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How to Make Jewish Chicken Soup

03/14/2013 01:03 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2013

There are lots of good reasons to make chicken soup. If you're in a cold climate there is the weather-food imperative. If you're sick, it can cure whatever ails you, or at least helps you feel better. While it is not a replacement for modern medicine, if you've tasted excellent Jewish chicken soup, you know what I'm talking about when I say it has healing powers no doctor can replicate. If you love someone, there is no better way to demonstrate your feelings than to cook (chicken soup) for him or her. And if you adore matzo balls, chicken soup is essential to float them in, right?

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I know vegetarians can cite chapter and verse on how they can do equally well on all these fronts without this magical liquid. Their dietary principles are sound and as the saying goes, "some of my best friends ...," but I'll stick with the chicken soup and make vegetable stock for other occasions.

Many cultures have a version of chicken soup, flavored with the spices, herbs, and condiments used in their cuisine. This is Ashkenazic (Eastern European) Jewish-style chicken soup, packed with a simple punch that is at once plain but also addicting. This isn't a cookbook or food blog-type recipe.  It's the way your grandmother -- or someone else's grandmother -- would have shown you how to make it. 

To Make Jewish Chicken Soup You Need:

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  • Chicken
  • 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
  • Water
  • 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
  • Other herbs, such dill (I had some leftover from another recipe)
  • A strainer/colander and cheesecloth if you like your soup very clear

Before You Make Chicken Soup, Keep in Mind:

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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.

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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.  

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Preparation
For step-by-step directions, including photographs, click here.