The weekend before any family holiday, my grandma would spread out brown grocery sacks on her kitchen table.
Rolling her dough to perfect half-inch thickness, she’d carefully cut out and dry enough homemade noodles to feed her family of 25 or so.
I didn’t know this until years later, but her secret ingredient was not the noodles — it was a small bottle of yellow food coloring. Chicken noodles are naturally pasty white, which isn’t very appetizing, so she’d add a drop or two of yellow dye to give her noodles a warm glow.
My mother — her daughter-in-law — fully adopted the use of the food coloring, but never saw the need to make noodles from scratch. “You really can’t tell!” she would declare.
In fact, she developed a trick to fool my stepfather: She would shake a bit of flour with her store-bought frozen noodles to make them look more homemade. I loved chicken and noodles so much that I never told. Served with warm, crusty bread, it was one of my favorite dinners.
Then I grew up and got married myself. The first time I made chicken and noodles for my husband for dinner, he tentatively asked, “Where are the mashed potatoes?”
I was initially grossed out by the idea of that many carbohydrates, but once I opened my mind a little I discovered that chicken noodles are only improved when served atop a pile of garlic mashed potatoes.
These days when I make chicken and noodles, I typically pull a little bit from everyone. I rarely make homemade noodles, but I still add a little yellow coloring — a few threads of saffron when I’m feeling flush, the trusty yellow dye when saffron is too expensive. And we almost always have them with mashed potatoes, although I still pick up a Wheatfields baguette every now and then for nostalgia’s sake.
My major contribution to the recipe has been that I always make homemade stock. For one, it’s just as easy, and two, it’s very frugal. For $15 I can make enough stock to make chicken and noodles and fill our freezer for later.
Occasionally, I will also spice my chicken and noodles up. As-is, it’s a classic, comfort food recipe, but if you want to add a twist, a few tablespoons of curry powder is really nice. I’ve also made these with leftover turkey — particularly if you have smoked turkey — for just a little change.
With nods to the women who’ve handed it down to me, here is my version of our family chicken and noodles recipe.
Chicken and Noodles
For the stock
Half a chicken
Several ribs of celery
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
For the soup
About 1 gallon (16 cups) reserved chicken stock
Reserved chicken meat
1 tablespoon butter
2 12-oz packages of frozen egg noodles
1/3 cup flour
Salt and pepper, to taste
A few threads of saffron or a few drops of yellow food coloring (optional, for color)
Fresh thyme, chopped (optional, for garnish)
Begin with the biggest pot you own. Chop the vegetables in half and add to the pot, along with the chicken and thyme. Fill the pot about 2/3 full with water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat just a little, and let the pot simmer for at least an hour, but up to 4 or 5 hours.
When the stock is finished, strain out the vegetables and chicken. The veggies will be too soggy to eat, so just discard them. Remove the chicken meat from the bones, and set the meat aside.
Pour about a gallon of the stock — you can freeze the rest for later — into a stock pot. Add the chicken meat and butter, and let the stock come to a boil.
Cut the tops off two bags of frozen noodles and add half the flour to each bag. Holding the bag closed, shake the flour to distribute. Add the noodles to the soup and stir, so that the flour gets mixed in. Cook until the noodles are done. Add salt and pepper to taste, as well as any coloring.
Serve over mashed potatoes or with crusty bread — according to your persuasion — and toss a pinch of chopped thyme over the top.
— Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in Lawrence and writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day at www.mybitofearth.net.