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Pam R

eGCI Demo: Chicken Soup

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Chicken Soup

...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), it’s likely that you’ve 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 can’t 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. It’s 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, don’t 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 ‘mature chicken’, ‘fowl’, ‘stewing fowl’ or simply ‘soup chicken’. These chickens are old and tough - but they have more flavour.
  • Don’t rush the process. It takes some time to extract all the potential flavour the chicken is offering up. Don’t waste it.

To start your own batch of broth, you’ll need:

Equipment:

  • 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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Prep the chicken:

Wash the chicken. Kosher chicken is notorious for having a lot of pin feathers left in the skin - remove what you can, but don’t become overly stressed about it. In the end the skin will be removed and the soup with be strained so any extra pin feathers won’t harm the final product. If you buy a whole chicken, remove any organs and ‘extras’ and use for something else.

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Place the chicken pieces into the 16 qt. stock pot.

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Add the cold water:

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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 it’s impurities. The skimming process will take a while. Don’t abandon it or the soup will become murky.

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Moving along... the water is just coming up to a simmer.

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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.

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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):

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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:

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And now peeled, washed, prepped and ready for the soup (including the celery leaves):

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Add the vegetables (everything but the dill) to the pot:

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Allow the soup to come back to a boil, skimming off all the impurities until the pot looks something like this:

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Place a lid on the pot, leaving it open just a crack. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 1 hour.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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. :wink:

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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.

The best thing to do is taste it and season it to suit your taste.

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:

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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.

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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:

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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

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That looks great Pam. Mine never looks like that, its never that yellow. I usually use a big bag of leg quarters, but maybe I need to add some wings and other pieces.

My dad once said my soup tasted like " dead water".

It's so hot that I can't even think about making soup, but once the weather turns chilly, It will be the first thing I make.

When do we get to see the matza balls?

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To achieve the desired golden look for the broth, I learned early on to use the skins from my large brown onions ... it really works! And since chicken soup was called "goldene yoich" in Yiddish, the golden color is essential ... some say that it is the golden globules of fat that catch light over the top of chicken soup that give the soup its golden glow ... I say leave those peels on the onion!

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Pam R--

that is a delightful-looking soup~! i frequently have the same colour/flavour issues CaliPoutine mentions, so i sometimes add a tsp. of chicken broth granules... but i wish i didn't feel i had to... :laugh:

in your experience, if you were to use chicken necks, backs, and frozen (retired) laying hens (i can get these in my Chinatown in Montreal), do you think you'd get a more intense "chicken-y" taste?

thanks for your demo!

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Thanks for the lovely and informative demo Pam R. Like CaliPoutine said, mine never looks that "purty." A couple of questions:

Do you ever strip the meat and re-add the bones to the stock at the end for more flavor? I heard about doing this somewhere and sometimes, if I'm not totally pooped, I'll do that.

In addition to the chicken parts you chose, do you ever use chicken feet?

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Definitely yum!

I must confess that my mother's chicken soup was a lot more rough-and-ready than yours, Pam. She wasn't anywhere near as vigilant about skimming off the scum, only simmered it for a couple of hours tops, and liked to serve the soup meat and vegetables along with the broth, resulting in a yummy but admittedly homely-looking stew rather than a clear and elegant broth. (Oh yeah--no parsnips, and parsley instead of dill, plus always a bay leaf, about a half-dozen whole black peppercorns, and the same number of whole cloves stuck into one of the chunks of onion.) I was rather startled when I left the familial nest and discovered that most other Jewish households do their chicken soup much more like yours. :smile:

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Thank you, as always, for the trip down memory lane. The soup looks lovely. I haven't looked at the kreplach recipe yet but I am looking forward to it since it is one of the items that I never got a chance to cook with my Baba.

Our family soup is almost identical, which is no surprise since we are both Winnipegers, but there are a few slight variations. My Baba added 10 whole black peppers and studded her onions with 4 or 5 cloves. She also left the roots on the onions, and added some garlic if there were any colds to be comforted. Oh, and a sprig of fresh parsley.

I would also like to add that I think that one of the overlooked keys to good chicken soup is the Parsnip, as in yor recipe. It imparts a sweetness and earthiness that is unavailable from any other source. So for those of you who do try this recipe you should absolutely use parsnip, even if you aren't fond of it under regular circumstances.

The other key is the fat. Leave a little, it is probably the next wonder food, we just don't know it yet.

The smell of chicken soup comforts my soul. I still make it religiously whenever my family or friends are ill. It is like a reflex. I have made it for friends suffering from heartache, cancer, and the blues, all with the sincerest wishes that it might cure more than the common cold.

Thanks again Pam.

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When do we get to see the matza balls?

Eventually :wink: . I was working on a demo but things got away from me - there will be one though.

To achieve the desired golden look for the broth, I learned early on to use the skins from my large brown onions ...

I've heard lots of people leave the skins on - I've never done it though. I wonder if it adds anything to the flavour...

Pam R--

that is a delightful-looking soup~! i frequently have the same colour/flavour issues CaliPoutine mentions, so i sometimes add a tsp. of chicken broth granules... but i wish i didn't feel i had to... :laugh:

in your experience, if you were to use chicken necks, backs, and frozen (retired) laying hens (i can get these in my Chinatown in Montreal), do you think you'd get a more intense "chicken-y" taste?

I admit that I've added some granules myself on occasion! Mostly when I don't have the time to reduce it.

I think the necks backs and hens would be great. All of the chicken I use starts of frozen - because they don't slaughter kosher chicken in Winnipeg, we ship it all in from Toronto. If I'm not using the meat, I'll leave out the whole chicken and replace it with more necks, bones and wings. It's cheaper and I think even more flavorful.

Do you ever strip the meat and re-add the bones to the stock at the end for more flavor?  I heard about doing this somewhere and sometimes, if I'm not totally pooped, I'll do that.

In addition to the chicken parts you chose, do you ever use chicken feet?

I don't bother to strip the meat and re-add the bones if I'm using mature soup chicken. It's gonna be dry no matter what I do. But - if I'm using a younger chicken (broiler, fryer, whatever you call it), then I will take the chicken out as soon as the meat's cooked through, remove the meat, and add the bones and skin back to the soup. This meat can be used for something else - or served later in the finished soup.

My grandmother always used chicken feet. As a child I was memorized by my uncle who would gnaw on them at the dinner table! I can't get them. For some reason, chicken feet are not allowed to cross provincial borders :blink: - and since I bring my chicken in from Ontario, it's a no go. If you can get them, use them!

Definitely yum!

I must confess that my mother's chicken soup was a lot more rough-and-ready than yours, Pam. She wasn't anywhere near as vigilant about skimming off the scum, only simmered it for a couple of hours tops, and liked to serve the soup meat and vegetables along with the broth, resulting in a yummy but admittedly homely-looking stew rather than a clear and elegant broth. (Oh yeah--no parsnips, and parsley instead of dill, plus always a bay leaf, about a half-dozen whole black peppercorns, and the same number of whole cloves stuck into one of the chunks of onion.) I was rather startled when I left the familial nest and discovered that most other Jewish households do their chicken soup much more like yours. :smile:

You must be vigilant!!! :laugh:

Or not. I just like clear soup! On occasion, I'll make a soup and leave everything in it - cutting the celery and carrots and parsnips into smaller pieces and pulling some of the chicken out sooner (see previous answer) - but this is how I like it most.

We're back to that "ask 3 Jews a question and get 5 opinions" issue! I don't know anybody who uses cloves - interesting. Bay leaf, sure. Peppercorns - why not? (I prefer to add some fresh pepper when I'm eating it - sometimes. Other times i don't want pepper). Yep, I've added parsley. But the dill is my absolute favorite. Sometimes I'll even chop some up and add it at to my bowl. I love fresh dill and it works so well with the chicken soup. :wub:

I would also like to add that I think that one of the overlooked keys to good chicken soup is the Parsnip, as in yor recipe. It imparts a sweetness and earthiness that is unavailable from any other source. So for those of you who do try this recipe you should absolutely use parsnip, even if you aren't fond of it under regular circumstances.

I second this!

The smell of chicken soup comforts my soul. I still make it religiously whenever my family or friends are ill. It is like a reflex. I have made it for friends suffering from heartache, cancer, and the blues, all with the sincerest wishes that it might cure more than the common cold.

Thanks again Pam.

Thank you. Lovely.

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I think if you're in a part of the world where parsnips are unavailable and you can get sweet (not bitter) daikon (like in Malaysia), you could make a good chicken soup with daikon. I do remember Malaysian chicken soup made with daikon, though it also used other items not in Eastern European Jewish chicken soup, like star anise. But anyway, if you only substitute daikon for parsnip, it won't taste the same, but it still could be good.

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Pam, my chicken soup is pretty close to yours.

I put 1/2 head of garlic, juniper berries, whole peppercorns, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, two bay leaves, carrots, onions, turkey neck, beef soup bones, chicken wings, leeks and a whole chicken.

After it is cooked, I add pieces of pumpkin and cook until tender.

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I have been lucky enough to get a chicken with the feet on a time or 2. The feet make the soup more gelatinous.

I also always cool the soup overnight so the fat is more solid when I take it off.

I use leek tops (the dark green part), mushroom trimmings, and sometimes when I am not making a kosher soup, I will throw a parmesean cheese rind in. I find these things also help give a better color.

Lauren

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Beautifully done. Parsnips are critical and I'll have to consider dill rather than parsley.

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Beautifully done.  Parsnips are critical and I'll have to consider dill rather than parsley.

My multi-cultural take on chicken soup gets similar results but the techniques are somewhat different. First of all, following Barbara Kafka, I save and freeze in zip-locked bags all chicken backs, bones, gizzards, etc. (from eaten and dismembered chickens). When I have lots (or am running out of chicken stock) I defrost the parts, and add chicken feet, which I get from one of the local Chinese stores. Duck feet work just as well, and the stores generally have one or the other. If I see an old chicken at the Farmer's Market, I'll add that. I then bring the chicken just to to a boil, dump the chicken pieces into a colander, rinse the pot and the pieces and start again. I add celery, carrots, onions (unpeeled) and often a head of unpeeled garlic whacked in half, bring to a boil, and simmer anywhere from 9 to 12 hours, usually overnight, skimming occasionally (the pre-boiling means that there's less skimming). Then I decant the results through either a few layers of cheesecloth or a linen dishtowel, cool it overnight, toss or save the fat, and freeze. If the soup looks a bit weak, which it does on occasion, I boil it down until it looks and tastes rich. The feet give it a lovely gelatinous quality. Then I freeze. I always have some on hand for recipes or the makings of Jewish or non-Jewish chicken soup.

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I then bring the chicken just to to a boil, dump the chicken pieces into a colander, rinse the pot and the pieces and start again.

Hi Joan - welcome to eGullet!

I read your post a couple of days ago and have been wondering about it. Have you ever made two batches of soup - one boiling and rinsing, the other just skimming - and comparing the two?

I've never done the boil and rinse method - but to my mind it seems as though you'd be rinsing away flavour. I'm very curious about this.

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This is heresy, but half an hour in a pressure cooker works well.

My version has parsley not dill, but otherwise the same ingredients.

If I'm simmering a whole chicken I take the meat off the chicken when its just done, and then return the carcass and skin to the pot for the rest of the time, otherwise you end up with very overcooked meat.

Another use for the meat is in a pot pie.

Must have the kleis demo: solid or fluffy? I prefer solid, with onion and parsley in them

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I've never done the boil and rinse method - but to my mind it seems as though you'd be rinsing away flavour.  I'm very curious about this.

Hi Pam, thanks for the wonderful demos on Jewish food, really enjoying them.

My mom uses the boil-rinse method, while I just skim, mainly because I don't like the extra work that comes with rinsing. Having said that, she spends considerably less time skimming after she's rinsed all the scum away.

Mom's soup is flavourful. I don't think the boil-rinse method reduces the final flavour, but we've never done a controlled comparison.

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I've never done the boil and rinse method - but to my mind it seems as though you'd be rinsing away flavour.  I'm very curious about this.

Hi Pam, thanks for the wonderful demos on Jewish food, really enjoying them.

My mom uses the boil-rinse method, while I just skim, mainly because I don't like the extra work that comes with rinsing. Having said that, she spends considerably less time skimming after she's rinsed all the scum away.

Mom's soup is flavourful. I don't think the boil-rinse method reduces the final flavour, but we've never done a controlled comparison.

Any suggestions on what to do with the resulting chicken meat? I don't really care for it as it comes out of the pot but I sure it can be redeployed in some other dish.

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Any suggestions on what to do with the resulting chicken meat? I don't really care for it as it comes out of the pot but I sure it can be redeployed in some other dish.

I have just the thing for you: meat kreplach!

Another option - don't use a whole soup chicken. Just use an assortment of bones, necks, and wings and the soup will be great without all the meat you don't want.

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i usually add celery root, celery, leek, parsnip root with leaves(petruska), white turnip and parsley in addition to all the ingredients u have included in your recipe-

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I made some chicken soup using Pam's method, except I used parsley instead of dill. I had some leftover roast chicken that I cut up into pieces and threw in some fine egg noodles as well. I was pretty happy with the colour and clarity.

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[*] The flavour is in the bones.  It’s 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, don’t bother using whole birds.  We will be using the meat, so a mix of whole chicken and extra bones works best.

A couple of newbie questions (I'm still using canned chicken soup all the time):

1) Is there any reason you're using wings vs. the chicken legs? If a chicken is using its legs constantly vs. its wings, then wouldn't the legs develop more flavor? I would imagine that using the wings would similar to using the breast for flavor.

2) Would chopping up the bones make it easier for the flavor from the bones to get extracted and therefore make the soup tastier?

3) I'm uncertain when you save the meat or keep it? By making the soup, does the process make the meat dry and unusable? If you were really into it, wouldn't it be better to throw away all the meat and cook a new batch of meat specifically for the soup?

4) If you originally rinsed the chicken before then putting it in cold water and bringing to a simmer, would that reduce all the scum and skimming?

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1) Is there any reason you're using wings vs. the chicken legs? If a chicken is using its legs constantly vs. its wings, then wouldn't the legs develop more flavor? I would imagine that using the wings would similar to using the breast for flavor.

Wings have a high bone/fat/skin to meat ratio. I prefer wings - but legs would work too. Wings are also less expensive than legs. If I'm not using the meat, then why spend the money?

2) Would chopping up the bones make it easier for the flavor from the bones to get extracted and therefore make the soup tastier?

I'm sure opinions will differ on this. I don't think it would make a significant difference.

3) I'm uncertain when you save the meat or keep it? By making the soup, does the process make the meat dry and unusable? If you were really into it, wouldn't it be better to throw away all the meat and cook a new batch of meat specifically for the soup?

Yes - to several parts of your question. The meat does get dry - though it is usable for some things. If you prefer, you can simmer the chicken until the meat is just done - then remove it from the bones. Return the bones, skin, fat the the pot and continue simmering.

Having said that, the meat is perfectly fine for kreplach filling, and we make chicken pot pies out of it as well. It is usable, just not great to throw back into the soup.

4) If you originally rinsed the chicken before then putting it in cold water and bringing to a simmer, would that reduce all the scum and skimming?

No. I do rinse my chicken before adding it to the pot - the scum still rises.

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Yes - to several parts of your question.  The meat does get dry - though it is usable for some things.  If you prefer, you can simmer the chicken until the meat is just done - then remove it from the bones.  Return the bones, skin, fat the the pot and continue simmering.

Having said that, the meat is perfectly fine for kreplach filling, and we make chicken pot pies out of it as well.  It is usable, just not great to throw back into the soup.

I disagree. I cook the chicken until the soup is done, remove it and take the meat off the bones and re-add it to the soup. It is never dry. I even remove the meat from the wings.

Or

I remove the chicken and serve it as a main meal. The meat is very moist and tender.

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