How hard can it be to make chicken soup, the Jewish penicillin? Every Jewish balabusta (homemaker) knows how to make it. Then why has it taken me over 40 years to get it right?
Here is a basic chicken soup recipe. You need chicken, obviously. Toss in carrots, celery, onions, salt and pepper. Boil for a couple of hours, and voila! Chicken soup!
Not so fast, guys. Here’s how friends and family have insisted on making a perfect and delicious pot of chicken soup.
My mom could make wonderful cheese blintzes. They melted in your mouth. Her apple pie crust was flakey and the apple filling perfect. Turkey? She never made a dry one, unlike me.
But when it came to chicken soup, she gave up. Hers, so she said, always tasted like dishwater. Sure, it was better and healthier than the canned stuff, but it always seemed to lack something.
As a result, I never learned how to make chicken soup from my mom.
Now, she made a great chicken soup! What was her secret? Believe it or not, during the last 10-15 minutes of simmering on the stove, she added a tablespoon of powdered chicken soup mix.
Perhaps the salt or the artificial chicken flavor gave the soup that special taste. All I know is that she never made a bad batch of chicken soup.
Also, she recommended using a capon. They are more flavorful than an ordinary fryer chicken.
My Friend’s Soup
My friend insists that chicken breasts make the best chicken soup ever! I was always told to use the entire chicken. She says, “No. Just the breasts.”
I’m not sure I agree. Since kosher chicken costs so much these days, I’m not going to experiment with her recipe.
My Neighbor’s Soup
My elderly neighbor, who moved away about five years ago, grew dill in her small garden. She claimed adding the herb to a pot of chicken soup made it yummy. I buy fresh dill at the grocery store and then put the rest in the freezer for another time. The frozen dill works just as well as the fresh.
The Butcher’s Soup
“Chicken bones! You need chicken bones!” according to my local kosher butcher.
Well, perhaps that’s true but I like some meat in my chicken soup, preferring to use chicken parts as well as bones.
The Jewish Times’ Soup
Years ago, the Baltimore Jewish Times ran a chicken soup contest. One recipe stood out. As well as including the usual carrots, celery and onions, this one called for a whole ripe tomato, peeled. It gives the soup a “rich” color. It’s best to strain the soup before serving to get rid of the seeds, though. No one wants to ingest tomato seeds with their matzo balls.
Will someone explain to me why chicken soup recipes in cookbooks always call for chicken broth? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to be making? How can you call it “homemade” chicken soup if you are using canned or boxed broth? Seems like an oxymoron.
Finally, My Recipe
After almost 46 years of marriage, I think I’ve discovered some of the secrets to a good pot of chicken soup. My ingredients are as follows:
- One chicken, either cut up or whole, and skinned (please skin. Who needs the extra schmaltz-fat?)
- Chicken bones – a few wings and/or necks or whatever is on sale
- Three large carrots, peeled and cut into big chunks. More if you want.
- Three ribs of celery, washed, peeled and cut into chunks
- Two to three nice-sized onions, cut in quarters
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt
- About one-half teaspoon black pepper or more, to taste
- A peeled garlic clove or two, cut in half. Or a dash of garlic powder
- 1-2 bay leaves
- A few sprigs of dill
- Chicken broth (Yes, this contradicts what I wrote above. More on adding already-made chicken broth below)
Fill a large stock pot with about four to five quarts of water, enough to cover the chicken and vegetables. Add the spices and bring to a boil. Let the soup simmer for at least three hours. If the soup needs extra flavor at the end of cooking, add a tablespoon of dried chicken soup powder. Fingers crossed it’s now not too salty.
Here’s a hint or two. First, place your chicken and bones in cheesecloth, tied up with cotton string (not nylon or polyester). Or, use a soup sock, precut cheese-cloth bags that don’t require string. One end of the soup sock is closed; the open end is tied to ensure that the chicken doesn’t “escape” when cooking. Using cheesecloth or soup socks makes clean-up much easier. And, you don’t have to worry about miscellaneous chicken bones or gristle floating in your bowl of soup.
Second, make your chicken soup at least one day ahead of time. That way, it’ll have time to cool off in the refrigerator, and you can skim off the extra fat before heating it up.
Three, if you’re like me, and making chicken soup is a “process,” plan to make it on a day when you have nothing else to do. It takes me at least four hours to prep, cook and clean up.
Following My Own Advice
The other day, kosher chickens were “on sale” at our friendly, local kosher market. (I say “on sale” because instead of $4.69/lb., they were only $3.69/lb.)
I don’t make chicken soup that often because it makes a mess and takes too much time. However, it never hurts to have some in the freezer, and today I had a free afternoon. So, why not? Plus…I had two quarts of frozen Knish Shop chicken soup left over from when my husband sat shiva for his mom in June. Wouldn’t you know it? When I made chicken soup for Rosh Hoshanah, adding a quart of that Knish Shop soup to the pot made the best chicken soup ever!
As I’m writing this, however, I realize I forgot to add the dill. Damn it!
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Read more by Eileen Creeger.