this recipe has been orally passed down on both sides of my family, I have no idea what the measurements are and eyeball everything. Thus, all the measurements below are estimates. Feel free to add things to your taste!

The essential ingredients make a wonderful chicken stock that you can freeze and use later.  The prep time is very little, but you'll need a couple hours of simmering so that the soup has a robust, full flavor. 

Essential Ingredients
A large stockpot - at least 5 quarts
Chicken - 2 lbs approximately, preferably thighs or legs (tastier), bone in and skin on
Water - about 4 quarts

Optional Ingredients
Ginger (highly recommended) - 10 to 15 slices depending on how you like it
Garlic - 3-5 cloves, crush under a knife
Soy sauce
Shitake mushrooms, dried (but fresh will work too)
Rice or Pasta
Vegetables - Napa cabbage, carrots, celery, and more....

For basic soup, follow the directions below. The instructions for the optional ingredients are in parentheses.
1. Rinse the chicken and put it in the pot. Turn the heat on to medium and cook the chicken with some salt. (Add soy sauce and chopped up scallions.) Occasionally stir the chicken until all of the outside is cooked and browned.
2.  Add cold water to about 2-3" below the rim of the pot. (Add the shitake mushrooms and garlic.)
3. Cover and bring to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat to simmer and scoop out any foam from the top.  Cover the soup and lightly simmer for at least two hours.  (Add 10-15 slices of fresh, unpeeled ginger 15-20 minutes before you turn off the heat.)
4. Once the soup's done bubbling away, I like to bring it to a boil again and scoop out any more foam from the top.  Add salt to taste.   (If you want to get rid of the fat, the best way to do it is to refrigerate it. Any fat will rise to the surface and harden, making it easier to scoop out. I keep it in though; animal fat is good for you!)
5. Shred the chicken in the pot with a knife. It'll be so soft, it'll come right off the bone.

Soup's done!

How to prepare the other optional ingredients:
- Rice: Time the rice to cook so that it's finished when the soup is finished. Rice takes 20-30 minutes, depending on whether you use the stove or a rice cooker. Add to individual bowls when you serve. Never add to the soup directly; if it's not eaten right away it will absorb the soup and turn into mush.
- Pasta: Make pasta in a separate pot and add to individual bowls when you serve. Never add to the soup directly; if it's not eaten right away it will absorb the soup and turn into mush.
- Vegetables: Cut everything so that its bite-sized and stir fry it in a separate pan; garlic and salt are optional. Add to individual bowls when you serve. If there are leftovers, you can add the vegetables to the soup pot.

There are a few ways you can keep leftover soup:
- Keep it on the stove. The soup is even better the next day. Just make sure to boil it once a day! The soup will be good for about five days.
- Keep it in the fridge. Keep the soup in the pot or ladle it into containers. The soup will be good for about five days. If you boil it every third day, it'll keep for even longer.
- Freeze it. Put the soup in (a) nonstick muffin tins, (b) ice cube trays, or (c) quart-sized plastic bags. If you put the soup in muffin tins or ice cube trays, place the blocks of soup in plastic bags once they're frozen.

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{ In this version, I cooked three chicken thighs with soy sauce and scallions, and added ginger and shitake mushrooms. When I served it I added rice, chopped celery and chopped carrots. }

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