With all the jokes that feature Jewish chicken soup and mothers, 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:
Before You Make Jewish 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 fanciest chicken parts. In fact, Jewish chicken soup tastes 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.
Jewish Chicken Soup
This homemade soup will cure what ails you, make you smile, and feed your soul and your stomach all at the same time!
- 1-2 carrots
- 1-2 onions
- 1-2 bay leaves
- few sprigs parsley
- 1 3-4 pound chicken, whole or parts cut-up
- chicken giblets - neck, gizzard, heart, liver, (optional)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt + more, to taste
- freshly ground pepper
Put 1-2 carrots, 1-2 stalks of celery, 1-2 onions, a few sprigs of parsley, 1-2 bay leaves, and the chicken (plus giblets) in a large 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, remove any giblets inside the body cavity. If the giblets are in a small bag, remove them before adding to the pot.
Fill the pot with water, leaving 1-2 inches at the top so the soup won’t bubble over. Add the teaspoon of salt and a few turns of ground pepper.
Partially cover the pot and bring the water to a low boil. To the extent that foam develops on the soup, take it 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 do not clog your sink 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 develops a light golden color and tastes rich and chicken-y.
If you like the soup clear, ladle it into a strainer or colander lined with a doubled-over piece of cheesecloth. 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. At this point, you can refrigerate or freeze the soup, or serve it.
See note about skimming off the fat after refrigerating the soup.
To serve, 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.
If you’ve been in the kitchen the whole time the soup is cooking and can’t smell its aroma, go out and return to the room (which should wake up your olfactory senses) or find an eager volunteer to help you taste it.
Money saving tip: Buy cheesecloth at a hardware or notions store where it is less expensive, instead of at a fancy kitchen store.
If you want your soup to be low fat, refrigerate it for several 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. Chicken fat or schmaltz, is a delicious savory alternative to other fats such as butter or oil.
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.