With all the Jewish mother jokes that feature chicken soup, not to mention the many commercial products in the “chicken soup for the soul” collection, I hesitate to venture down this path. But with so many friends and family suffering colds and flu and with a blustery wind blowing here for the past few days, I decided to be brave – so here goes – my 2¢ on good, old-fashioned Jewish chicken soup.
This isn’t a cookbook or foodblog-type recipe. It’s the way your grandmother – or someone else’s grandmother – would have shown you how to make it. This stuff is not a replacement for modern medicine, but if you’ve ever had a bowl of excellent Jewish chicken soup, you know what I’m talking about when I say it has healing powers that no doctor can replicate.
To Make Jewish Chicken Soup You Need:
- Vegetables – Carrot, celery, onion, and fresh parsley are essential. It’s nice to add parsnip if you like a somewhat sweet undertone to the broth.
- Salt and pepper
- Bay leaf or leaves
- A big pot with a cover, preferably with a wide bottom
- A spoon or spoons for stirring
- A cutting board and knife
- Patience (not pictured)
You Might Also Want:
- Extra chicken to add in at the end
- Small pasta, rice, or bits of potato
- A strainer/colander and cheesecloth if you like your soup very clear
Before You Make Chicken Soup, Keep in Mind:
- The soup takes a long time to make. It should simmer for a minimum of 2 (I prefer 3) hours. So it’s a great way to force yourself to stay home if you have a cold and really shouldn’t go out.
- This is peasant food. You don’t need the most expensive chicken or the fanicest chicken parts. In fact, the soup will taste best if you include giblets (the internal organs and neck of the chicken), often found packaged in a paper sack inside a whole chicken. Whole chickens are cheaper than cut-up chicken or parts. So if you can bear to reach into the cavity of a whole chicken, pull out the giblet package and open it, you’ll be rewarded by the taste of the final product and the lower cost of the chicken. If you prefer chicken parts, buy them with bones because the bones will add great flavor to the soup.
- Think ahead. The chicken and vegetables will become super-soft after simmering all that time. (You’ll be able to “cut” the chicken with a spoon and the vegetables will fall apart at the least provocation.) If you want chicken chunks and slightly crunchy pieces of vegetables floating in the soup, plan on leaving a bit of white meat, carrot, and celery out of the pot to cook at the last minute.
- Put 1-2 carrots, 1-2 stalks of celery, 1-2 onions, a few sprigs of parsley, 1-2 bay leaves, a sprinkling of salt and a few turns of freshly ground pepper, and a 3-4 pound chicken in the pot. The vegetables should be clean but left whole (except if required to fit them into the pot), with the onion skin removed. If you used a whole chicken, did you check to make sure you removed the giblets if they were inside the body cavity? Reminder - Food safety rules mean that you should keep other foods away from surfaces and implements that raw chicken touched and that you should wash those items especially carefully.
- Fill the pot with water, leaving 1-2 inches at the top so the soup won’t bubble over.
- Cover the pot at least partially and bring the water to a low boil (just below a rolling boil.)
- Take the foam off the top with a spoon and discard it. I do that several times in the first 20-30 minutes after the soup has come to a low boil. This foam contains fat, so don’t clog the drain by pouring it down there. Instead, put it in a disposable container or empty can in your freezer, and then throw it out.
- Adjust the heat if necessary to keep the soup at a simmer and continue simmering, with the pot partially covered, for 2-3 hours. The soup starts out with no color (it's just a bunch of stuff floating in water) and gets yellower and more delicious as it simmers.
- The soup is done when it tastes rich and chicken-y. Hint - If you’ve been in the kitchen the whole time and can’t smell the soup, find someone else to help you taste it. I’ll bet you can find a volunteer.
- If you like the soup clear, ladle it into a strainer or colander lined with a doubled-over piece of cheesecloth. This is liquid gold. Money saving Hint – Buy cheesecloth at a hardware or notions store where it is less expensive, instead of at a fancy kitchen store.
- Some folks cut up the chicken and mash the vegetables that have cooked for hours and return them to the soup, but I don't. In any event, take them out, either cut/mash them and return them to the broth or set them aside.
- Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste if necessary. Hint – You can’t easily fix a soup that is too heavily seasoned, so go light on the salt and pepper at first, then add more at this stage, slowly, until you like the taste. Hint – if you want your soup to be low fat, refrigerate it for severl hours or overnight at this point to separate the chicken fat. The fat will rise and solidify. You can skim it off to discard (not down the drain) – or freeze for later use.
- Bring the soup back to a boil. If you’re adding raw chicken in small pieces, add those pieces now. Let them cook at a low boil for about 3-4 minutes, then add small pieces of carrot, celery and any other vegetable bits that you would like in your soup, along with egg noodles any type of tiny pasta that will cook in about 5 minutes or cooked rice. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, add any garnish (I use chopped parsley or fresh dill) and serve.
I’ve left off matzo balls as a potential add-on – we’ll get to those as Passover draws near.
In the meantime, if you save the cooked chicken, check back here on Wednesday when I’m using my cooked chicken for a new take on kreplach, the traditional Purim treat. If you don’t know what kreplach is, think about Jewish wontons or ravioli and you’ll be in the right ballpark. See you then.