Traditional Jewish Chicken Soup
The mythology surrounding chicken soup in general, and Jewish chicken soup in particular, are familiar to all of us: It cures colds! It cures the flu! It cures cancer, depression, scurvy, rickets, boils, and pellagra! (Just kidding about all those, of course; I'm not even sure what that last one is, but it seemed to fit.)
In all seriousness, chicken soup is traditional to serve on Jewish holidays, but it's also a great food to make you feel better, whether you are sniffling and sneezing, or just need some comfort food and a hug from Grandma. Here's how to make traditional Jewish chicken soup (just don't forget the most important ingredient — love!).
- 10 sprigs dill, tied together
- 6 sprigs parsley, tied together
- 1 large onion, whole
- garlic (powder or minced)
- 3–5 lbs chicken, cut into parts
- 5 qts water
- 6 carrots
- 3 parsnips
- 4 stalks celery, cut into 3" sections
- soup bones (optional)
Prepare the Vegetables for the Chicken Soup
1. Prep your vegetables. Leave the onion whole (just cut off the ends and peel off the outer layer). Some people like to partially core the onion and fill the cavity with salt and pepper. That's not my custom, but if it works for you, go ahead.
Prepare the Chicken for the Soup
2. Wash and prepare your chicken. Cut off the neck and make sure the butcher didn't leave you any "surprises" inside the cavity. I like to take the skin off because it adds a lot of fat to the soup (which none of us needs, right?). To be honest, though, it also adds some good flavor. So if you don't mind skimming the fat from your soup several times before you serve it, go ahead and keep the skin on.
This is what my chicken looked like after I wrestled him into submission. It's a lot easier to start with chicken parts than to try to cut it apart yourself to make it fit into the pot, so I'm not going to make that mistake again. After you rinse the parts again, take a large piece of cheesecloth and tie the chicken parts in it. This will make it extraordinarily easy to fish out the chicken when the soup is done, and no pesky bits of bone or cartilage will be floating around your beautiful soup.
Load Up the Pot
3. Put your vegetables, herbs, and seasonings into a really big pot. I use a 10-quart pot for chicken soup for 8–10 people. (And really, why go to all this hassle if you're going to make less than that?) Tie the parsley and dill together with cooking string so it is easier to remove when the soup is done. Add salt, pepper, and garlic to taste. You will probably need to add more than you think, but the good news is that you can always offer your guests salt and pepper at the table if you're not sure you've seasoned it enough. That's always better than soup that's too salty!
4. Put your chicken parts (tied up in cheesecloth for ease of removal) into the pot. I also sometimes add a beef marrow bone or two for extra richness. This is not strictly necessary, but it adds depth to the flavor.
Cook the Soup
5. After all the ingredients are in, add the water and bring it to a boil. This will take longer than you think, since you have a large amount of water and many heavy ingredients. Once the water is boiling (and I mean really boiling), cover the pot almost all the way.
6. Lower the flame to a simmer, but check it every so often to make sure it's still cooking. If the flame is too low, the chicken just won't cook right. Simmer the soup for about 2 1/2 hours, or until the chicken falls off the bone at the slightest provocation.
7. Let the soup cool for a few minutes before removing the cheesecloth bag with the chicken parts in it. Plunk that bag straight into a bowl to cool so you can debone the chicken later and use it for chicken salad or another mild recipe. (It will have lost most of its flavor to the soup.) Some people shred the chicken and add it back into the soup just before serving. Remove and discard the dill, parsley, and onion. My husband likes to eat the onion from the soup, but I've never met anyone else who does.
How to Serve Jewish Chicken Soup
The soup is best served the next day, after it has had time to rest, but as long as you don't use the chicken skin, you can serve it immediately if necessary. (If your chicken still had the skin on, you must cool the soup and skim off the hardened fat at least once before reheating to serve, or the soup will feel greasy and unpleasant.)
You can make fine egg noodles and toss them in before serving this soup, but the absolute best way to serve this soup is with matzo balls, the way Grandma intended. As I mentioned above, some people like to toss the chicken back in after its been deboned; that's good if chicken soup is your main course, but can make it a little too heavy if it's only a starter. Play around with it until you find the perfect soup for your family, and remember: Jewish chicken soup cures everything!