...or Jewish penicillin.
There is nothing in this world that evokes memories of my childhood more than the aroma of chicken soup wafting through the house as it simmers slowly on the stove top. If you grew up with a Jewish mother (or grandmother), itís likely that youíve experienced this yourself. If you didn't, now is the time to try it yourself.
My grandmothers have long passed away, but their soup-making technique has passed down through my parents to me. I continue to prepare soup in the same ways that they did so that I can recreate their perfect broth and my childhood memories.
Making stock, broth or soup from poultry is not a new concept. There are many recipes and techniques, including this great lesson in the eGCI. What I've included below is my family's method.
Important points for perfecting your chicken soup:
- You canít abandon the pot as it cooks. You must be vigilant in the shaming (skimming). All impurities must be removed from the pot as they bubble and foam to the top.
- The flavour is in the bones. Itís best to use chicken pieces that have a high ratio of bones to meat, such as necks and wings. If you will not be using the meat from the chickens, donít bother using whole birds. We will be using the meat, so a mix of whole chicken and extra bones works best.
- If you are using whole chickens (and not just bones), use old chickens. For soup, chicken is usually sold as Ďmature chickení, Ďfowlí, Ďstewing fowlí or simply Ďsoup chickení. These chickens are old and tough - but they have more flavour.
- Donít rush the process. It takes some time to extract all the potential flavour the chicken is offering up. Donít waste it.
- 1 stock pot (16 qt.) with lid
- 1 stock pot (10 qt. or larger)
- 1 ladle
- 1 slotted spoon
- 1 knife
- 1 cutting board
- 1 vegetable peeler
- 1 strainer
- 1 mature chicken, cut in half (4 lb.)
- 2 packages chicken wings (2 lb.) [if available, replace half of the wings with chicken necks]
- 2 chicken backs (the carcass leftover from deboning chicken breasts) (1 lb.)
- 8 qt. cold water
- 1 large or 2 small yellow onion
- 4 celery stalks
- 4 medium carrots
- 2 medium parsnips
- 1 bunch fresh dill
- salt to taste
Wash the chicken. Kosher chicken is notorious for having a lot of pin feathers left in the skin - remove what you can, but donít become overly stressed about it. In the end the skin will be removed and the soup with be strained so any extra pin feathers wonít harm the final product. If you buy a whole chicken, remove any organs and Ďextrasí and use for something else.
Place the chicken pieces into the 16 qt. stock pot.
Add the cold water:
Set over high heat and bring to a simmer. Give the pot a stir every few minutes - before it achieves a simmer the chicken will start to release some of itís impurities. The skimming process will take a while. Donít abandon it or the soup will become murky.
Moving along... the water is just coming up to a simmer.
Use the ladle and/or slotted spoon to carefully skim the foam and froth from the top of the pot. Continue skimming until most of the scum is gone.
I don't have to get every last bit of scum at this point, because when I add the vegetables they will release more impurities. Keep skimming until the soup looks something like this (it may take 40-50 minutes to get to this point):
You can see some of the fat has been released by the chicken, and most of the foam has been removed.
While the pot is simmering and in between skimming the soup, prep the vegetables. Here they are unprepped:
And now peeled, washed, prepped and ready for the soup (including the celery leaves):
Add the vegetables (everything but the dill) to the pot:
Allow the soup to come back to a boil, skimming off all the impurities until the pot looks something like this:
Place a lid on the pot, leaving it open just a crack. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 1 hour.
Add the dill and simmer another 1 1/2 hours. After cooking the meat for about 3 1/2 hours and the vegetables for 2 1/2, they have given up as much flavour as they're going to.
It's time to strain the solids out of the liquid. Place a strainer (chinois-style is best) so that it sits at the top of another stock-pot.
I like to grab any large pieces of chicken or vegetable with a pair of tongs before pouring the soup through the strainer. It also helps to use a ladle to start transferring the soup to the strainer. Continue to pour or ladle everything into the strainer until the original pot is empty.
At this point I like to taste the soup. Realizing that I haven't added any salt yet, now is the time to see whether the soup has enough flavour. For this batch I decided that it wasn't quite there yet, so I returned it to the stove and simmered, without a lid, for 30-45 minutes, until it had reduced and the flavour increased.
So I am left with one pot of hot stock which has yet to have the fat removed:
A container with the whole chicken pieces (2 legs, 2 breasts), some carrots I've reserved to serve with the soup and a cook's treat - 2 necks sprinkled with kosher salt.
After reducing the soup, taste it again and check for seasoning. Up to this point, I haven't added any salt. I won't give you quantities for salt because:
- If you're using kosher chickens, they've been salted in the kashering process, so will need less salt than non-kosher chicken.
- Depending on how much you've reduced the soup, the amount of salt you'll need will be different. You will need to add less salt to more reduced soup.
- Everybody likes different levels of salt. Just don't forget that salt helps to enhance the other flavours.
Once it's reduced enough and seasoned the way you like it, get it into the refrigerator to chill. As the soup cools down, the fat will rise to he top and solidify:
Use a spoon to carefully remove the fat from the soup. I prefer to use a metal spoon with a 'sharp' edge. Try not to leave any of the fat on the soup.
After I removed the fat/schmaltz (and reserved it), I ladled the soup into 1-qt. containers for storage. I ended up with just over 6 quarts.
The picture doesn't capture the soup's consistency. It doesn't set up like Jello, but the cold soup has some body to it and isn't completely fluid.
The soup can be refrigerated or frozen in these containers. Another option is to fill plastic freezer-bags and freeze flat.
Heated and served with reserved carrots:
The soup can be served as is, but is good with the additions of rice, egg noodles, freshly cooked vegetables, matzo balls, soup mandlen (croutons) or meat kreplach.
Click here for my Meat Kreplach Demo